Friday, February 8, 2013

Farm to Table Champion- Koach Chris Hastings

c/o Eatocracy
Editor's Note: Chris Hastings is the James Beard Award-winning chef of the acclaimed Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama.

The first time I heard a prominent chef bemoan the phrase "farm-to-table," I was in New York meeting with a group of chefs to discuss topics in and around our industry.

I cocked my head in that direction as if to say, “Did I just hear what I think I did?”

Another chef quickly chimed in that he was also "so tired of the farm-to-table movement," like it was no longer a legitimate or important way of thinking.

Seriously? That moment was neither the time nor place to have a debate so I chose, uncharacteristically, to make a note and keep my mouth shut - until now.

Since that time, chefs from around the world have gone on to echo those sentiments in an array of publications. Their declarations have run the gamut from stating that the philosophy is small-minded and naive, and that this “save the world” hogwash is no place for a chef. They seem to believe that a chef's only responsibility is to cook great food, and that anything else is a distraction.
One chef suggested that if you obsess about relationships with farmers, purveyors or producers, you do not have time to cook at all. I want to believe something was lost in translation because he could not have really meant that - it’s just ridiculous.

In defense of the chefs’ viewpoints, I will agree that the term is overused, abused and does not, in and of itself, make you a better cook or restaurant. I am also not of the mindset that every little thing you serve must come from within 200 miles of your restaurant - or whatever your particular philosophy dictates. Most restaurants do reach outside their self-imposed limits every now and again.
However, I grow concerned when some of the most influential voices of our time discourage the farm-to-table philosophy to the next generation of young thinkers, chefs, restaurateurs and, most importantly, leaders.

As is too often the case in our society, we are quick to discard oddities and excess in an effort to reach for the newest shiny object. We show little regard for the value of that we have just abandoned.
My defense rests in what I know, what I have seen and what has changed our country's eating habits profoundly over the last 20-plus years.

When a young, passionate chef decides to plant his or her flag in a backwater town, a small market or even a medium-sized market, they are always met with challenges relative to supply. They not only have to find it, they have to afford it. These folks have to live in the reality of the place where they’ve decided to open their restaurant.

So, what must they do to achieve their goals? Whether it’s the dream of becoming as good as any restaurant in the world or just a great restaurant that serves their particular community, they have to start the same: Make a few phone calls.

Chefs need to make it their mission to find the best, whether it's farmers, foragers, fishermen, a pig man, the local couple raising a few chickens and eggs or heirloom seed banks that are propagating vegetables, grains and fruit. They end up building a network of, arguably, the most disproportionately passionate people on the planet - the local purveyors. This network is key to getting the most bang for their buck.

Now, if developing these relationships affords them a better food supply, they express it in a way that resonates with their community and they introduce that community to those amazing people via their menu, they might still be open in year three.

Next thing you know, the local chefs and the newest, most important heroes in the food community - the purveyors - are now getting phone calls from folks wanting to start farmers markets, create edible schoolyards, organize food festivals, contribute to local charities, improve school cafeteria programs, discuss community development ideas through the prism of food and create a better, safer, more sustainable food supply. Shining a spotlight on these producers and their impact has the potential to educate the community and elevate its standards for food culture.

Solely focusing chefs’ responsibilities on preparing delicious food while not taking a leadership position on this and other issues is certainly a personal choice. Not everyone is going to agree with me, but please, before you throw out the baby with the bath water, recognize the important effects and benefits that the local food and farming movements have had on countless communities and how it has positively changed them forever.

At Hot and Hot Fish Club, we can, and do, use suppliers from any and all sources around the world, as I see fit.

We also choose to plant a seed that one day will grow and provide great shade for generations to come.

Leadership, I hope, will be our legacy.

Posted by:  Read more from Chris Hastings at

Farm Out!

Always dress like you’re gonna be in a movie. Cuz ya just never know. Recently, I arrived at my community farm to pick up my weekly share of lush and organic vegetables, and I thought there’d been a plane crash or a breaking news story. There was a large RV set up with cars, trucks and movie crew types crawling all over the place with cameras and equipment I had only dreamed about in my 18 years as a TV investigative reporter.


Turns out, the General Motors Corporation was making a gynormous movie about Geraldson Community Farm. This project highlights amazing things going on in local communities around the country. This traveling crew shoots and produces the raw and final product.

I was just off from a hard day at the office…at my gym where I began the day at 8 a.m. with personal training clients. Suffice it to say, I did not look like I had just stepped out of one of my city’s top beauty salons. Nope…I had my hair pulled back in a wispy, wind-blown ponytail, wearing a track team running shirt and a sorry, saggy pair of gym pants. I couldn’t have looked any worse if I tried. However, the moment I uttered the words, “I used to work in TV,” they were all over it. “Want to be interviewed?” Who could refuse to talk about a great cause? They asked me to turn my shirt inside-out so the distracting running logo wouldn’t show. Whatever. In 3, 2, 1…

When they asked what the farm meant to me, here’s what I said.

I have belonged to a farm or food co-op since my children were young. I had an organic garden up north and grew kale, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, okra, lettuces and a lot more. I used to brag about the field trip when the farmer would hold up a piece of greenery and ask, “what’s this?” and my kids would say kale. The farmer was amazed any 3 year-old knew the difference between spinach and kale. But since we grew it, they all could recognize it. And they loved it. There’s plenty of calcium in kale, and it’s very absorbable by the bones.

There was a farmer’s stand where I’d take the kids to get things the co-op didn’t offer. I’ll never forget one of my girls popping a sugar snap peapod in her mouth and asking, “is this candy?” It’s all what they got used to. Until kindergarten.

I valued belonging to a farm co-op so that my children could see where food comes from. Some kids in my cooking classes cannot identify many vegetables.

Not long after we moved here, I discovered Geraldson’s Community Farm in Bradenton, FL. It is across from a beautiful nature preserve where I run once a week on soft trails.

It is operated as a CSA or Community  Supported Agriculture. Since Florida has a long growing season, it works out to about $15-$20 a week …enough food to fill up the frig. Some people choose a half share, which allows members to go every other week. Here’s the website to find out more information.

You can go to and find a farm near you. Some allow cultivating a plot of land yourself. Others allow volunteers to work and get produce free. It is great to be able to see where your food comes from, or fun to just plant seeds, smell the rich earth and listen to birds.

I asked the crew what they would do with the video. Surely with all that equipment they were making a documentary or a commercial. “No,” the producer said, “we’re making an I-Phone app.” An I-Phone app? Are you kidding?! Wow…times have changed. Apparently there’s more money to be made on phone applications than other forms of advertising. Oh well. No movie career just yet.

Recently, Geraldson’s had sugar snap peas. I lingered in the field, picking some, then eating some. I could hear my 3 year-old asking, “Are they candy?” She’s studying to be a doctor now. It was a glorious day at the farm. Look for us on an App near you.

Ellen Jaffe Jones is an accomplished endurance runner, author of the best seller “Eat Vegan on $4 a Day,” Aerobics and Fitness Association of America certified personal trainer and RRCA certified running coach. For questions, coaching or training, she can be reached at or 941-704-1025. She trains privately and online or by e-mail. Signed copies of her book are at