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Farm-to-Table Gets a Farmer-Approved List of Restaurants

Trish Watlington launches San Diego Farm to Fork Week to combat local food fraud
Photo: Sam Wells

By Troy Johnson

Farm-to-table is an awkward concept. Well-intentioned, sure. But as we reported in our “Farm to Fable” cover story in 2015, there’s a lot of B.S. out there. Some restaurants claim to use local farms, but don’t. Some restaurants will sell a “Chino Farm Salad,” when in reality it’s a Sysco salad with a few edible Chino flowers on top. They can charge a few extra bucks for local food. Call it greenwashing. Call it fraud. It’s both. A few shady bad apples making the entire basket smell like pruno.

The farm-to-table movement was, and is: Local chefs using locally grown food, as much as possible. That helps San Diego’s farmers survive, food tastes better because it’s fresher, and it develops our economy.

So how do we know which restaurants are legit? If I want to support local food by eating at a restaurant that buys from local farmers, how can we find them? There’s no list. No website. No directory.

And now there is.

Red Door owner Trish Watlington has launched San Diego Farm to Fork Week. She’s made the list. Now she’s putting it into action.

Her method was simple. She called local farms and farmers markets. “Which San Diego restaurants buy from you on a regular basis?” she asked. They gave her a list. She called those restaurants. They banded together.

The idea wasn’t supposed to be big. Then it picked up steam. People got excited. San Diegans might finally have a farmer-certified list of real farm-to-table restaurants. No guessing. If you like supporting local food and farmers, eat at these joints.

That’s a valuable thing to food lovers. Buying local food is not as niche as it once was. Plus, thanks to farmers markets, average food joes have realized that local fruits and vegetables taste a hell of a lot better than the commodity produce at most grocery stores, which is often shipped from Florida on a train full of gas to help it “ripen” to a flavor somewhere between water and misery.

Farm to Fork Week will go down the same days as Restaurant Week, and the idea will work the same: participating restaurants set up a special prix fixe menu at a discounted price. Watlington says the timing isn’t a shot across boughs. “It’s not really about Restaurant Week,” she explains. “It’s about this group of small independent restaurants who need to support each other and stand together. Restaurant Week has its purpose, but it works better for bigger restaurants.”

Watlington has set up a website for Farm to Fork. She hopes to establish it as a growing list of restaurants who—as verified by farmers—support local food in a meaningful way. And, in the process, weed out restaurants that aren’t really farm-to-table at all. “I’d like to combat the farm to fable situation with restaurants who’d be part of the directory,” she explains.

The restaurants currently on the list are: Wrench & Rodent, Whet Noodle, 608 Oceanside, Jeremy’s on the Hill, Biga, Garden Kitchen, Cardamon Café & Bakery, Saiko Sushi, and, of course, The Red Door. The list is growing every week, Watlington says.

Farm to Fork Week Events

  • January 14: Kickoff Hog Roast at BIGA San Diego, 1-4 p.m.
  • January 14: Dickinson Farm Tour, 2-4 p.m.
  • January 15-22: Dining Discounts in Participating Restaurants
  • January 21: Wine Tasting and Book Signing at BAR by Red Door, 2-4 p.m.
  • January 22: Farmers, Friends and Fishermen Collaboration with Chef Miguel Valdez at Red Door and Chef Coral Fodor Strong from Garden Kitchen, 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
  • All week: Partner Farm and Restaurant Tours with Epicurean San Diego

Farm-to-Table Gets a Farmer-Approved List of Restaurants

Photo: Sam Wells

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