Garden to Table: As local as food gets

IMG_4794Though the “garden to table” concept isn’t new, it is one recently introduced to the arena of South Florida restaurants.  If managed properly, a restaurant having its own garden on-site can have many positive benefits, including:

  • The freshest produce possible.  Having the garden a few steps away enables the restaurant to harvest on its own schedule, as needed.
  • Reduced storage needs.  By having a garden so close, there is a reduced need to refrigerate produce for days or weeks in addition to less waste.
  • Reduced carbon footprint.  A restaurant being able to grow the majority of the produce it uses in its own garden will lower or eliminate the need to have produce transported, thus reducing the use of fossil fuels.
  • Access to rare varieties and species.  By a restaurant having its own garden it is no longer encumbered to only use the varieties and species that it is able to buy, but can plant rare or specialty items to grow and produce on its own.
  • Access to perishable items.  There are many edible plants that are delicious and grow well in our climate, but simply do not reach the marketplace due to the fact that they bruise or wilt easily.  If these plants are picked from a restaurant’s garden, they can be served with ample time before perishing.
  • Control of growing conditions.  The price of organically grown produce can be high, and if a restaurant’s garden is grown using organic methods then it’s produce will be that much more valuable.
  • Creation of a beautiful space.  Many restaurant patrons would love to see the garden while waiting on their meal.  An edible garden can be made into both a beautiful and productive space for customers and staff to enjoy.

Ready-to-Grow Gardens had the pleasure to recently design and install edible gardens for two local restaurants, Mandolin Aegean Bistro and The Dome.

Mandolin Organic Garden

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The first was at Mandolin Aegean Bistro (www.mandolinmiami.com, 4312 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL, 33137) where we created an edible garden on a plot of land behind the restaurant. “It was a dream of ours to grow and pick our own veggies and herbs to add to our dishes just like my mother and grandmother did” says Mandolin’s co-owner Anastasia Koutsioukis.

The “farm to table” concept has been going strong for some time and continues to proliferate. At Mandolin, they have been working with local purveyors and farms from day one but it was important to take it one step closer to home.  “In order to reflect the spirit of our organic garden we will prepare dishes in their purest form like simple field green salads dressed in Cretan single origin extra virgin olive oil. This way you can experience the flavor of the ingredients.”

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The planting area itself is influenced by a “mandala” garden design and has a central path that leads to a backdrop of beautiful oak trees with benches and tables that add a place to sit and enjoy the peaceful space.  Though there are some tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, the garden is primarily planted with salad greens (kale, mustard, endive, arugula, chard, spinach, cranberry hibiscus, katuk, lettuce) and herbs (oregano, parsley, Spanish tarragon, dill, mint, rosemary, chives, and zaatar).

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The Dome/Coral Gables High School Edible Garden

IMG_4887The second restaurant garden we helped create was a collaboration with The Dome (www.thedomebar.com,  271 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, FL, 33134) and the culinary arts program at Coral Gables High School.  Getting more hours of sun than the Mandolin Organic Garden, there is a greater emphasis on sun-loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, and peas, in addition to leafy greens and herbs.

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Produce grown will be shared between the restaurant and school, providing the freshest in-season harvests that will both enrich the restaurant’s menu, the education of the students, and will also be used in dishes to sell at fundraisers for the program. The Dome/Coral Gables High School Edible Garden will likely be expanded later in the year. Furthermore, Dome’s owner, Rachel Dominguez has started a foundation known as “The Culinary Youth Project”, as she describes here:

“The Culinary Youth Project educates youth on farming locally sourced organic food. We support culinary education by raising funds for classroom equipment, internships, state competitions and culinary training with certifications in the classroom for all youths interested in the culinary field. The foundation will collaborate with the local community of South Florida, local restaurants, and chefs in volunteer work to help raise these special funds that are desperately needed.”

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Though requiring a certain amount of investment on the part of restaurants to have a productive garden, the benefits are numerous.  Edible gardens for restaurants improve the quality of the food served, reduce environmental impact and create a space that exemplifies the “garden to table” connection, providing a direct view of where the freshest food comes from.

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