What is Farm To Table and Why Does it Matter? (Is it really better for you?)

Sue Senger
Aug 29, 2022

Everyone loves a catchy phrase – especially the people who are trying to part you from your money!

“Farm to Table” seems like one of those great phrases that makes you think you are really getting something different in your food experience.   It sounds great.

When it comes to dining out at a fancy restaurant advertising “Farm to Table” meals, it might even be true.  Restaurants often use the phrase to indicate that they have sourced ingredients directly from farms and taken great care in where food is coming from.  It's often part of an "Eat Local" campaign.

But as in everything we shop for these days, the adage of Buyer Beware comes into play.  Because many of the phrases we commonly use to describe food have no agreed upon definitions.  And sadly "Farm to Table" has many meanings.

Surprise! Most Food Comes From Farms

When you sit down and look at where our food comes from, nearly all of it comes from farms of one description or another.  

Food is grown in fields and orchards and rice patties.  It is grown horizontally across the ground, and vertically up into the air on trellis systems.  It’s grown out in the wind and rain, and in the confines of climate controlled buildings and greenhouses.

Very little food is available to buy that is wild harvested (aka NOT grown on a farm), except perhaps fish and even some fish is farmed.  Wild harvested food is usually very clearly labelled when available because the term “wild” often carries a marketing advantage and a premium price tag.

Where am I going with this?  

Follow the trail here: if the food in your grocery store comes from farms, and you buy it, then it is ALL technically “Farm To Table”.  And THAT is the problem with catchy phrases!

What Does Farm To Table Mean?

The more we try to clarify what a phrase means, the more complicated things get.

What started me on this little rant was when I googled the words “Farm To Table” and ran across a question in the People Also Ask section of Google that said “What are the 5 stages from farm-to-table?”   

That got me curious. Five stages?  Really?

 And what I read blew my mind because to paraphrase the post, the 5 stages are:

1.      Production
2.      Processing
3.      Transportation to a distribution center
4.      Shipping to retail
5.      Food reaching your plate

What the heck?  This simply describes how the modern agriculture system linked to grocery stores works (and in fairness to the author, the post does talk about ways to reduce food waste in the system, etc.).  

But in my mind, the modern system of how food gets to the grocery store has nothing to do with “Farm to Table”.

At its heart, the Farm to Table movement was intended to be a ONE STEP process, not a 5-step process.  “From the farm directly to your table” is very easily shortened to “Farm to Table”.  ONE STEP.  No processing.  The only transporting done is between you and the farm.  Money is exchanged between you and the farmer with no steps in between.

But this is exactly how easy it is to shift and muddy the meaning of phrases when it comes to food.  Trying to achieve greater clarity of where your food is coming from just leads to more nuances in meaning, and more marketing slight of hand.  Because yes, the food in the grocery did come from a farm. 

 “Field to Fork” is one of the latest re-inventions of “Farm to Table” trying to illustrate the ONE step process of buying local food directly from the people who grow it.

Why Does Farm To Table Matter?

Whether you prefer “Farm to Table” or “Field to Fork” to identify obtaining food directly from the person growing it, your actions matter a great deal!  Farms world wide have never faced such challenging times.  Between bureaucratic red tape trying to smother the small farmer in favor of corporations and climate change chaos, it's never been more difficult to grow food and actually have enough money to pay your bills at the end of the day.

Buying food grown by local farmers and producers has never been a more important act of resilience for you and rebellion against a broken industrial agriculture system.

8 Benefits of Farm To Table (Field to Fork)

1.      Freshness 

Buying directly from the farm means you are getting food at the peak of its freshness - just picked, just ripened, just ready.  You get to decide how that food will be handled, stored, and prepared.  Just bear in mind that some types of field fresh foods can spoil very quickly, so the onus is all on you to maximize the value of that fresh food.

2.      Quality

Food coming off the fields has not been bumped and bruised through the processing, transporting and shipping stages in the 5-step process above.  It's only been bumped or bruised from the field to structure or stand you are buying it from.  That means it is in better shape than anything you can possibly find in the store.

3.      Nutritional Value

Food that is being sold directly to you the customer is in a better stage of readiness or ripeness than food that is being picked early in order to survive packaging and shipping.  All the vitamins and minerals are readily available to you at their peak when you buy direct.  

4.  Variety

When you are buying food directly from growers, especially small farmers, you often have the opportunity to taste and experience heirloom foods that are not being mass-produced.  Not only is this a culinary delight, it also helps to actively save the biodiversity of our food plants.  Without the care and dedication of these growers, even more food plants (and animals) would become extinct or fall under the complete control of corporations, both of which are bad news for every human on the planet who needs to eat.

5.      Less Waste 

Food gets wasted at every stage of the process from getting it off the field and to your plate.  If there is ONE step between the field and your kitchen, that results in much less waste than the standard 5-step agricultural process.

6.      Less Fossil Fuel Use

No matter how many tractors and trucks the farmer has used to gather up the harvest, buying directly saves energy in the food production system.  Because every  additional stage of that 5-step process is fossil fuel laden, from the creation of packaging, the machines and buildings used in the processing, storing and transporting of food, and in the retail stores where you shop for groceries.  By-passing 4 steps means less energy has been used up getting food from the field to you, and that means a lower carbon footprint, and lower energy use per kilogram of food.

7.      Support the Local Economy 

"Shop Local" works harder for you.  Every time you buy from a local producer, you are supporting your local economy and community.  Your hard-earned money, spent locally, circulates locally and contributes to the local tax base, all of which benefit you a second (and even third or fourth) time round as that money changes hands.


8.      Create Food Security

The only way to truly create food security in a region is to grow the food needed locally.  The greater the distance between the people who need the food and where that food is grown, the greater the probability of supply disruption and hungry people.   


Buy Local First

Farm to Table is better for you when the food is coming directly from the farmer to you in a ONE step process.  It’s better for your community and the planet too.  

Your action for the day, should you choose to accept the challenge, is to source food as locally as possible and to support your local growers and businesses who are doing the same thing.

Of course, the BEST solution is a ZERO step process where you are the person growing the food!  

Every time you grow some food yourself, you are freeing up resources that can be used to feed hungry people somewhere else.  Well, that would be true if the food system worked for the benefit of human beings instead of corporations (but I'll leave that story for another day).   

Be part of that solution too.  You can grow something – no matter where you live.  Join Food Abundance Revolution and learn how to grow more food so that you have enough to share.  It’s easier than you think.

New to gardening?  Not sure where to start?  Check out the Get-Started Garden mini-course and see results in just 30 days.  . . .