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The trip from farm to table

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Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

A growing number of consumers want to know where the restaurant meals set in front of them come from, and it’s a journey that one organization follows closely from seed to table. The American Farmland Trust’s motto is, “No farms no food,” and its mission is to support a sustainable future for America’s farmers, protect the dwindling farmland supply and foster small and family farms in communities throughout the country — and restaurants are an increasingly integral part of that mission.

“We believe there is a greater level of activity in local and regional food systems, and farms and restaurants working together,” said American Farmland Trust’s communication director Jennifer Morrill. “Also in the area of farmers markets, we know that the growth in farmers markets has been rapid, to fill consumer demand. In some parts of the country, the market demand is outstripping current production.”

Last week, the organization held its first “Dine Out for Farms” event, attracting 42 U.S. restaurants to participate in a concerted campaign to raise awareness and support for the small and family farms that raise the nation’s food supply.

“Americans are absolutely more aware of food production and sustainability, and they are taking an active interest in the source of their food,” said Dan Simons, managing partner and concept developer for Founding Farmers in Washington, D.C. Along with sister restaurant, Farmers & Fishers at the Georgetown Waterfront, 2-year-old Founding Farmers took a leading role in the event and partnered with American Farmland Trust to host a launch party and promote the event via a social media push on Facebook, Twitter and the restaurant’s blogs.

The two eateries donated $1,000 to the cause and customers responded enthusiastically to the farm-focused effort last week, Simons said, with several looking to further the conversation about sustainable farming.

Connecting chefs, restaurants and consumers more closely with farmers and the issue of dwindling farmland was the primary reason for the creation of “Dine Out for Farms,” Morrill said, a goal that took priority over raising funds. Participating eateries, many of which have a similar commitment to serving organic, local or farm-to-table meals, were allowed to decide whether to make a flat donation, contribute a percentage of proceeds or hold a separate fundraising event during the week, an open-ended approach that the Trust hopes will attract more restaurants in the future.

Both Founding Farmers and Farmers & Fishers have a commitment to serving fresh, made-from-scratch dishes using regionally sourced ingredients, buying from small farms and producers rather than giant food companies. The restaurants work closely with an advisory board from the North Dakota Farmers Union, whose members own the restaurant, and reports regularly on operations and restaurant practices.

“The restaurants are first and foremost a business, but in our endeavor to operate profitable restaurants we have set high standards for the food that we buy and serve, as well as striving to maintain sustainable operating practices as are feasible and make sense for the business,” Simons said. “We rotate items seasonally, using crop lists to inform menus and specials, and we are proud to pass this information on to guests via our menus, staff or the website.”

Does educating consumers on sustainable farming and the origins of food play a role in your restaurant’s operations, or do you let your culinary creations speak for themselves?

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