Farm Restaurants Are All the Rage

Small-farm owners discover a way to serve locally grown items to a public clamoring for more fresh food.

| March/April 2012

Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O, and on his farm he had a … restaurant? That’s right: Farm restaurants are sprouting across the nation. This dining trend makes sense as more consumers insist on fresh, local food. “Hyper-local” (for example, restaurant gardens, do your own butchering) was listed as one of the Top 5 trends in 2011 by The National Restaurant Association. “Locally sourced meats and locally grown produce” also made the Top 5.

Colleges and universities are responding to the growing interest in farm-to-fork dining by offering fieldwork for culinary students. Colorado’s Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, for example, now offers a five-week off-campus externship that takes students to work on farms and ranches, as well as in wineries and restaurants.

For small family and hobby farmers, operating restaurants supplements unpredictable incomes and connects farmers to the community. Farmers not only find it fiscally wise, but many find reward in sharing their bounty and educating people about farming. In fact, farm tours are often part of the dining experience.

While many farm restaurants share a commitment to fresh, sustainable philosophies, the types of restaurants vary widely. Across the country, meals range from rustic, down-home cooking to elegant, gourmet destinations, and the restaurants from alfresco-seasonal to year-round dining establishments. Here are a few examples.

Joe's Farm Grill in Arizona

Farmer Joe Johnston was faced with a dilemma. He could either sell out to urban sprawl or preserve part of his family farm and share it with the growing community of Gilbert, Arizona. Johnston chose the latter, and that decision has served him well.

Joe’s Farm Grill serves more than 1,400 burgers a week and has received rave reviews on the Food Network’s show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Johnston converted his 1960s boyhood home into a fun, trendy grill that serves ribs, pizza and the signature “Cheeseburger Built for Two.” Arizona beef burgers are topped with crisp Johnston farm vegetables.

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