I was fortunate enough to clear my schedule yesterday afternoon so that I could attend the Farm to Fork symposium at Long Branch. My thanks to Juliet Mackay-Smith of Locke Store and Marjorie Lewis for their hard work in organizing the symposium.
I must say that I was really surprised to see about 200 people in attendance, not just the usual ones of us who believe that the shorter the path from the field to the table, the better. In fact, this was the biggest thing that I took from the symposium, that so many people paid to attend, welcome news indeed. And a few of the attendees were customers of the restaurant although I don't suppose that is very surprising.
I was saddened that I was seemingly the only area restaurateur/chef in attendance. I know some of the others were busy, but it seems like some days I am carrying this banner all alone. In a side note, I was really disgusted by a recent article in the Winchester Star talking about how a new restaurant uses local and organic products. The only thing local about that restaurant's products is that the Sysco warehouse is within 100 miles of here. Every restaurant it seems wants to talk the talk, yet how many chefs do I see at the farmers market day after day? There are only three of us and we know who we are; the rest are all poseurs.
[Before you think that I am Sysco bashing, let me say that I am not. I have a great many friends who work at Sysco and they are committed people largely doing good things by their customers. In fact, their efficient distribution mechanisms may well be a part of the farm-to-fork distribution solution.]
This was my first experience in hearing Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm speak, although I've eaten his delicious chickens for years. His "big agriculture is evil" mantra is a little strident for me, after all, big agriculture has fed this country for decades, yet he makes some compelling points.
The other thing that I took away from the symposium has to do with distribution of local products. I know first hand how hard it is to go and get these products or to have them delivered, so distribution has always been a key concern for me. What I never thought about until yesterday was that all these small producers driving around making small deliveries are inefficient and waste a lot more energy in delivering goods than do the Syscos of the world. Food for thought. Just how do we improve the efficiency of the small farm distribution mechanisms?
Finally, I went to the symposium in hopes of hooking up with more local producers. While they may have been there, there was no mechanism for getting all the anonymous attendees introduced to each other. Maybe next year.
One attendee approached me afterwards and asked something to the effect that the problems seem so vast, how do we get started? And I replied that it is a lot like climbing a mountain. Standing at the bottom of K-2, if you constantly focus on the summit, you might find it a very daunting proposition to get there. Yet, if you assemble a team of climbers and each focuses on getting just a little bit higher, you can get there. Which is to say that we can all contribute to building a better food system, one little step at a time. Remember that next time you need groceries. Stop by the farmers market first. You have choices and your choices matter.