Farm to table

By Charlyn Fargo

When farmers band together, it’s amazing what they can get done. As you approach 2015, consider the possibilities.

Back in 2006, a group of North Dakota farmers banded together to start an upscale, farm-to-table restaurant chain on the East Coast. Their goal was to sell directly to consumers. They were inspired by a group of Minnesota farmers who banded together to sell food at the Minnesota State Fair.

It took some persistence – and changes from the original plan – but members of the North Dakota Farmers Union now sell their wheat to make the bread and pasta at each restaurant, including the one in Washington D.C., called Agrria. The wheat is locally grown in North Dakota and shipped to the East Coast. The honey is sourced from rooftop apiaries in downtown Washington. Perishable goods such as eggs and milk come from mid-Atlantic family-farm cooperatives. The group now has three restaurant locations and are fulfilling their belief that family farms need to reestablish a connection to the consumer to survive.

Nationally, farmers’ markets and farm-to-table restaurants tripled direct sales of food from 1992 to 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Farmers Restaurant Group has since expanded to include three of the most successful culinary ventures in the D.C. area, serving tens of thousands of people a week and creating a viable path for direct-sourced farm products on a massive scale. They hope to eventually open 10 restaurants.

Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union and one of the founding members, admits the group didn’t really know what they were doing in the beginning, but their goal was to find a new venue for their products so they weren’t just selling a commodity. They eventually hired restaurant executives to help, and it worked.

What they’ve done is enough to inspire any farmer.

‘Tis the season to think out of the tractor cab on just what new markets could be available for this year’s harvest.

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