Farm to Fable

Local. Sustainable. Artisanal. Non-GMO. Responsibly grown.

These terms flood menus at popular restaurants that claim to be “farm-to-table.” Consumers are more health-conscious than ever and want to support their communities. They’re willing to pay a premium for freshness, eager to visit markets and buy fruits and vegetables they believe were picked just down the road.

The truth is a little less savory.

For years on her beat, Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley had a hunch that it was all a fairy tale. That those “local” veggies were rejects from the grocery store. That “gulf shrimp” came frozen from India. As the farm-to-table movement boomed in Tampa Bay, Reiley started asking questions. She called food distributors, farmers and fishermen. She drove to farms and found dead bushes. She stowed fish in her purse and had it genetically tested.

Farm to Fable, a multipart investigation, received national attention and inspired other journalists to tackle similar problems in their cities. And the state of Florida has responded. Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office is currently investigating restaurants throughout Florida. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation stepped up investigations and training, and has recently started issuing farm-to-table-related violations. And the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is working to redefine its Fresh From Florida marketing program.