In a corn-fed, processed and packaged America, we are lucky to have Santa Barbara as a hotbed of delicious farm-to-table dining. How many cities can boast year-round harvests within walking distance of local eats and fine dining? The best part is, we Santa Barbarians get the opportunity to eat out with some peace of mind—our food is healthy and our dollars are spent supporting the local economy and environment.
John Downey (of Downey’s Restaurant) is often referred to as Santa Barbara’s “father of farm-to-table.” 35 years ago, he left New York to find out where all the good produce was coming from. He says he’s found the “sweet spot” right here in Santa Barbara, where “the Chef’s decision is easy…fresher, tastier and better quality for around the same cost as food that’s been on a truck half of its life!”
Recently, LoaTree’s sister company, LoaCom, teamed up with the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association to identify and promote local restaurants and establishments who make the daily decision to support our farmers. After many hours of meetings and research, we are proud to launch the Farm Friendly Dining Certification Program. This program highlights restaurants that have agreed to commit at least 25% of total food expenditures to Santa Barbara Farmers Market and other local vendors.
Working with Santa Barbara’s food establishments to launch the program, I spent many hours on the inside on the ‘farm-to-table restaurant world’ over the past couple of months. The first thing I learned was working with people in the restaurant business is not the easiest task. Chefs, managers and restaurant owners alike are less concerned with emails, meetings and paperwork than the rest of us worker bees—and for good reason! Their goal is to get a farm-fresh, organic, local, seasonal, delicious masterpiece on your plate on time and with a smile. They live in the moment, where each day is a new day, and food is the beginning, middle and end.
As I requested invoices, receipts and records to establish a standard for certification, I found that everyone had their own form of bookkeeping. Whether it’s tidy spreadsheets or a handwritten Farmers Market receipt in their back pocket, chefs can be a bit of a mess outside the kitchen. Still, they all have one thing in common. They care about the integrity of their food – our food – community food! They want to know that their dollars go to farmers, not multinational corporations. They want to know that the produce they buy is grown with love for meals that will soon be prepared with love.
Justin, owner and head chef of Julienne, explained to me, “I like to walk to the farmers market myself and hand-pick each juicy tomato that I’ll be serving. I enjoy choosing high quality ingredients and knowing exactly where they came from. It feels so much better putting one hundred dollars in the hand of the farmer that cultivated the food than sending a check to some corporation.”
Sure, the price tag may be a bit higher, but if you’ve ever tasted farm-to-table luxury, you will know the price is right. Your dollar makes a huge impact too, as it is estimated that each dollar spent recirculates in the Santa Barbara community about seven times before it is spent elsewhere. All in all, supporting restaurants that locally source their food supports your health, our community and global sustainability. While your taste buds dance, your conscience will cheer, and your tummy will thank you.
No matter what your price range or craving, Santa Barbarians have the option to go local. As of the launch of the ‘Farm Friendly Dining’ program, we already have an impressive diversity of establishments certified, ranging from fine dining at Downey’s to others that are making sure our neediest residents have a healthy option, such as the Organic Soup Kitchen. Grab a to-go sandwich at the Isla Vista Food Co-op. Refresh with a post-yoga pick-me-up at Juice Ranch. Make your way on over to Alchemy Café for a Zen dining experience. Enjoy a farm-to-bar cocktail at Anchor. Experience the season’s flavors at Julienne. Catch happy hour before a show at Soho. Taste the catch of the day at Seagrass. Go grass-fed at Arlington Tavern. Cater your next party with Duo Catering. Get your late night eats at the Blue Owl.
We do not claim the program is perfect but believe it is a step in the right direction as we all work together to create a better food future.
Support local and love your food. I promise it will love you back.
By Abigail Wolff, LoaCom Program Associate
(note: All SBCFM Restaurant Certification information will be posted soon on a new SB Farmers Market website. Stay tuned!)(Photos by Matt Perko Photography and courtesy of Anchor Restaurant)