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Nov 7, 2010 06:33 PM

Do you really care what farm your food came from?


I notice now at every high end place I am learning that my cow came from Creekside and my bacon from Benton's. I don't know hoot about these farms and frankly I don't care. If I am paying 35 dollars for some lamb I would assume it came from a good place. I could always ask if I were wondering where my steak came from, and a lot of these farms don't even sell to the public so it's not like I am going to be ordering up some if I thought it was good. So this seems like this is just another strike of pretentiousness by the food industry, as if Caw Caw Creek pork is something to "ooh" over.

  1. I'm happy to know what farm my food came from. To me, it shows that a certain level of care and thought was put into the selection of ingredients that is on my plate. Any restaurant can order generic food from the distributor and I'd have to disagree with your comment that a $35 meal means it's from a good place. Some restaurants will cut every corner they can. I can see how it might be considered pretentious and some establishments might treat it that way but the ones I frequent do so because they take great pride in the quality of food they serve.

    7 Replies
    1. re: piano boy

      But how do you know anything about the farm? For instance, there could be a million Creekside Farms, and just because it is a farm doesn't mean you know anything about their processes. I'm sure McDonald's could describe their hamburgers as having beef from x farm.

      1. re: observor

        Sagacious hillbilly runs a blog. you can listen to him talk of butchering chickens. He sells them too, if you live anywhere nearby. That's if you really want to know your supplier. ;-)

        1. re: Chowrin

          I'm not sure where you're from, but it's probably Creekstone farms in Kansas you're thinking of (they sell to all the high-end NYC places) and Benton's is in Tennessee.

          I only say this because that means they may be coming from a well-respected farm but that farm is half way across the country. Kind of defeats the purpose, no?

          Plus everyone is using Benton's/Creekstone's now among the high-end restaurants

        2. re: observor

          People know about individual farms by hearing about them, reading about them, and even visiting them. You may not choose to do so, in which case the name of the farm is meaningless **to you.** But for those who are interested, the name of the farm may be a significant piece of information.

          All agricultural methods are not equal, and there are plenty of restaurants that charge high prices for commodity foods. If you're good with that, I'm not going to try to change your mind. But the fact is that an increasing number of people care about where their food comes from. IMO that's a good thing.

          1. re: observor

            "But how do you know anything about the farm?"

            Well, by visiting, like the case of Benton Farms, or by paying attention to the details in the menu, and remembering the really good ones.

            It's really not all that hard, and can be informative down the line.



            1. re: Bill Hunt

              The majority of customers at the high-end restaurants in Charleston, SC are tourists...I doubt they are going to go to Beaufort , South Carolina, to see the farm that provided their pork before they head off to the airport.

              1. re: observor

                To some extent, it's like providing a citation in a paper. Most people don't go and check every citation they see, but it still lends credibility and accountability. Basically, it's nice to know that a restaurant holds itself to a standard in sourcing its food and that you can find the same product or look into how said product is made if you're curious.

                More generally: in a lot of ways, I feel like citing the farm where a food was made is often as much an indication of the chef's humility as it is a marketing ploy. It's about giving credit where credit is due, acknowledging that part of the reason your chicken (or whatever) is so tasty was that a dedicated farmer took the time and care to raise it well.

                I know that sounds hokey, but I also know that a lot of chefs have a deep and honest respect for such things.

        3. I despise purely organic growers. I'd rather have a smart farmer using pesticides when warranted, rather than avoiding anything that's going to get mouldy because it won't sell. Or, who sells you mouldy produce without bothering to tell you that "it's mouldy, cut that part out."

          So yeah, I kinda like supporting people who do things right.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Chowrin

            Sorry, I have to disagree. Farmers using pesticides are not "doing things right". They're doing, perhaps, what they feel they have to to continue to grow crops in a monoculture - acres and acres of corn or soybeans or what have you. This has cost us literally feet of topsoil, contaminated rivers and groundwater, and numerous other problems that are beyond the scope of this conversation.

            We need to use fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Agriculture has become a major polluter. It's a problem. I'm not claiming there's an easy solution, or a quick one. But we're not seriously looking for a solution, either.

            Organic farmers ARE "doing things right". I'm glad that option is available. When I have my own garden, it is organic. I find it odd that you express hatred for people who are trying to serve the environment as much as it serves us.

            1. re: ZenSojourner

              You might be interested in an opposing argument from an actual farmer, Amy Hepworth, who is a supplier for (among others) the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn:

              "She does not take an absolutist’s position on chemicals, for instance, arguing that today’s “gentle” synthetics are unlike pesticides of the DDT days, when growers sprayed willy-nilly any “shit that worked.” Hepworth chooses how to grow based on what’s best for the soil. In many instances, the best option is organic, but in others, it’s not. In her view, it’s sometimes better to use a small amount of something synthetic than a huge amount of something natural. Consider a disease called apple scab. “One organic control is five pounds of sulfur per acre every time it rains,” Hepworth explains. “Twelve to sixteen times a year.” Sulfur kills other things, not just apple scab. It can also coat apples with residue, and, when she was using it, Hepworth suspected that it harmed her earthworm population. She switched to a synthetic, noncarcinogenic fungicide that treats apple scab specifically. “It does the job in small amounts,” she says. “Six ounces per acre. I used it three or four times last year.”

              Here's the complete article:


              1. re: small h

                Sulfur is a chemical and to my knowledge is not allowed for organic orchards. I admittedly do not know as much about organic orchards as I do farming, so possibly that's wrong.

                However, I don't see that as an opposing argument anyway. As I said above, there are no easy answers. The problem is not only that we are overly dependent on chemical fertilizers (and btw, chemically farmed soil is so low on beneficial microorganisms as to be nearly "dead"), but also that we are making no serious attempt to change that.

                It looks like what you're talking about above is one attempt to address these issues. So how that's an "opposing argument" I don't see. I just wish agribusiness would make similar changes.

                1. re: ZenSojourner

                  I don't think you understood that excerpt at all. The farmer I quoted tried both organic and non-organic methods, and chose those that did the least harm to her crops. Sometimes that was the organic choice, and sometimes it wasn't. You don't seem to allow for the possibility that the organic method is not always the ideal method - that's how I interpret your statement that "Organic farmers are doing things right," because the converse of that is "Non-organic farmers are doing things wrong." But that isn't always true, and that's what the article shows.

                  And you'd do well to abandon your fear of chemicals. Water is a chemical, and you wouldn't last three days without it.

                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                    Organic farming rules don't prohibit the use of chemicals, they prohibit the use of **synthetic** chemicals. Chemicals that are derived from plants or minerals are allowed. And sulfur isn't the nastiest thing an "organic" farmer can spray on crops. Nicotine sulfate is a deadly poison, and is perfectly allowable. Pyrethrum kills insects indiscriminately. And rotenone is only moderately problematic until it gets into the water supply, where even miniscule concentrations are extremely toxic to fish. These are all chemicals, they're all deadly, and they're all used routinely in organic farming operations.

                    Moreover, your claim that "chemically farmed soil is so low on beneficial microorganisms as to be nearly "dead" is simply incorrect. Yes, overuse of pesticides will kill microorganisms in the soil. But that's true whether the pesticides are synthetic or organic. Do you really think dead soil where the micro-organisms were killed by nicotine is "healthier" than dead soil where they were killed by an organophosphate? The trick isn't to use organic pesticides, it's to use whatever pesticides you choose responsibly.

                    There are some organic farmers who are good stewards of their land. And even the most abusive "organic" growing practices are better than the most abusive conventional practices. But make no mistake about it - an organic certification doesn't mean that the farmer is "doing it right." Neither does the fact that a farmer decides that organic methods are inappropriate mean that s/he's "doing it wrong."

                    If you want to learn more about this issue, I recommend "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. It's an accessible and informative book about various growing methods. A little superficial, but some depth was sacrificed in order to make it a compelling read.

                    The upshot of the book is there's nothing inherently good or bad about going organic. All sustainable farming is not organic, and all not all organic farms are sustainable. There's a fair degree of overlap, but if you really care about where your food comes from, pay less attention to labels and more to specific facts.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Rotenone is in fact prohibited from use as an organically these days. I still use it.

                      As I said, I don't know that much about what is and is not allowed in organic orcharding.

                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                        If by "these days" you mean 2005-2009, you're correct. But as of 2010, use of rotenone is once again allowed. Looking at the CFRs, though, it turns out that the use of nicotine sulfate (as well as other "natural" pesticides like arsenic and strychnine) is prohibited.

                        You keep talking about what is allowed and disallowed in "organic orcharding." The USDA's National Organic Program has rules about what's allowed for "organic crop production." It makes no difference whether those crops grow on trees or in the ground. The rules for farming and orcharding are the same.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          OK, let me rephrase that then - I don't know much about what is normally USED in organic orchards, which may or may not be allowed by the "official rules". For instance, I know that arsenic and strychnine are prohibited (and have been) by organic standards (actually I think they're prohibited altogether and have been for a long time). But I don't know about sulfur compounds, which are common antifungals (if I recall correctly) in orchards, whether organic or not. Not sure if sulfur is allowed by the rules because it's not something I ever had to worry about. In any case, what I've done for one or two trees isn't going to translate to an entire orchard, regardless of whether it's run as organic or as a typical agribusiness.

                          If rotenone is back that's fine with me.

                          My point originally was that we need to find ways to grow crops with as little environmental impact as possible. Where that is happening - whether it meets the standards of being "perfectly organic" or not - that's a good thing.

                          Unfortunately where it's happening is in a minority of the land under cultivation in this country. Growing totally "organically" is one way to attempt to minimize the destruction of our topsoil and the pollution of our rivers, streams, and groundwater. At no point have I said it's the ONLY acceptable solution.

                          I STILL don't see where the person to whom I was originally responding gets off "despising" people who are working towards such a goal. It makes no sense to hate all organic growers. In fact it's an attitude of deliberate ignorance that boggles the mind.

                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                            deliberately tying one hand behind one's back is NOT a good way to run a farm, nor a business, nor cook a meal.

                            If you've had cholent, you'll understand ;-)

                    2. re: ZenSojourner

                      Almost every farmer uses pesticides. Pesticides can be both organic and non-organic, but it does not necessarily mean that one is more toxic than the other. Sulfur, for example, can be used as an organic pesticide. It kills many things, including beneficial bugs. You cannot apply it when it is over 90F because it may damage plants. This often limits its usefulness. I try to use organic farming techniques in my own garden as much as possible, but there are times that applying a non-organic chemical is better.

                      Here's a link describing organic pesticides:

                      Here's a link that

              2. Yes. And I'll take it a step further. I rarely eat meat unless I DO know where it came from. I choose not to support factory farms and animal abusive practices- it's called voting with your dollars.

                If you can't tell me where my meat came from, I'm not going to eat it.

                You can assume that your $35 lamb "came from a good place", but unless you know what that place is, I think you'd be wrong.

                1. Lately that information just makes me grumpy. I can buy Knollcrest eggs and Cato Corner cheese at the greenmarket, and I know what they cost. When a restaurant proudly lists those suppliers on a menu, all I can see is the mark-up. If I were more knowledgeable about wine prices, I'd probably be angry all the time.

                  24 Replies
                  1. re: small h

                    what in the world are you talking about? how would you expect there to not be a mark up? you have a chef back there working on salary, a full kitchen staff, the rent or mortgage for the building the restaurant is housed in, operating costs for all the lights and the water... those things aren't free and the money to provide them doesn't just fall out of thin air.

                    if you want the experience of dining at a restaurant, you have to pay for it- the entire experience.
                    anyhow, i am one of those people that care about where things on my plate come from. both as professional in the food industry and a consumer. i like to print the farm's name on the menu, not just to inform the customer as to where their food came from, but also to aid in perpetuating the farm's reputation for good product. i like to help our local producers.

                    1. re: monpetitescargot

                      I'm aware of the costs inherent in running a restaurant, and I certainly don't expect to pay wholesale prices for goods + labor + overhead. But if you're trying to convince me that the act of slicing cheese and putting it on a plate justifies a charge equal to quadruple the cost of the cheese (for that is what it works out to), you will not get very far.

                      1. re: small h

                        If the cost bothers you so much, just avoid the restaurant. The cost most likely does not bother other patrons. Otherwise, the restaurant would go out of business.

                        1. re: raytamsgv

                          I don't need to avoid entire restaurants, just individual dishes. Because I do a quick cost/benefit analysis: could I make this myself? would it be cheaper and as good? If the answer to both these questions is "yes," I order something else. Bouillabaisse - order. Dim sum - order. Cheese plate comprised of cheeses I can get 10 blocks from my apartment for a fraction of the price - do not order.

                          See how easy?

                          1. re: small h

                            This is going a long way from the original question. The OP was not about what it costs, but where it's from.

                            I take that to be a question about the farm's practices, not whether you can buy the same cheese down the street.

                            Do you care about the provenance at all- you *can* buy the farm eggs, etc over the industrial- but do you?

                            1. re: cheesemonger

                              I started out pretty close to the original question and merely kept answering other posters' questions as they arose. If it wasn't clear from my first contribution that I do buy the farm eggs, I do. That's how I know what they cost. But the farm's practices aren't as important to me as the farm's product. If a farm had superior practices and inferior product, I would walk on by. And that there is even further from the OP. But hey, you asked.

                              1. re: small h

                                Not quite so easy - a restaurant may have the ability to properly age a wheel of cheese that the nearby market cuts up and sells while it's young. And sometimes a restaurant will serve cheeses will interesting accompaniments you might not have thought of.

                                But yeah, I eat out a lot less than I cook at home, and like to see a little more of the kitchen's influence on the finished dish. I understand the beauty of a perfect $8 apricot, but it's still just an apricot.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  And I admire an assembly of micro-greens placed just so with tweezers on a long, skinny porcelain plate with little dots of dressing and a beautiful piece of burrata (shout out to Scarpetta!). Which I could maybe do but am too clumsy and impatient and lacking in long, skinny porcelain plates. There is some wiggle room.

                                2. re: small h

                                  That is also pretty much why I almost never order the cheese plate on its own too ;-)

                                  I do exactly the same quick analysis when deciding what items to pick. This probably explains why I generally save the consumption of those big name cheeses, charcuterie and produce for at-home events.

                                  1. re: small h

                                    You know, bringing out the digital scale and the calculator, would ruin my meals. I go to restaurants to enjoy.

                                    That enjoyment might be from something I cannot get, a prep that I do not care to do, or have the time for, or for the innovation of the chef. I can do a great beef tenderloin on my Lynx, but I still will order beef tenderloin out, so long as that is what I want, and sounds good enough to enjoy. I will pay the price, if I want it, and not try to dissect it into the lowest common denominators with the price/gram calculated in.


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      Added to which, on a cheese platter, you can sample a variety that has been put together by someone who knows those types of cheeses. I'm not likely to go to a shop and buy a few bites of a half a dozen plus cheeses. It's a tasting opportunity, just as wine pairing is. I could also buy the bottle of wine for much less than the glass sometimes. And, sometimes I'm just in the mood for it, regardless of price margin.

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        You have more cash than I do. Or at least, your posts suggest that you have more cash than I do. So while I also go to restaurants to enjoy, my enjoyment is affected less by "bringing out the digital scale" than it is by spending money on an evening out and feeling like I've overpaid.

                              2. re: small h

                                Maybe it's different with eggs and cheese, but FWIW the fruit, vegetables, or meat you buy from Farm X at a farmer's market tend not to be the same quality as those provided by the same farm to a well-regarded restaurant. The ongoing nature of the farmers' relationship with folks in the food-service industry means that they get the pick of the harvest.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  I don't doubt it, since I've seen chef's assistants walk off with the "good" strawberries time and time again. That's one reason I didn't mention raw material type foods in my first post. Another is that these mostly require some prep, and some skill to prepare. A poached or fried egg, though...not so much.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    Do you have any actual proof that this happens or are you just guessing?

                                    1. re: taos

                                      Well, I don't have videotapes, but have discussed the issue with both farmers and restaurant people. It's not exactly a secret. Chefs (well, some chefs anyway) are willing to pay a premium for the best of the best, and growers (ditto) are willing to accommodate them.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        Plus, there is much more perceived possibility that a chef will become a long-term customer, than than the average joe.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          OK, that's different. If the restaurants pay a premium price they get premium goods. That is completely logical. I thought you were saying that for the same price, restaurants were getting the pick of the crops just for being large and regular customers.

                                          1. re: taos

                                            restaurants pay wholesale except for really extraordinary products, like a special edition small-quantity farmstead cheese the farmer just can't let go for a wholesale price. they still get best-quality stuff. often the farmer/purveyor knows *sigh* that s/he will be credited on the menu and wants the ingredients to reflect the farm in the best possible light. also, if the product is substandard, the chef will find another source.

                                            the farmer wins thru the wholesale arrangement 1) by having good restaurants in their farm's "portfolio" which increases their desirability to other restaurants, stores, wholesalers, farmer's markets & shoppers and potential csa subscribers, etc. and 2) by having a steady customer who doesn't pay retail price, but buys in bigger quantities and, again, who promotes the grower/producer, either verbally or by putting a word or two down on a printed menu, website, or other communication to the restaurant's customers.

                                            1. re: taos

                                              My understanding is that the premium paid is a over standard wholesale prices. It's probably still less than retail.

                                              1. re: taos

                                                or they get a premium goods by showing up EARLY.

                                            2. re: taos

                                              I have no doubt that restaurants get the pick.

                                              1. re: observor

                                                um... not always true. retail consumers will generally pay more.... especially for prime cuts like pork loin or chops or filet mignon, whereas restaurants want a wholesale price... and the farmer makes less. esp. during prime farmer's market season. at times, it's impossible to get anything from a farm unless they specialise in selling directly to restaurants. sadly.

                                        2. The local restaurants that we frequent buy their meat and produce from the same farmers that I buy from at our farmers' market. There is nothing pretentious about informing your customers that the food they are about to eat was raised with care. I am an omnivore, but I refuse to eat meat that comes from a factory-farmed animal that has spent its entire life in torment. But that's just me.