cynthia walen films

Farmer (and former attorney) Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farms sees farm-to-table partnerships between farmers and restaurants as a growing niche and a profitable one for young farmers—if they know what they’re doing. That’s why she started Farmer University, a yearlong residential program to teach young farmers the ins and outs of growing for restaurants.

“More and more, chefs are understanding how critical it is for them to partner with a farmer to make their restaurant stand out,” Sandberg told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “It’s all about the ingredients.” 

She should know; Sandberg has an exclusive contract with chef David Kinch of the upscale Los Gatos restaurant, Manres, providing him with all manner of artisanal and sustainably grown produce. Their partnership is also the subject of a documentary, “The Farmer and the Chef.”

Parnerships like theirs are part of a growing and increasingly global trend of farm-to-table cuisines, with restaurants looking to farmers and ingredients to help them stand out. It’s also part of a larger movement to eat more locally, and understand where our food comes from with the trend showing up in farm-to-table wedding receptions, farm food trucks, and even spas. But in the age of big-ag, it’s a movement that young farmers may not be prepared for. Despite the rising interest in local food, monoculture farming—growing only one or two commodity crops like corn or soybeans—is still the norm for many farmers.

“A market farmer might grow 10 to 13 things, maybe just one,” Sandberg told the Sentinel. “If you’re going to grow for a restaurant, you need to know how to grow 300 things very well.”

The Farmer University program will focus not only on the skills needed to grow many different varieties of produce and do so year-round, but also on the business skills associated with running a small farm and working with restaurants—everything from buying land to building fences.

Hopefully, with support and good education, the farm-to-table movement can continue to grow, and resist becoming just another watered-down food fad. One herb in a dish, picked from the chef’s windowbox, does not a farm-fresh meal make, but a good partnership between chef and farmer can be an experience of the sublime.

Photo: Walen Films