A Look at the Farm to Table Program

by Dalton Main on September 13, 2011

Louisville’s farm to table program, which connects local farmers with local consumers, has been nationally recognized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. It’s a movement that’s steadily building support, but what exactly does it mean? WFPL’s Dalton Main spent a day learning about one particular incarnation of the farm to table idea, following the food’s journey from the farm to the table.

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The farm to table concept has found a unique home in Louisville’s East

Market District. In a place called Harvest Restaurant. Just a week after opening in April, the restaurant received its first four star review and has continued to impress patrons.

“The food is just absolutely wonderful, just wonderful,” says diner Carolyn Claxton. “I had a pork dish that was really special, but right now the bread pudding with the bourbon sauce is by far the best.”

Harvest is the brainchild of local farmer Ivor Chodkowski, who owns the Field Day Family Farm at Oxmoor. The restaurant exists with one philosophy, showing the community the power of locally grown foods through a gourmet meal. Eighty percent of all food at Harvest comes from within a 100-mile radius of the city, and many come from Ivor’s farm…in the city.

The Field Day Family Farm is an eight-acre strip of land running just between I-64 and Oxmoor Country Club. The steady drone of the unseen highway and the skyline looming in the distance remind you that you’re still well within the boundaries of Louisville Metro. But everything about the farm seems old fashioned.

“The fire and EMS people came back one time and said you know we don’t know where you guys are, you’re not like on any of our maps or anything, if something was ever to happen back here we wouldn’t be able to help you,” says Chodkowski.

Chodkowski says the farm is about getting people more connected with the food they eat and given them an intimate knowledge of how it came to be. While antique machinery can be found strewn about the old barn, everything on the farm is hand picked, and, in fact, there isn’t much that can be mechanically picked.

“Tomatoes can…but you really don’t want to eat a tomato that can be mechanically picked, because they’re cultivated to be hard and to withstand a machine picking them,” he says.

Part of the farm to table ideal is reducing the amount of processing between farm and consumer, thereby ensuring quality and freshness. With an urban farm like Chodkowski’s, fresh, healthy foods become more easily available to members of the community especially through programs like Community Supported Agriculture. The CSA provides shareholders with a weekly harvest box for 24 weeks between May and November.

But the CSA is a big commitment and many people are unaware of the benefits of programs that provide fresh foods, which is where the restaurant idea came from.

“I think the restaurant is an easier step for people to take than it is to go to a farmer’s market or subscribe to a CSA,” says Harvest food runner Chris Skees. “I think a restaurant like this a is a great way to introduce people and kind of get them interested in the food, and then move into more of the politics and the other aspects of local food.”

Skees is also an apprentice at Field Day Family Farm. As he points out, the walls at Harvest are lined with large black and white portraits of the farmers who supply the restaurant. When a visitor comes in they can see exactly who it is that provides their food, and a map at the back of the restaurant shows exactly where it comes from.

The restaurant is all about fostering an intimate relationship between farmer and consumer, something that Chodkowski has been doing at the farmers’ market for years.

“In my mind, if the restaurant, in addition to delivering great and delicious food, also engages more people in the discussion of the local food economy, that’s fantastic,” he says.

An enhanced local food economy means more fresh food availability; which could help alleviate underserved communities and build a healthier city. It’s a relationship that would benefit both local farmers and consumers, and bridging that gap is the first step.

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