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Wes Little is a CNN Editor/Producer based in Atlanta.
"They're turning over all the land which is what people do with machines, but you know, we do it with pigs," Jared Pickard tells me as a few small black pigs wander out of the woods on Fowler Farms outside Athens, Georgia. They are followed by a few larger red ones. They give me a sniff and move on.
After deciding to pursue agriculture full time, upon recommendation of his local butcher he contacted Jason Mann about an apprenticeship with his farm operation in Athens, Georgia.
Pickard says, "Finding an apprenticeship on a farm is actually a very easy thing to accomplish, but finding one with such an intimate relationship to its own restaurant is a bit more unique". He moved from New York to Georgia to work with Mann's farming group, which also operates a restaurant - Farm 255 in Athens.
The "farm to table" movement involves restaurants seeking a stronger relationship with the source of their food: the farms. Often this means seeking out distributors who source their produce locally, sending their chefs to farmers markets, and buying some fruits and vegetables directly from local farms or possibly an on-site garden. Some are taking it further by running their own farms.
Jason Mann's Farm 255 is such an operation - additionally running Moonshine Meats and Full Moon Farms. After several years Mann was feeling that he needed some help with restaurant operations and sought out restaurateur George Frangos, to help him "fix some holes." Mann was also sitting on the concept for a new restaurant - Farm Burger.
Frangos told Mann it was time to move on the idea, and that he would make it happen. They recruited Terry Koval, an Atlanta chef with a background in other sustainable farming-centric restaurants to design their menu.
Farm to table restaurants of varying commitment and quality are increasingly easy to find across the country, but most are higher-end establishments. Frangos says, "A lot of times farm to table is defined as a more fine dining experience - you have to go out and it's an occasion and it's evening. We're doing that but in an everyday burger joint experience at Farm Burger."
He continued, "We're very conscious of our price point, our basic burger starts at $6, you can come in and get a lunch combo for $8. You can come in here for your lunch and get a burger. For what we're serving, and the cost that go into it, that’s maybe $2 more than McDonalds' Angus combo. I don’t think were in the stratosphere of price points; that was important to us."
So what do the customers think? Most of the patrons I spoke with thought that the ethics were laudable and that the burgers were delicious. Some people do seek out - or only eat - grass fed beef and for them a restaurant like Farm Burger is a godsend. But the consensus seemed to be that most customers appreciated the ethics - as long as they are wrapped in a juicy patty on a golden bun.
Jason Mann sees Farm Burger's methods as the beginnings of a real alternative to industrial agriculture. He says, "If most folks really saw how their food was produced, they would not be able to bear the true costs of the eggs that they get at their local big box store, they wouldn’t feel good about eating the pork or beef that’s 99 cents a pound. I think farm to table is a nice microscope into the other side and what it possibly could be."
And he hopes Farm Burger as a model can be a catalyst that shows other farmers what is possible. "Farm Burger was created to hopefully inspire through market opportunities new producers, producers that are confined and struggle with typical market commodity beef prices and the whimsical nature of them to go to a grass based system and to see their beef be consumed and enjoyed locally."
He continues, "I really believe that pasture based animal systems is the future of beef in America and that we can only go on the way we are going for so much longer."