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Contextualizing the Journey from Farm to Table

and the True Age of your Produce

by Madelyn Buchmann

The “Farm to Table” movement sprouted first in the 1960s in major cities where consumers were bored of consuming the mass-produced, chemical-laden, tasteless and cheap foods of the time: Jell-O, canned tuna, boxed cakes, meatloaf. They wanted to eat fresh, and they wanted fresh to be delicious. Restaurants picked up on this desire, and by the 70s, farm to table restaurants were popping up across the United States. One of the first of these restaurants was Chez Panisse, opened in 1971 in Berkeley, California by Alice Waters. Her dishes were more flavorful because they were cooked with fresh, seasonal ingredients grown by local, organic farms.

The movement is about shortening the distance between farm, where produce is harvested, and the consumer’s kitchen table, where produce is then eaten. This includes buying produce locally—from farmers’ markets or directly from farmers—as well as growing your own produce. This not only means your produce is more fresh and flavorful, but you also know exactly where your food came from: how it was grown, what chemicals it has touched, and when it was picked. The movement also stimulates local economy, supports small businesses, and drastically reduces food waste.

In the United States, food waste amounts to

$408 billion

each year.

But partaking in the Farm to Table movement can be beneficial for the individual consumer, too—or rather, solves fundamental problems with today’s produce industry that you don’t even know exist.

In order to provide consumers with a variety of fruits and vegetables year round, most produce is grown somewhere outside of the United States with more conducive climates. For example, Mexico is responsible for three-quarters of fresh vegetable imports to the US. This produce is shipped by plane, train, and truck, and by the time it’s reached American grocery stores, it’s traveled over 1500 miles and spent up to 14 months in storage.

During the traditional journey from farm to table, produce goes through five “steps” before reaching the consumer.

1. Harvesting

Produce starts losing nutrients

immediately after harvest.

2. Processing

This includes washing, grading,

sorting, and packaging.

3. Storage

Produce may spend up to 14

months in storage. Even though

they are treated with chemical

preservatives or cryogenics,

they are still losing nutrients.

4. Distribution

Produce travels over 1500 miles

by plane, train, and truck.

5. Retail

Produce spends an average of

three days on store shelves.

6. Your Table

Produce is stored for an average

of seven days by the consumer

before it is then prepared to eat—

a process in which the produce

loses even more nutrients.

We have been taught to eat our fruits and vegetables because of the nutrients they provide, but produce starts to lose the nutrients it contains as soon as its harvested. That means, by the time the produce has reached your table after such a long journey, it is severely nutrient deficient. The longest part of the journey that leads to nutrient deficiency is storage, even though they are frozen, soaked in preservatives, or most often, both. As a conservative estimate, most fruits and vegetables lose 30% of their nutrients in 3 days.

Let’s use apples as our case study. Consumers want apples year round, but unfortunately they have a very limited growing and harvest season: from August to mid-November, depending on the type of apple and specific growing climate. That means, for the rest of the year, they are kept in cold storage and slowly distributed to retail locations. Imagine how quickly apples can go bad in your fridge. After 10 months in cold storage, the quality of your apple is going to be very different than when it first came off the tree.

What can you do to ensure that you’re eating truly fresh, nutrient-dense apples, or other fruits and vegetables?

1. Buy and cook with in-season produce.

Big-name grocery stores, because of the mass-production and bulk-buy nature of the industry, can afford to offer great deals on food. While there are better options, some of us can’t afford to shop anywhere else, or maybe don’t even have access to other types of retailers. Don’t worry! You can get as many nutrients out of your grocery store produce as possible by buying in-season produce. For example, if you buy apples at the grocery store during between August and mid-November, there’s a better chance that they’ll be younger with more nutrients. Here’s a chart visualizing the harvest seasons of the most common fruits and vegetables:

2. Shop locally, either directly from a farmer or at a farmers’ market.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more or drive a bit further, shopping either directly from a farmer or at a farmers’ market means that the produce you buy will be grown closer to home—it hasn’t traveled 1500 miles to reach your kitchen table. Therefore, it’s most likely fresher and with more nutrients. You can also ask the vendor when the produce was harvested, what kind of preservatives or pesticides have been used, and how it’s been stored. Even if it’s not the farmer themselves, they’ll have a good idea of these processes. They’ll be enthusiastic to answer any questions and share what they’re passionate about with you.

3. Grow your own produce at home.

The best thing you can possibly do to know exactly where your food comes from and how old it is, is grow it yourself in your own home. This is really to do if you have any yard-space at all. Build a planter with some two-by-fours or purchase a few pots and get that thumb turning green! But if you don’t have the time to tend a garden or the space for it, the Fable Refrigerator makes home-gardening a little easier. Our small startup company founded was by three college students that are passionate about healthier eating and a greener Earth. The Fable Refrigerator breaks down the barriers of traditional home-gardening—time, space, effort—by putting a self-sustaining, climate-controlled hydroponic farm inside of your fridge. Check out our product here.

Healthy eating shouldn’t be a privilege.

The hardest part of improving how your eating habits is knowing that the mass-marketed food industry has tricked you into believing that grocery store produce is full of nutrients when it’s in reality, sometimes over a year old. The second part is making the lifestyle change, like accepting that “an apple a day” will really only work for you three months of the year—or, maybe companies like Fable Appliances LLC will make that possible by continuing to innovate products like a farm in your fridge or even hydroponic greenhouses inside grocery stores.

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