The problem with “farm-to-table” is that the phrase has been relentlessly copied, and often not with anything particularly noble to say. What was once a refreshing notion in the progress towards more ethical dining is now a viral catchphrase employed to move a variety of goods. Farm-to-fork, farm-to-glass, farm-to-fridge, farm-to-market, farm-to-closet: I’m sure you get the picture…but with lessening focus each time.
Mimi Edelman is doing everything she can to battle the inevitable tune-out. Though she spends her days tending kale, peppers, and herbs at tiny I & Me Farms in Bedford Hills, she’s also the co-chair of Slow Food Metro North—one of the 1300 worldwide “convivia” of the international Slow Food. Now, in case you’ve had your snout stuffed in a Mickey D’s bag for the last two decades or so, this society started in the ‘80s in Italy as “a non-profit member-supported association … founded… to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” Slow Food and its tenets are the cri de cœur of locavores, farm-to-table-ites, and right-thinking diners—who are increasingly voting with their dollars at restaurants.
That said, it’s challenging to lure chefs from their established supply chains, where reliable availability and price are guaranteed up front. Recently Slow Food Metro North and Westchester Land Trust had a killer idea to combat the problem. Instead of banging Slow Food tambourines with tired “farm-to-table” language, they threw an old-fashioned college mixer. The event, “Tasting Our Local Harvest”, was held on September 27 at Westchester Country Club and was intended to bring local chefs and local farmers together. Restaurant supported agriculture (founded on the CSA—community supported agriculture—model) is a Slow Food promoted business idea that’s intended to simultaneously place local products into local restaurants while steadying cash flow to farmers. At each table in the glitzy country club ballroom, one farm and one kitchen collaborated to offer a variety of dishes. Farmers, often recognizable by their weathered skin and strong hands, and chefs (paler and standing in their whites), stood in unity—when not in the crowd, checking out the other tables. Healthy shots from Comb Vodka and Tuthilltown Sprits could be found in many hands.
We caught up with the indefatigable Mimi Edelman, who bore telltale crescents of Bedford soil under her fingernails as she stood with the kitchen from Bedford Post Inn to present their collaboration. It was a perfect pasta fritta (fried ravioli), crisp-shelled and dusted with salt, filled with creamy, ruby-colored, I & Me Farms beets. Edelman’s wide smile comes easily as she laughs at the grandeur of the ballroom setting. Last year’s farmer/chef event was held at Muscoot Farm, and producers and chefs were scheduled into timed, micro-meetings. “It was speed-dating!”
Last month, I & Me Farms and Bedford Post offered another shot in the arm to farm–to-table: they took the distancing preposition out of the phrase. A trio of picnic tables was sited between two old stone walls on I & Me Farms, which is a small parcel of cultivated farmland nestled among the rolling estate lawns and picturesque woods of Bedford Hills. There, cosseted with plush napery, flattered by the warming glow of lamplight, diners sat thigh-to-thigh for a five-course dinner that showcased much of Edelman’s produce. Her farm-table in Bedford Hills offers a precious Slow Food experience: the still-warm earth smells of recent tilling as the sunlight evolves into silvery moonlight. Farm and food stand linked in perfect unity. We spoke with Bedford Post’s Chef Jeremy McMillan, who promised more farm-table events—check Bedford Post for more details.