Photo of Dan Smith.
“Farm to table dining, to me, means first, flavor and quality of ingredients. When a vegetable is harvested and in your kitchen within the hour, you can taste the freshness and secondly, it’s supporting your neighbors and friends. Your farmers become your customers and the community is strengthened,” said Helen Macintosh, Chef of the Sweet Beet Bistro in Greenwich. “We try to source everything super local and then regional, freshness is important.”
The farm to table movement began as a response, in large part, to industrial farming. The poor flavor and nutritional integrity of food grown to be shipped long distances, the loss of local and heirloom varieties of produce that were disappearing with the family farms that grew them and concerns about environmental safety and centralized distribution were the impetus to find another way.
It’s a term that’s been co-opted by big agriculture and big business like Monsanto and chain restaurants, often brushed off as a marketing phrase. But the concept of a chef purchasing fresh, locally grown food from producers that care about environmental sustainability and accountability hasn’t changed. They might not tout it in their press releases or websites, but that’s their guiding philosophy.
The Hudson Valley and the Capital Region is rich in committed, small scale farmers. Award winning cheese, yogurt, honey, beer and wine are made here, an embarrassment of riches for the creatives in the kitchen.
Trained in Europe and cooking in the Capital Region since 1997, Chef Dan Smith of Jake Moon Restaurant and Café in Clarksville makes everything in house – sausage, jam, baked goods, and maintains a garden to grow many of the items on the menu. “It isn’t always possible to use organic meat and produce, it’s too expensive. We are moderately priced and I’d have to price the menu beyond the reach of many of my customers. Organic certification is a long, expensive process in New York. I know my suppliers, their methods of growing and when it comes to the quality of what we serve, the bar is not lowered,” he explained.
Their website states that they are “dedicated to supporting our local hilltown economy. We make every effort to buy our supplies from local providers of vegetables, dairy, and meat. In doing so, we are ensuring that the money customers spend here at the restaurant is being redistributed locally, keeping area farms viable and helping to preserve the rural character and traditional economy of the Heldebergs. In supporting us you are also supporting area farmers, and voting with your dollars to preserve the agrarian values that have defined the character of this region since time immemorial.”
Sunhee’s Farm & Kitchen in Troy is a family affair. Proprietor Jinah Kim named the Korean restaurant after the chefs – Sun Hwa and Chun Hee, who also happen to be her mother and aunt. Her father, Amos, operates the 41 acre family farm located in Cambridge, where they raise poultry and grow a mix of Korean and domestic produce organically. Kim says that they want to preserve Korean food tradition and tries to connect back to the farm as much as possible. She envisions farm dinners in the future, but they use other local vegetable suppliers as they build capacity. To keep costs down, they do not source their meat locally.
Jinah Kim’s background is in Social Services and it informs Sunhee’s core mission: “a passion for food and community, rooted in a Korean-American history, culture and identity we believe can be shared with all people regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality. Through social entrepreneurship, Sunhee’s hopes to create a safe space for cultural learning and innovative projects, all threaded together by food. Sunhee’s mission can be broken down into the following elements: positive food culture, community engagement, and immigrant/refugee empowerment.”
They are a business by immigrants for immigrants, and believe that the strong economic and cultural fabric of America depends on the continued empowerment of people from all backgrounds.
Sweet Beet’s Bistro’s philosophy states “if you have good food, good friends, and good wine, then life is good. We source as much as possible from the highest quality local businesses, artisans, and use products that are fresh, regardfully raised, and in season. In the occasion we do have to go further afield, it is only in our continual pursuit of excellent quality and flavor.”
Chef Macintosh grew up in Cambridge where her family kept Jersey milk cows. Food from the garden and grass fed beef was everyday fare. She moved to Seattle, working as a landscaper, when she decided to go to culinary school at the local community college. The program had a strong focus on sustainability and local sourcing of ingredients. She came back home and started to work for local food proponent & part-time farmer Susan Quillio, whose Spoonful Kitchen and Catering was a leading proponent of farm to table dining and a regional culinary game changer.
Inspired by author Ben Hewitt’s book “The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food”, Sweet Beet’s offers community-supported restaurant (CSR) memberships. This is the same concept as community-supported agriculture, where you buy a farm share in advance of the season, providing financial support upfront for a return of product in season. The CSR works the same way, providing great value for meals to the member and financial stability during the slow season for the restaurant. Their website explains, “As an investor you will be part of a community that cares about food and where it comes from, while actively supporting a female owned and operated local business. Sweet Beet pledges to sustain the local economy by keeping the dollars spent on food, in our same community where the food is grown, completing the circle.”
Gorsky’s Farm Market in Stillwater is run by Katie, a city girl who married Wayne, a fourth generation farmer. They raise non-GMO chicken, lamb & pork, their cows are on pasture and fed corn silage, which is the whole plant, without hormone therapy or antibiotics. They grow vegetables and installed a commercial kitchen out of a desire to feed their family local, good food and a way to solve, as Katie puts it, “mom problems.”
“Our goal is to provide access to amazing local food, in the most simple way. As a family, we’re honestly over-committed sometimes and I know how difficult it can be to drive to multiple farms at various times to pick up goodies, or to remember what day the farmer’s market is open. We also understand that budgets can be tight and we want to try very hard to provide budget friendly options so you can feed your family awesome yums.”
To that end, they are open from 10 AM – 7 PM daily and offer farm raised vegetables, meats, including farm smoked bacon and homemade sausages, baked goods and prepared family friendly entrees. “We want to make it easy for people who either can’t cook or don’t have the time, to eat well and affordably.”
Chef Ric Orlando, of the multi-award winning New World Home Cooking in Saugerties and New World Bistro in Albany considers himself a locavore, before the word existed. “Being in the northeast means you can’t serve all local all the time. Even I want a salad in February. But we try our best and we also try to meet a price point that customers can also digest. It takes a lot of work. We have forged long term relationships with farmer friends that we hope will last a lifetime. We support local farms, sustainable production and artisan products from around the world.”
When you patronize a farm to table venue, you can expect a meal prepared with great care, from the moment of planting by the farmer to the plating by the chef. You are supporting an establishment that is conscious of our environment and is anchored in and a celebration of their community.
All these venues offer a base menu that changes with the season, and includes a few customer favorites year-round. This menu is supplemented with daily specials, that take full advantage of what is fresh that day. Many offer weekly specials – Pasta Bolognese on Wednesdays and local burger & beer night on Thursday’s at Sweet Beet’s. New World Home Cooking offers a monthly First Friday Community Supper and Jam Session, a Thursday Italian Night and a meatless Monday prix fixe menu at both locations.
For more information or to make a reservation:
Sweet Beet’s Bistro 93Main Street, Greenwich, NY sweetbeetbistro.wordpress.com
Jake Moon Restaurant-Café at June’s Place 2082 Delaware Turnpike, Clarksville, NY jakemoon.net/index.htm
Sunhee’s Farm and Kitchen 95-97 Ferry Street, Troy, NY www.sunhees.com
Gorsky’s Farm 84 Turner Road, Stillwater, NY www.gorskysfarm.com
New World Home Cooking 1411 Route 212, Saugerties, NY newworldhomecooking.com/about.html
New World Bistro Bar 300 Delaware Avenue, Albany, NY newworldbistrobar.com