Thursday, May 15, 2014

Farm to table isn't a new concept here

When I was young, back in the early 80's, my dad would drive us around town on the weekends as we went to random spots for random activities.  I know that sounds pretty vague, but it was the case of random weekend summer activities.  We would sometimes drive to an old fruit and vegetable stand, in Webster Groves, where they always sold fresh and locally grown items.  I remembered seeing an old man running it, back then, and always nice.  I want to say it was called "Roger's Produce" and I would assume that the old man was named Roger.  The stand started in the 70's, from an old 1920's gas station. The thing was, on the ride from Shrewsbury to Webster Groves, this way, was about 3 minutes, since they were right next to each other across the highway.  I went to this stand, before it was the "cool" thing to do.  But along the ride, we passed many houses that had small yard-sized gardens.

The produce stand always had items fresh and from local farmers and I didn't think anything of it considering that not only my neighbors on the street at small farms, but we did too.  My dad used farming as a hobby, like his father before him and it seemed that it was completely normal to grow your own food or as much of it as you could.  I remembered seeing a small, maybe 10 foot square garden in my backyard with tomatoes, broccoli and some other vegetable plants.

My grandparents lived originally on Virginia Avenue and had a complete house to themselves.  As a young child, my grandparents would host myself and my older brother for sleepovers. There was the old television, my uncles original 13 inch tall G.I.Joe figures and some other random toys, but the highlight of those days was the garden.  My grandfather, who worked at Monsanto after he finished his run as a field nurse in the second World War, started a garden in their backyard.  I would estimate that the garden was about 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and had a chicken wire roof at about 8 feet off of the ground.  In fact, the entire garden was encased in this chicken wire cage with a wooden screen door as the entrance.  I remembered that he had everything from tomatoes to corn and squash to green beans growing inside of this garden cage.  The place was magnificent and it was such a treat to have my grandmother harvest items from their own backyard and use them as side dishes for items she prepared.

Now I know that life in St. Louis was different in the 40's, 50's, and 60's, but even when my family moved to a new house in the mid 80's, we worked to get a small garden in the backyard again.  This time, with tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and peppers.  During this time as well, when my dad would take us on drives or excursions during summer weekends, we would sometimes pass still operational produce farms in St. George off of Mackenzie or off of Union or even further off of Telegraph.  It is just amazing how much property and land was farmland even in my younger years and is now residential or commercial. Still, the concept of farm to table, as it is being used today, is the same as it was then, only now there are fewer farms.  But I don't think this area, this metropolitan area of St. Louis has anything but farms.  I lived near farms and farmers my whole life and even on the Illinois side of the river in Columbia, my subdivision is located next to farmland. I admit though, the land that we have as our yard, was once a landfill where people dumped things they didn't want so the ground is not great for farming, like the farms around us.  But, even with use of the farmland at my in-law's home, we have a large summer farm in the works with corn, sunflowers, tomatoes, squash and peppers.

I tend to thing that St. Louis is doing a better job at the farm-to-table concept than any other city based on the fact that the time between productive farms 20 years ago and new farms now, was just a short hiccup of time compared to other cities.  Think of those restaurants in Austin which claim to support local farmers and do farm to table, but get their products from farms 30-100 miles away.  About 10 years ago, the farm to table was just really becoming a popular thing again in the US and at a restaurant at the newly opened Lumiere Casino called Sleek, Chef Hubert Keller wanted to bring St. Louis the concept even though it never left town.  I remembered eating a meal at his restaurant and having the waiter telling me how everything has been locally farmed or produced and then his explanations included things like carrots harvested from Wentzville or beef from Colorado or even tomatoes from a farm near Chicago. I was then and am still disturbed because at that same time, I was fully aware of cattle being grown for their meat, just in SW Missouri, I was aware of deliciously fresh and local carrots grown on the other side of the river and even tomatoes grown just inside of Columbia, Illinois.  To me, when a restaurant says they want something local, they mean within 20-30 miles, for the record, Wentzville is about 50 miles from that restaurant.  There are a lot of really good local farms and farmers within less than 50 miles from that restaurant and yet they wanted to focus so much on what was outside the limits.

To be blunt and still remain some sort of sense in this madness, I would like to state that I have been eating farm-to-table practically my whole life.  I have never lived more than 5 miles from a farm and always support the closely local farmers.  I can't really explain much more or describe much else but I guess it would be similar to someone explaining how they are the best in Parisian Fashion when Paris is the best at that.  What would happen if a designer came into Paris and told the people there that this is how they do it in Paris and showed them things they have been seeing their whole life.

Contrary to popular belief and statistics, St. Louis is a very safe place to live.  The place that makes it listed as a dangerous city is a very small surface area of the entire area.  The rest of the city is awesome with historical landmarks, farms and gardens, and still the friendliest people in the country.

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