[Editor’s Note: An excerpt of the following appears in CRL’s Spring 2019 Magazine, Our Farms to Our Tables. CRL interviewed two friends, Tom Murphy and Ron Cramer, about how they define, “farm-to-table.” The following is Ron’s response. To read Tom’s response, click here.]
What does “farm-to-table” mean to you?
The short, romantic answer is that on a very small scale one of the hottest trends is to source the food for one’s family as directly as possible from the producer while learning as much as possible about how it was produced. This is true not only of food consumed at home but also choosing restaurants that follow the same approach. On a broader scale and looking to the future, what I believe it will mean is a synergistic relationship where urban tables understand where their food comes from and respect the process and farms understand what both their rural and urban customers need and are able to produce in a way that allows them to enjoy the life they love with a reasonable living. It will also allow the urban and rural customers to have a nutritious, safe, secure food supply. It’s about accountability and traceability as much as geography.
In very small communities it is possible to access a significant amount of locally produced items for the table, but items such as coffee, spices, flour, sugar, etc most likely have to come from outside the community or greater rural area. One of the challenges is that even where there is local production there is not local processing, which means the wheat in the local field will likely need to travel some distance for milling. However, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible to know that process and determine if it meets criteria for “farm-to-table” concept.
We should be careful not to define “farm-to-table” too narrowly. This is significant because achieved broadly, it can allow farmers all over the world including poor undeveloped countries to have a life that is sustainable (economically) and safe and secure for consumers wherever that may be. If this scope is not how we eventually identify “farm-to-table”, then the subject has to be only about what can happen in a small, defined local (rural in our case) area involving those things that can be or are being produced and processed for local sale and consumption. This then might be wonderful in some small idyllic locales but will never be the way it works across large areas like states, countries or continents and it seems to me our faith and, in fact, reality demand that we try as much as possible to think globally as one large family.
“Farm-to-table” is more about the human experience we have at “the table”, which happens while groups of people (families, communities, work groups, school lunches) gather to eat, then it is about the food on the table and how it got there. Where the two intersect is that the human experience can be enhanced when that group can be informed and care about how the food got there, which then can be a factor reinforcing their values and catalyzing similar attitudes toward other aspects and experiences in their family and work life.
I believe the existing food system is broken, both locally and globally and that therefore because of the fundamental impact nourishment has on our lives, it is imperative we fix the food system. Otherwise almost all other aspects of our lives will be more difficult. We are nourished at “the table” not only by the food but the human experiences and relationships that are facilitated by coming together. The Vertical Farming technology we are developing allows for affordable, year-round, local production, which is safe, secure, and sustainable.
What does “farm-to-table” have to do with your Catholic faith?
A good table is one from which we leave nourished and sustained both physiologically and spiritually. This can be accomplished without the trendy notion of “farm-to-table,” but thankfully the appeal of that notion is causing increasingly more people around the world, and more specifically, in CRL’s universe, to be exposed to this spiritually nourishing aspect of the table which is then leading to pressure to change the food system. Arguably the “good table” is the end goal but by starting there and working back so to speak, everything in the system that is necessary to sustain a good table long term will have to be modified.
Our Catholic faith and spirituality require that we be good stewards of the resources God has provided as well as loving our neighbors as ourselves whether they are on the next farm, next block, or next continent. Being committed to and involved in the process of changing the food systems to allow a “good table” for everyone regardless of who they are, what they, or where they are allows us to do what our faith requires.
— Ron Cramer lives with his wife in California, where he develops Vertical Farming technology.