Farm-to-table — the term has become a fixture in the culinary lexicon — started in the 1970s, when Chez Panisse and a handful of other restaurants hatched what then seemed like a radical notion: Build menus from food grown by nearby farmers who are thoughtful about everything from the seeds they select and the soil they grow them in to the communities they feed. That idea grew into a pipeline connecting farmers, ranchers and chefs that in 2019 had generated $12 billion in income for small-scale producers including cheesemakers and vintners.
A direct pipeline to chefs that took decades to build has been cut off by the coronavirus, leaving small farmers and ranchers with food they can’t sell. Small farmers across the country who spent decades building a local, sustainable agricultural system, are staring at their fields and wondering what to do now that the table has been kicked out from under the modern farm-to-table movement. All of that market is gone, and no one knows what’s going to happen or how people’s behaviors are going to change.
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