The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Beka Compton
The Times 

From the farm to your table

Local farms provide fresh produce, outstanding flavor

 

The farm-to-table movement has been sweeping across the nation in recent years. From farmers’ markets to roadside produce stands, fresh ingredients are becoming readily available and affordable.

The farm-to-table movement’s roots go as far back as the 1960s. In 1971, chef Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., one of the first farm-to-table restaurants. Waters wanted to use fresh, local produce because the flavor was better, which meant tastier dishes. The restaurant was very successful, setting the bar for restaurants to come. Still, the movement’s popularity exploded in the early 2000s when the idea left the state of California and popped up in places like Seattle. Now, farm-to-table style operations and restaurants are found in nearly every city across the United States.

Farm-to-table models skip the freight and sealed packaging. Some delivery is necessary, however. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups purchase a share of the farm, and in return, they receive regular deliveries of fresh produce. Some farms provide other items, like preserves or baked goods with proper licenses, as part of their model. Deliveries to CSA members, farmers’ markets, and local restaurants are typically the extent of farm-to-table shipping.

Farm-to-table models are economically sustainable, too. In 2017, conventional farmers made less than 18 cents per dollar of their product sold. Farmers that sell at farmers’ markets make roughly 90 cents per dollar sold. Farm-to-table models can recoup costs, grow their operations, and support their community in ways that conventional, large farms are unable to. That’s not to say that large farms don’t support the economy, because they most certainly do in more ways than one.

Did you know that in Washington state alone, there are more than 35,000 farms? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines small farms as “operations with gross cash farm income under $250,000.” Small farms make up 94 percent of Washington’s farm operations. Washington state’s agricultural business provides more than 164,000 jobs and, in 2016, was responsible for more than $10.6 billion in revenue. Washington farmers harvest more than 300 commodities each year, with apples, milk, and potatoes being the top three commodities produced. Farm-to-table operations only account for 10 percent of Washington’s farm count, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

Ten percent is a deceiving figure, however. That small number is significant enough to sustain 170 farmers’ markets in 121 of Washington’s towns. Walla Walla County is home to two regular farmers markets: Downtown Walla Walla Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Market Station downtown. College Place holds its market every Thursday from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. Last year, Waitsburg even started a farmers market, but it was put on hold this year due to the pandemic.

Farm-to-table restaurants are also taking off in the area. The list in Walla Walla goes on and on, but Dayton and Waitsburg both have their locally-sourced secrets. Locally Nourished, in Dayton, has the idea right in the name. Salads made with greens from Hayshaker Farm (see story, above), Verdurous Gardens, and Frog Hollow Farm. The cafe goes as far as using locally grown and milled wheat from Joel’s Organics for pastries and bread, capturing the flavors that the Walla Walla Valley has to offer. At the front counter, loose leaf teas made from sustainably, locally grown herbs, crafted by Grateful Herbs, are available for purchase.

Ten Ton Coffee is also committed to supporting local businesses while serving fresh ingredients. Baguettes, cookies, and other baked goods are made with flours from both Smalls Family Farm and Joel’s Organics. Specialty cheeses from Monteillet Fromagerie have topped roasted pepper croissants. The heart of Ten Ton Coffee, the coffee itself, is delivered straight from Rey’s Roast in Dayton.

There has been and continues to be strong national and international demand for the acres of wheat, peas, and barley grown in the Walla Walla and Touchet Valleys. More and more local buyers are also starting to favor home gardens and small farm operations for their home produce. Supporting local farmers benefits everyone. Well-supported farms give back to their community and the local economy, through sales tax, employment opportunities and generous support to local aid organizations.

 

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