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Food Fables: Investigating San Diego Restaurants Claims of Farm-to-Table Products

The photo, provided by San Diego Magazine, shows a a restaurant advertisement that says it uses Chino Farms products.
San Diego Magazine
The photo, provided by San Diego Magazine, shows a a restaurant advertisement that says it uses Chino Farms products.
Food Fables: Investigating San Diego Restaurants Claims of Farm-to-Table Products
Food Fables: Investigating San Diego Restaurants Claims of Farm-to-Table Products GUESTS:Troy Johnson, reporter, San Diego Magazine Lucila De Alejandro, co-creator, Suzie's Farm

We have the restaurant conversation. It's no longer enough to ask what good, we want to know where it comes on. If we have a question about the chicken can you tell us more about it. Is a heritage and breed that's good that a diet of sheep's milk, soy and hazelnuts. This is local? Yes. Could ask you again is a local Is all across-the-board organic. And hazelnuts local? How big is the area or the chickens are able to roam free. I had the same question. 4 acres That's it from the show Portland yeah. It's a spoof of the farm to table movement is extreme. It shows you how important locally grown food hampered his has become too many diners and restaurants. The problem is because the places says it's a farm to table, it's not necessarily so. There's an exposé of how restaurants exaggerate, mislead and lie about where their food comes from. Joining me as Troy Johnson, food editor, he wrote the article farm to table -- Farm to table. Lucy, or come. Always a joy to be here. You enough money with the term, what is the term, to table supposed to me? Farm to table is a very convoluted term. It originally had a great purpose -- purpose. Admit you were working with locals and having a direct relationship with the people raising and growing your food. The recent you do that is you can't be sure the way they are going matches your ethics whether be organic, sustainable, they treat their farmworkers right. They are doing slave wages, that sort of thing. That's a huge thing. I just read tomato plant the book but there's actually slavery going on in Florida tomato growing. Is a great relationship to start. I like to say it's going within 100 miles but who knows? There's not an exact definition. The idea was you knew who was going to food and how they're going it and is a top notch food. Besides cc farm, what are some of the other farm supplying restaurants in San Diego? San Diego, with one of the most famous farms and that's Chino Farms. In the 19 6770s, people were coming out with the organic food movement, Tom Chino and his family were buying those almost exclusively from those. He goes amazing produce and Rancho Santa Fe. That's our big one. There's also farms from David Barnes did a lot of farm to table stuff. There are three or four, being the biggest ones. What you found, this has become so popular questions are misleading customers where they get their parties. Tells look to God. -- Tell us what you found. I don't want to paint the entire basket of apples and a bad light it is only a couple good apples there I'm willing to report on all monster by don't want to create one. I did some interviews, there's a restaurant I wouldn't than to try to sell my 2-2, eight years later I had a friend call and say I had your salad at this restaurant. The restaurant had been selling Conley forms of salad for eight years on his menu and never bought a single ring from the farmer. It fronts of the farmer, anticipate his workers. It also deprives the customer. I really didn't want to do anything about it. About a month and a half ago, I had a file sitting on my desk called farm to fable for two years. Some he sent me a menu saying they're using Susie's arm -- farm dinner. We only grow local produce and the farm dinner was in January. This full of tomatoes and eggplants and zucchini we don't grow at that time of year. Would Troy contacted us and we told him what the deal was, that was the truth. Had a somewhat similar experience in a restaurant saying, we love your produce. Robin and I went to brunch one day it came to pass the server understood where we are from and she was so excited to meet us, we're so grateful to the work you do and what you provide for our community and our restaurant I tell all of our clients we get this produce from you. It's amazing. Robin and I are nodding and saying yes, thank you. I see this should left we smiled and on the menu it said Susie's arm, they had not been purchasing from us in a long time. Troy, you make the article point it's not the service fault. Way need to clarify, most chefs and restaurants are honest and there are honest mistakes that have been They couldn't stop buying and not changed their menu. Spoke with a chef not too long ago whose server said this is from Chino Farm. And I said you're not buying was what are you talking about. He had to go to the farm and apologized to go my server messed up. It's not anybody's fault except for the frauds. There is a lot more fraud than I thought it was the This elect, it has a financial cost? Yes. I love the Troy mentioned it, one of the negative ways can affect us is that people purchase something I've think it comes from Susie's farm and it's not good, there's repercussions of their. The other thing that happens is everyone thinks Susie's farm is doing great because we are everywhere got you see us on menus, ECS in whole foods. People think we are doing well, we have had people say to us we are not going to buy from you because you don't need our money. There are other firms around who need our many or that you do What they don't realize is a producing five figures of week and struggling to keep farm afloat. This is happening across the board to go some can be traced back into misrepresentation that's going on? Yesterday If they are using the brand name and not buying it, you're not supporting your farm to go --. The reputation they built for their amazing produce, they built up a brand name people are willing to pay more for an people are stealing that brand name and not paying the people and the local growers Farmers are not rich people. I spoke with David Barnes who is doing half $1 million a year. He is now a manager at Magic Mountain Meadows mushrooms. That's not a slam on what happens, he sought so much revenue go out the door even though people are still claiming to serve his stuff because If they are not getting the produce from Susie's, where they getting it? I think Lucilla can answer that better Ultimately they are getting it from farms but from wholesale distributors. The distributors are getting them from big farms. It's what we could -- is what we would call a factory farm. They represent 6000 acres of carrots. They represent 2000 acres of likely. You can get very efficient and very fast at doing something like that. Just be fair, the root comes from arms but they are coming from bigger farms automated in areas devoted to agriculture. All those are diminished in those areas ends here in San Diego, for Susie's farm because of 13 months from downtown, where in the city of San Diego. We pay the same water weight you do in your home. We pay the same water rates on our land. It's not agriculture area so we are paying ultra NEM prices -- to produce the ultra premium product. You chose not to name the restaurant in your article why Texas The reason why didn't, I would've had to lawyer up. I would've had to be pro bono have a bunch of people in suits when I did that. I would have needed to have full district foolproof proof. Right now, I didn't want to do some of these livelihood because they're making a bad choice. Here's what I will do next. I have solicited information, I just got a comment on the story that said I used to work for an organic food reader that claim to sell local organic food. Ice to sit in the office and peeled the Washington grown stickers off the food they would buy from Cosco and then deliver it. Or bananas from Chile. My next form of action is this. I've made a coalition of restaurant insiders are going to report intentional fraud to me. Not honest mistakes, I'm good to have that report intentional to me and get photographic evidence of the deliveries they are getting and what not. Then I will go directly to them. I will say you are defrauding your customers and everybody in town. I have photographic evidence, you can change your ways now, and I will be checking back or I'm going to report this and put it out in a press. We might see a sequel to this? Yes. This is not just a one-off ago 70 people inside the industry says I have so much information for you. I said I don't to kill somebody making honest mistakes. If I get photographic evidence and I talked to them and said stopping a fraud. As Lucilla points out, if the advertiser using locally grown produce, they can charge more for it because it obviously cost more. Is anything now consumers can do to verify where they get their food? Lucilla is a great listing on their website that mentions the restaurants that buy from them specifically? I would say with our farm, we are so committed to our community and part of the service we provide for our clients is not. Not all farms are like that. I don't even know that Chino Farms has a website. They could be an additional layer for farm to have to manage. It's unfortunate if that's an additional thing they have to manage. You get to know yourself and your restaurant. You talk to them. Also make the point of people getting to note the seasonal foods in San Diego. Yes. San Diego farm area has a great list of what's going in season. If you see tomatoes in the middle of winter, it's probably not local. Gets to know what's actually in the season. With the most shocking stories I saw was chefs would come to Chino Farm, right down what they were selling at the time, right on the produce they had, and not by a being and put that produce on their menu as if they were selling it. Is in the July edition of San Diego magazine, farm to fable. Thank you both very much.

A San Diego Magazine investigation targets local restaurants that claim to use farm-to-table growers and end up misleading customers about where their food came from.

In his article "Farm to Fable,” magazine reporter Troy Johnson examined restaurants that advertised using locally grown food products to take advantage of the popularity of the farm-to-table movement.

Johnson found some of them were exaggerating, misrepresenting or lying about their food sources.

He gave KPBS Midday Edition on Monday an example of a restaurant that misrepresented its menu. He said the establishment claimed it used products from Connelly Farms in Ramona, but the owner of the farm hadn’t sold anything to the restaurant.

“It not only frauds the farmers, but it doesn’t pay the workers,” Johnson said. “It frauds the customers.”

Lucila De Alejandro of Suzie's Farms has also had restaurants claim they use her products. She said one restaurant advertised a meal that included tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini from her farm, but during that time of the year the farm wasn’t growing those products.

Johnson said the purpose of farm-to-table products is to know where your food is coming from.

“Originally, it had a great purpose,” he said. “It meant you were working with local purveyors, you had a direct relationship with the people growing and raising your food, and you could make sure they match your ethics.”

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