Farm to Table Dinners at Beechwood Inn – North Georgia: Beechwood Inn offers Farm to Table Dinners and seeks to reconnect food to its origins and people to their food by serving local, seasonal, and sustainable food for breakfast, at our nightly wine-thirty, and for our Saturday Chef’s Table-Style Dinners.
Farm to Table Dinners at Beechwood Inn – North Georgia
Grow, Cook, Eat – Culinary Garden
Farm to Table Dinners in North Georgia at Beechwood Inn
Beechwood Inn offers Farm to Table Dinners and seeks to reconnect food to its origins and people to their food by serving local, seasonal, and sustainable food for breakfast, at our nightly wine-thirty, and for our Saturday Chef’s Table-Style Dinners. To further enhance our diner’s farm to table experience we recently developed and now operate Grow, Cook, Eat, Culinary Garden, an organic vegetable, herb and edible flower farm in Rabun County. Our Chefs may have sown the seed for your dinner back in March, observed the sprouts coming out of the ground, tended them, admired them as they pulled them from the soil, and finally they put the finishing touches on the whole project by preparing it for your plate.
Sourcing products from local purveyors is not exactly new, of course. At the turn of the 20th century, most of our food came from within 50 miles of where we were eating it. But as the American demographic shifted from rural to urban, many local food sources disappeared. In the 1950’s as I grew up in my parents restaurants they sourced most for their foods from local gardens, dairies and ranches.
But that was during a period that saw rapid change to the way we source our food. Corporate farms were proliferating and food distribution was aided by trucking and interstate highways; people started looking farther and farther away from home for food. We could now walk into new supermarkets and fast food restaurants and choose from the vast variety of products that the big trucks had dumped at our doorstep. And, shopping locally inevitably costs more because small growers lacked the economy of scale that industrial farming enjoys.
As a child I worked every Saturday in the restaurant grinding fat and beef into hamburger and then making patties by hand for the following week’s menu. Basically, we were offering farm to table dinners. I recall the first corporate food distributor that showed up at our restaurant and introduced my Mom and Dad to frozen French fries, frozen pre-formed hamburgers, frozen pre-prepared chicken cordon bleu and fresh vegetables cleaned, chopped and portioned in plastic pouches. It inalterably impacted my family’s restaurant operations, and happily gave me back part of my Saturday for sports and play. Restaurant prep, while still not easy, became more predictable. You did not worry about seasonality, very little waste – just pull what you need each day from the freezer. For my father it meant adding more variety to his menu, he could feed more people in an evening and his margin improved. There was no going back.
Today look at our food choices. Chain restaurants have filled every conceivable niche. Competition and margins are so tight that to remain in business each chain must locate the least expensive products from somewhere on the face of the earth that still meets some quality standard. To at least one set of corporate executives the only way to differentiate their restaurant food was to grow an arborvitae forest their restaurants’ roofs.
The return of the fresh and local restaurant is a relatively recent phenomenon. When restaurateur and food activist Alice Waters opened her Berkeley-based restaurant, Chez Panisse in 1971, she leaped to the forefront of the now flourishing locally grown, organic food movement. Her farm to table restaurant has become one of the most famous dining spots in America, known for changing its menu daily to reflect what’s in season and for sourcing ingredients from local farmers. She calls it “Slow Food,” the alternative to fast food. Certainly there were many other chefs and pioneers in the locavore movement, but her leadership and fame are certainly credited in making the phenomenon national in scope and impact.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative for Americans to provide fresh, unprocessed and locally grown foods to their families and to the neediest in their communities has also helped to bring more attention to slow food as an alternative to fast food. She also added a vegetable garden to the White House.
Given the popularity of this movement it is not surprising to see chains using campaigns like “Eat Fresh.” Gayle and I stopped at a chain restaurant just outside Orangeburg, SC, on our way to Charleston. It had a huge canvas banner draped across the front façade declaring “Featuring Fresh and Local Food.” So we took a chance. When we asked the waitress what was fresh and local she said “oh it’s just a sign management put up, everything comes off our corporate trucks.”
Beechwood Inn and its owners understand that diners are savvier than ever in knowing whether restaurants source from the back of a food distributor truck or whether they’re really trying to source from local producers. Put simply: People are much more interested in understanding where their food comes from than ever before. Our menus are based on seasonal shifts in our gardens and they change as often as the weather. Our meats come mostly from pasture-raised animals and are hormone and antibiotic free. We have an open kitchen, so guests and diners are free to wander in and view our preparations. Our dinners offer a dialogue where the farmer-chefs and diner-neighbors can have a meaningful exchange.
We supplement our own harvests with those of other local family farmers and ranchers that avoid harmful chemicals and practice sustainable agriculture. In our North Georgia Mountains we are fortunate to have a locally grown food distributorship organization that focuses exclusively on farm-to-chef and farm-to-grocery customers. http://northeastgeorgia.locallygrown.net/ On their home page they say:
Locally Grown is a brand new internet based market that creates a unique way to make fresh, local and sustainable foods more accessible to citizens of Northeast Georgia. As a result we hope to encourage more producers to make a living from farming and food production.
All the products you find on this site are produced right here in Rabun, Habersham and adjacent counties. All of the growers are committed to chemical free farming and follow strict standards to ensure that all the vegetables, herbs, milled products, dairy, eggs, meats, flowers, and transplants are produced using sustainable production practices.
As a product oriented chef I value what the small farmer is willing to produce to differentiate her-self from the grocery store. They will grow heirloom varieties and the rare, the quirky and colorful vegetables I would never find unless I grew them myself. From local farmers I can source red dragon carrots, Paris Market carrots, salsify, quince, red amaranth shoots, mangelwurzel, broccoli romensco, purple cauliflower, red cucumbers and much more. These are tasty, beautiful and made for the farm to table chef.
Clearly small farming is in vogue with the few product oriented chefs and consumers who care where their food comes from. But it’s not sustainable to be just a small farmer. You need to be a businessman, too. I know that Chefs have a unique opportunity to influence change in our food system – both through our connection to customers and each other, and through our own buying power. At Beechwood Inn we believe that making shopping decisions that favor sustainable and local food sources, especially organic sources, benefits health, improves the local economy, is ecologically sound and is economically important to support small farms.
But despite the efforts of Alice Waters, Michelle Obama, Slow Foods, and others, a very high percent of the produce consumed in the U.S. is grown in the third world with little control or care as to how the products are raised; table grapes from Chile, strawberries from Mexico, soy beans from China. The majority of the rest comes from U.S. corporate farms using insecticides, herbicides and largely hybridized patented seeds. Where is our food supply headed?
Our hope is that a few of our diners who experience our local foods and sustainable practices will want to make their own connection to time, season and place and will be encouraged to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and diet.
By Chef David Darugh, Beechwood Inn – Georgia’s Premier Wine Country Inn