Farm to Table


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Once thought of as simply a fad, Farm to Table has come to serve as a rallying point for conscious consumers, restaurateurs, and family farmers eager to bring food back to its roots.

Think about a cheeseburger. Not that succulent, juicy burger of your dreams, piled high with farm-fresh toppings and filling the air with the mouth-watering aroma of succulent beef. For now, let’s shelf that irresistible mental image. Fear not, we’ll come back to it.

Now, instead, think about the cheeseburgers most people eat. The ones that come in a paper wrapper and served slathered in various forms of high fructose corn syrup. The ones whose name evokes a nebulous Scottish ancestry (we’re flirting with libel here, so fill in the McBlanks yourself).

Have you ever thought about where that cheeseburger came from? If you’ve ever worked at a fast food place you know the answer is simply, “a truck,” and will leave it at that.

The indisputable genius of Ray Kroc accidentally birthed an entire industry given over to factory workflow, reducing the very food we need for survival to little more than a commodity. A commodity like any other product – processed on a factory floor, boxed up and shipped out on the next 18-wheeler.

The fact is, for a long time people never gave more than two seconds thought to where that food came from. And for good reason. Once we started learning how the food industry had begun to value the industry over the food, from startling leaked footage of factory farms to the stomach-churning revelations regarding the infamous “pink slime,” we started asking questions. Not just of the drive-thru burger places of the world, but of all of our restaurants and grocers.

And not all of those questions had pleasant answers.

As a result, a new movement took hold that put the food first. It’s been called many names—farm-to-table, farm-to-fork etc. It was dismissed as a fad at one point, decried as the providence of hipsters and millennials, but has persevered. Spreading from the West Coast one restaurant at a time, the locavore movement woke up millions to the tantalizing possibilities of healthier food, more robust local economies, and ultimately a more satisfying meal.

Eggs and bull from Hunter Cattle farm.

Today, it’s not just a movement. It’s not just about recapturing our culinary culture from corporate control. It’s about taking food back to what it was always meant to be—a singular experience marked by dedication and care, with every ingredient given its proper respect. It costs a little bit more, it takes a little more time, but every dollar and every day is worth it when you’re creating better food and helping bring back the American small farmer.

Look at it this way. You could raise a cow on a barely digestible mix of cheap grain and corn, pumping antibiotics into it along the way, and have it ready for market in a year. Or you can raise it in a sprawling pasture of open field, letting it graze as nature intended, and have it ready for market in two years.

Remember that mouth-watering, juicy all-beef burger we mentioned earlier? The one you dream about? Guess which one of those cows it comes from.

Not from a factory, but a farm.

Del and Debra Ferguson never intended to take part in any movement sweeping the country. Nonetheless, their family business, Hunter Cattle Co. has turned out to be instrumental in supplying Savannah’s restaurants with local fare.

“This is an accidental farm. Our whole business is accidental,” said eldest daughter Kristan Fretwell. “We were raising grass-fed just for our family—we were never going to sell… In just a few years, people were finding us.”

More customers and a growing base of restaurant customers allowed Hunter Cattle Co. to not only grow their cattle concern exponentially, but to branch out beyond their namesake livestock. There were a few missteps along the way (“Turkeys like to die, evidently,” joked Fretwell. “Thankfully, chickens are smart enough to run away from predators.”) but today they offer fresh eggs as well as some seriously prize-winning pork.

Restaurants, especially, have grown to embrace the farm-to-table movement. Here are a few where you can sample some of the area’s great local products.

 

Moon River Brewing

Moon River

912.447.0943 • moonriverbrewing.com

“Whenever we can, we like to do stuff locally and offer food that’s raised organically,” said Moon River Brewing Company Owner Gene Beeco. “In this part of the world, it’s a little bit more difficult to do.” But it was a task worth undertaking in creating a menu built on quality. Fortunately, a friend of Beeco’s mentioned Hunter Cattle Co. to Beeco, and now Moon River not only uses their ground beef in their famed burgers, they’ve also come full circle.

“Being a brewpub, bratwurst is a natural for us. They actually make a bratwurst now using our beer,” he said.

 

Shrimp gumbo from Alligator Soul & Executive Chef Stephen McLain.

Alligator Soul

912-232-7899 • alligatorsoul.com

Savannah-area farms have been part of Alligator Soul’s DNA for the last eight years, and Executive Chef Stephen McLain is proud of the network of farmers who supply his kitchen. Almost any pork item on his menu came from Savannah River Farms (along with some chicken and beef), while his vegetables come in from an array of locals farmers: winter greens from collards to kale from Canewater Farms; herbs and salad greens from Kachina Farms; staples from potatoes to onions from Joseph Field Farms on St. John’s Island.

“We work together menu by menu,” McLain said of his local sources. “It’s a labor of love.”

 

East End Provisions

912-335-5522 • eastendsavannah.com

The menu at East End Provisions reflects their dedication to sourcing from area farms. The East End wings proudly proclaim their pedigree from Springer Mountain Farms. The Entelman burger blends beef and brisket from Savannah River Farms, and their famed Bahn Mi just wouldn’t be the same without Hunter Cattle Co. pork tenderloin. In fact, when opening up East End Provisions, Chef Dan Miller tested Hunter Cattle’s pork tenderloin against two other vendors. When it won hands down, he decided to up the stakes. “We were so impressed with it, we cooked it well done and put it up against a medium and it was still more juicy and more flavorful than the medium one.”

 

Kitchen 320 at B Historic Hotel

912-657-6856 • kitchen320.com

The callout box on the front page of the menu at Kitchen 320, celebrating their kitchen’s local sourcing, tells you that this is a restaurant that values to their Savannah-area partners. These suppliers, from Savannah Bee to Southbound Brewing to Leopold’s Ice Cream, infuse their menu with local flair. They’ve even named a few items in honor of their beef supplier, like the Hunter Cattle Farms Skirt Steak and Flat Top Burger.

General Manager Ben Carson says this contributes not just to better food, but a feeling of community. “It feels like you’re joining them and contributing to the whole farm-to-table movement rather than just cutting somebody a check.”

 

1540 Room at The DeSoto

(912) 443-2022 • 1540savannah.com

Some see farm-to-table as a movement, as a new way of looking at food. Chef Kyle Jacovino, Chef at the 1540 Room at The DeSoto, sees it as something that needs to be a way of life for more restaurants. He points to the way monocropping destroys the soil, and how factory farming drives up the price of feed and cuts out small farmers.

“You can’t control what happens across America, but you can control what happens in your community,” he said. For his own part, Jacovino helps out local farmers by keeping his restaurant stocked with eggs and chicken from South Carolina’s Fili-West Farms and vegetables from Canewater Farms. “I will not serve any other lettuce than Canewater farms. At the peak of summer, salads go away. They’re not in season.” But not to worry—that’s when Canewater’s cukes and tomatoes are at their freshest.

 

a.Lure

a.Lure restaurant

(912) 233-2111 • aluresavannah.com

The entire concept of a.Lure revolves around the integrity of its sources and its devotion to local purveyors. Inspired by owner Daniel Berman’s memories of home-cooked meals and his love of fresh seafood, a.Lure built its menu around sourcing the freshest local ingredients in creating a culinary experience that takes Southern classics and adds a contemporary twist. Here you’ll find seafood from Blue Marlin International and John Langs Shrimp, dairy from Sweetgrass Dairy in Thomasville, coffee from Perc Coffee and grits from Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina combined in delicious and intriguing ways.

 

Farm in Bluffton, SC

FARM

(843) 707-2041 • farmbluffton.com

At Bluffton’s FARM, their sourcing story is about leveraging relationships to help balance quality, sustainability, and proximity. In fact, the idea for the restaurant began when Executive Chef Brandon Carter met co-owner Ryan Williamson, whose farm Carter was using to source fresh vegetables. That dedication to local sourcing became a huge part of the restaurant’s identity. “Hunter is the perfect trifecta for us,” said GM Joshua Heaton. “Super delicious beef, from the chuck and the sirloin we grind in house for our burgers, to our 16oz ribeye specials we run.  We really like the fact that they’ve engaged other small farmers in the area to scale up their operation without compromising their values.”

Subscribe now or pick up the January/February issue of South Magazine.

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