Forget farm-to-table. Back-yard-to-table is the next big thing. If you ever thought the car ride from the farmers' market to your kitchen was too long, there's great news. Williams-Sonoma announced last week it would sell chicken coops, beehives, edible gardens, and even DIY cheese kits. The Agrarian line is already available online and in select stores as of yesterday, April 9.
With this new line, shoppers are only a couple of clicks away from freshly potted organic herbs and vegetables, planters, and the many tools required for a back-yard chicken coop. You can even grab a beehive starter kit -- helmet and smoker included.
The line is in response to an increasing interest in growing one's own food. Michael Schwartz, the James Beard Award-winning chef/owner of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, points out, "I actually think it's people that don't shop at Williams-Sonoma, that have been growing their own food for years because it makes good economic sense, that deserve the credit for inspiring these product lines."
Dylan Terry, owner of Ready-to-Grow, a Miami-based company that designs, installs, and maintains organic edible gardens, agrees with Schwartz. "Interest in being able to grow and process one's own food is growing exponentially as our society becomes more educated of the environmental and social problems caused by industrial agriculture." The demand for this line was there, and Williams-Sonoma answered.
But Schwartz also believes the Agrarian line can have positive effects on educating people nationwide about where food comes from, "[The people at Williams-Sonoma] are great marketers, so I'm sure they realize that for these to sell, they've got to build in a compelling educational component to make sure the customer understands how to use these products and incorporate them into their lifestyle."
He also thinks the store can integrate with local communities. "It would be smart for them to pop up at farmers' markets for interactive demos and have an initiative that brings local farmers into the mix in local markets. Did I just say that?" Let's hope Williams-Sonoma is listening.
Wendy Levitz, the director of gardens for Slow Food Miami, agrees that the line expands interest in local food and edible home gardening. "I think that online sales can supplement local products and make hard-to-find items more accessible." But she also expresses some environmental concerns. "While there may be a carbon footprint from long-distance shipping, home gardening is a plus for the environment in the long run."
If you check out the website, which features lush shots of greens and gardening tools, you might also notice a high price tag. The number of people who can afford products in the pricey Agrarian line is limited. But it's better than nothing, says Schwartz. "Their customer spends $20 on a vegetable peeler. Better to have a few people who can afford [the line] -- even if they think it's trendy -- try it out and see if it fits into their lifestyle than none at all."
All in all, by offering tools that are targeted to green-thumbed, culinary-inspired cooks, the Agrarian line is one of the bigger steps for a back-yard-to-table movement. Even though the concept isn't new, the line demonstrates there is a widespread interest in returning to less industrialized food and opting for fresh, natural ingredients. After all, food should come from the ground, not from a bag.
We hope Williams-Sonoma will hear Chef Schwartz's suggestion and we can get a glimpse of the line in Miami soon. If you can't wait until the items are shipped to you from the online store, you can also make the long drive to the Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Winter Park stores, which all carry the line as of yesterday.
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