Mainline food production can be unhealthy on a variety of levels, but Toyota thinks farmers are the driving force behind fixing the problems of our monoculture-reliant food economy.
That’s why Toyota started the Farm To Table Tour, an awareness event that set out on July 10 to cross the map in hybrid vehicles, braking at farmers’ markets across the country to spread the green gospel.
Scheduled to stop in Birmingham at this Saturday’s Pepper Place Market, the tour will bring nine of our local chefs together with Alabama farmers to give market customers a taste of the possibilities buried in our good dirt. Joining forces with Snow’s Bend Farm, Chris Hastings of The Hot and Hot Fish Club will use farmed eggplant, peppers and tomatoes with basil pesto and local goat cheese in a salad he says “just makes for a really seasonally-appropriate, deliciously composed [combination] of flavors that are just brilliant.”
It’s the proximity to farms that puts the punch in his flavor profiles, Hastings says. “In getting food from thousands of miles away, other continents, time zones, countries—with time and travel, the quality and the nutritional value drops, and the carbon footprint goes through the roof.
With the way we do business, you get a nutritionally more valuable, better tasting product. You get one with a very small carbon footprint. You get food that supports local economy, farmers, people. The Farm To Table Tour is very much in keeping with what we’ve been doing for fifteen, twenty years,” he says. “It’s good that corporate America is getting involved.”
Chris Zapalowski, formerly of the Hot and Hot kitchen, is the new owner and operator of The Homewood Gourmet. He’s in accord with Hastings about the value of corporate support. At this weekend’s event, he’ll pair with Bonnie Jones and Durbin Farms to create a dish featuring grilled Chilton County peaches, Benton’s Country Ham and local goat cheese. “The event seems like a good opportunity for everyone,” he says. “For Toyota, [president of Sloss Real Estate Company] Cathy Crenshaw, the farmers as vendors, and farmers as farmers. Toyota is just helping the effort to make people become more aware.”
While Toyota’s effort takes center stage this Saturday, Birmingham chefs have been singing this tune here for years. Hastings and Zapalowski are joined by Clif Holt of Forrest Park’s Little Savannah. For the past two years, during the spring and summer months, Holt and his wife, Maureen, have hosted Community Farm Table nights once a week, making dinner with local fresh foods and inviting diners to eat together with the farmers.
“The only time you see your neighbor is when you’re pulling in and out of the garage. [Our idea] was just about integrating that with our agricultural availability, creating a social dining experience to put people in the community in touch with each other and the people who grow their food. [Toyota’s] event fits right into what we do, what we’ve been doing for a while. It’s about time somebody copied us,” he says.
On Saturday, Holt will team up with Rod Palmer of Owl’s Hollow Farm to make a fresh egg frittata using his eggplant, spinach, corn and heirloom tomatoes. To that, he’ll add Wright Dairy cream and goat cheese from Belle Chevre. Like many local restaurant owners, Holt has a relationship with the farmers who stock his pantry. “Rod comes to the back door on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he says. “When he pulls up, I’ll go out to the back and hand pick things from his truck. I’ll spend 20 or 30 minutes getting the best tomatoes I can pick off of him.” He then uses the farmed picks to create what he considers good food served in a simple way. No pretense. No snobbery.
Kimberly Brock, “Bitty” of Bitty’s Back Porch Catering is on the same page. For the last ten years, she has specialized in serving comfort foods, or what she calls “fine cuisine with Southern charm.” After completing culinary school in Denver, Colorado, Brock returned home to Alabama to grow her business from the ground.
“There’s a lot of bad stuff out there. People just pick up things that are prepackaged. Even packaged fresh vegetables have gone though a process.
It’s wonderful to have so many options in the city.”
Brock applauds Jones Valley Urban Farm (JVUF) for what they’re doing to make fresh foods more readily available. That’s why she’s chosen to combine with them for this Saturday’s event. “I think that they’re doing an awesome job, not just with what they’re doing for restaurants and chefs, but what they’re doing in the community, too. And it’s right in the heart of the city.”
Using JVUF’s fresh veggies, she’ll cook up what she calls “Bitty’s Heiress Divine.” The open-faced fresh baguette is a play on the classic BLT. “We’re going to make a tarragon mayonnaise, and use fresh smoked bacon, baby arugula and an heirloom tomato salad instead to jazz it up, with roasted corn sprinkled on top,” she says.
Seasonality is becoming increasingly important in the decisions that chefs make about their menus. Cooking based on what’s growing is what cuts down on exorbitant shipping costs, which means less of an environmental impact.
And Toyota is carrying that banner, too. To help offset their tour’s footprint, they’ll be purchasing “carbon credits” through carbon-offset company Terra Pass.
Making pit stops at eleven other city farmers’ markets, the Tour hopes to celebrate and encourage the environmentally conscious choices that market shoppers are already making.
“The tour provides Toyota the opportunity to connect people who have made lifestyle choices,” says Keith Dahl, Toyota National Manager of Engagement Marketing, “such as driving hybrid vehicles, eating locally-grown food and shopping at farmers’ markets, while also providing the opportunity to directly give back to the communities where our customers live.”
Toyota’s Farm to Table Tour pulls up at Pepper Place, this Saturday, July 24, from 8 a.m.-noon. In addition to taste tests from the mentioned chefs, the event will include hybrid vehicle test drives, locally grown herbs in the Highlander Herb Mobile Garden and chances to win cars and travel prizes.
Also to appear at the event are Jared Danks of Culinard, Guillermo Castro of Cantina, Jea Evens Estinfort and Serge Pambo of Cafe de Paris, Clayton Sherrod of Chef Clayton’s Foods and Haller Magee of Satterfield’s. For more information on the tour, visit www.farmtotabletour.com.
Cory Bordonaro writes about food and other topics for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.