On this week’s episode of Tent Talk we’re joined by former restaurant owner Trish Watlington of Two Forks Farm and Farm to Fork San Diego. We talk about the challenges restaurant owners face in buying direct from farmers and how to make the system work better. Trish shares how to leverage the power of farm to table commitment to increase business for both farmers and restaurateurs.
From farm to table, literally
Small farmer and former restaurant owner Trish Watlington knows both sides of the farm to table business. As newlyweds, Trish and her husband followed their dreams to a 32-acre Maryland farm, but left it behind when they followed jobs and eventually landed in San Diego. Decades later, their family created a true farm to table restaurant. That led to developing their suburban southern California property into a functioning tiny farm to help supply the kitchen. Trish and her chefs also spent time at local farmers’ markets, buying in quantity and fostering ongoing relationships with local farmers who could deliver produce and protein on a regular basis.
Exploring diners’ commitment to local food
For almost 10 years, The Red Door remained dedicated to local sourcing. Quarterly special dinners brought farmers and fishermen to the dining room so diners learned more about who produced their food. Regular customers became more involved through an innovative Community Supported Restaurant program, a riff on farm CSAs. We explore with Trish whether eaters make decisions based on knowledge that a restaurant uses local producers, or just frequent those restaurants because the food is fresher and better tasting. For restaurant operators, the intensity of flavors and the longer life of very fresh food is an economic advantage.
Rallying other restaurant owners
Trish Watlington is the founder of Farm to Fork San Diego, a membership and marketing organization that verifies restaurant sourcing direct from farmers and promotes them to consumers. Connecting farmers and restaurateurs has a big effect on the financial sustainability of small farmers, since producers keep a much larger percentage of the wholesale price. The direct sales model does have challenges around consistent supply of individual ingredients and timely deliveries. Farm to Fork San Diego helps members address those issues. The organization also coordinates and promotes events throughout the year to promote true farm to table menus.
From table back to farm
After the sale of The Red Door, Trish remains focused on growing Farm to Fork San Diego. She also finds herself on the other side of the truck nowadays, selling the produce she used to raise for her own restaurant to other local chefs. With the perspective of a former buyer, she knows what’s important to the chefs buying from her own Two Forks Farm. Trish personally makes many of the deliveries to kitchen doors. She also continues to support organizations supporting local food systems. We give a shoutout to Trish’s contributions volunteering at the 2019 InTents Conference and she shares some of her experiences at the event.
Where can I listen to Trish’s full episode of Tent Talk?
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