How should I put this plainly…it’s not easy being green.
Think about how we have been trying to achieve a sustainable lifestyle free of overconsumption of resources. To live with eating healthier foods produced without chemicals and consume goods that are made of more natural and organic materials.
For years, we have been given choices towards living the life of responsibility, free from ingredients that are harmful for the environment and our bodies.
You just have to do it.
As an automotive website, I have the responsibility to present alternatives in transportation – personal and social – that fit with these lifestyles. Usually, owners of such sustainable – more specifically, electrified – vehicles often live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
This is why I was approached by Lexus to explore elements of a lifestyle aimed at bettering our planet – with a RX 450h F Sport Black Line SUV.
Before you say anything about it being the least efficient hybrid vehicle on the road, or that it is the most ostentatious way to exhibit a sustainable lifestyle…let me explain. There are more expensive electrified vehicles on the road. Some of them are driven by those who may dabble in sustainability. However, one must be fully committed to that lifestyle if they consider how much they are returning some energy and life back to the planet in a vehicle such as this RX 450h.
People want to feel good about contributing to the reversal of global warming or stewarding the recycling of materials into new durable goods. Perhaps there is something we can do to facilitate these goals for a planet clean of things that can destroy it sooner or later.
This brings me to my focus of this story featuring the Lexus RX 450h – food.
There is an assumption that owners of electrified vehicles – including hybrids – will most likely live this kind of lifestyle – including sourcing local food ingredients and consuming organic and naturally grown and bred items. This is what’s driving this project with Lexus. Therefore, I will go deep into this assumption by examining the path from farm to table.
You probably have an idea where a vast majority of your food came from. Living in Minnesota, it is evident in our rural communities involved with the business of agriculture. As a vast majority of the state’s land depends on growing and developing the food we eat, the focus of this story is to take a trip through this journey from farm to table to see how it really works.
Sustainability and locality are important to us. We want to know where our food came from, how they are produced, and what is the best way to acquire it.
The term “farm to table” is used specifically to trace this path. It is a convenient term that points us to places where we can sample sustainably grown and fed meats, produce, fruits, beverages with no guilt whatsoever. However, it is not as simple as just going from farm to table.
The stops along the way are plenty, especially here in the Twin Cities and in the rural communities just outside of it. For example, Gilbertson Farm in Wisconsin’s St. Croix County raises everything from chicken to beef for various meat products that they sell at farmer’s markets in the region. After Gilbertson’s meats go through packing and inspection by the USDA, before they come to market.
It is at one of these farmer’s markets where I met the folks at Gilbertson Farm.
Across the street from CHS Field in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood is their weekend Farmer’s Market. This where you truly see the intersection and transaction from farm to table. Every vendor is from Minnesota or Wisconsin and offer completely local ingredients – a sizeable number of which were organically and/or naturally grown and bred. Since it was Mother’s Day weekend, the flower and horticulture vendors were out in force.
The variety of food items depends on the season. Meats and honey are year-round. The vegetables and fruits are seasonal. The usual thing these vendors will tell you is that certain fruits come to the market at certain times. You make that plan to take advantage of that seasonal harvest of your favorite fruits.
At this market, I saw a lot of rhubarb and asparagus. I have never seen purple asparagus before. Nor have I seen any rhubarb. Needless to say that my eyes were open, despite my appetite staying neutral.
Then, I saw the duck eggs at the Gilbertson’s. Again, this is another thing I am not familiar with. They’re huge – and, yes, you can make omelets with them.
If you rather shop at a grocery store, we are very lucky here in the Twin Cities to have a variety of places to go for your sustainable ingredients and finished food products. The co-op grocery store scene is a good example of how big sustainable food shopping is here. Years ago, I used to shop at the Seward Co-Op in Minneapolis, one of several in the city itself. Over in St. Paul, you go to Mississippi Market, which has a few locations.
Out in the suburbs, there are a few co-op grocery stores to shop at. Like their counterparts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, they also tout that they stock locally sourced, fresh, organic and naturally grown food items.
My visit to Lakewinds Food Co-Op on the west side of Minnetonka yielded an interesting haul. While they touted that they sold local items, I found more national items from the natural/organic food producers on the shelves, as well. The produce, fruit, meat, and dairy did come from local sources.
One thing to know about shopping at a co-op grocery store – the prices. You will expect to pay more on average for many grocery items, compared to the larger mainstream chains – such as Cub, HyVee, and Lunds Byerlys here in the Twin Cities. You can get organic and naturally grown food items at the bigger mainstream stores, but they are usually set up in a small section away from the rest of the store.
There is a middle ground when shopping for sustainable food items. In the Twin Cities, we have Trader’s Joes, Whole Foods, and Fresh Thyme. While they have more items that fall into the sustainable basket, you may have to hunt for locally-produced items at these stores.
Which brings back the question about whether you can shop at any of these grocery stores and feel less guilty bringing home items that come from sustainable sources. Rather, whether some shoppers can be simply shut out of these stores when they need to find healthier food choices from local sources. That is a debate I will leave to the food bloggers and sustainable lifestyle influencers to answer.
There are two types of tables where your farm-sourced, sustainably grown and fed food will end up – yours or a restaurant’s. Considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s early effect on the restaurant business, we rediscovered the art of cooking. The ingredients for a home cooked sustainable meal may have come from the farmer’s market or a grocery store that sells sustainably- and organically-grown food and flavorings. That is why a trip at a farmer’s market is a great idea to get what you need for a healthier and guilt-free home-cooked meal.
However, the loosening of guidelines allowed restaurants to re-open. Here in Minnesota, the current guideline for restaurants is to open up capacity at 75% or a maximum of 250 people. Parties are limited to six people at a table. Restaurant dining rooms can be open until 10:00 PM. As for mask-wearing, you still have to have it on indoors except when you’re eating or drinking.
With these guidelines in place, I was ready to explore our local restaurants in the Twin Cities – specifically in Minneapolis – that serves farm-to-table food. Actually, I have dined at a couple of the recommended restaurants – we’re talking years at this point. I figured it was a good time to revisit them to see if I remember their food and service from the last time I was there.
I did dine at a new-to-me restaurant on Eat Street – Nicollet Avenue south of downtown Minneapolis. The Copper Hen offered true farm-to-table meals, as their ingredients were locally sourced from small farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The atmosphere was nice, with plenty of wood details and furniture that you expect from a Minneapolis establishment. The service was good, as well.
As for the food, it was truly delicious and made in a way that matched the environment. The ground beef used was definitely local, as the manager Marissa explained that they get it from a small farm in southern Minnesota over an hour away from the restaurant. In all, The Copper Hen gave me an example how farm-to-table works at its purest level.
I tried to eat at the other restaurants recommended for this project. One place I reserved a table at was pretty disappointing when I found out that they had partially included local ingredients. So much for advertising, I suppose. Two other restaurants were simply booked for Mother’s Day weekend, so I was unable to sample them. However, I do plan on dining at one of them in the near future – namely, the Birchwood Cafe in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Taking this path from farm to table simply put the concept of a sustainable lifestyle in the spotlight. It yielded a lot of questions to ponder.
Could you dine at a restaurant knowing what they are promoting when it comes to the type of food they serve and where it came from? Could you shop somewhere and select the right foods and ingredients that come from local sources and are organically or naturally grown? Could you go to a farmer’s market and be assured that each farmer with a stall have the right ingredients for you that are sustainably grown and bred?
My best advice to you is to simply ask questions. Ask the farmer, the grocer, and/or the server where their products came from. There’s no shame in doing so.
The main driver of this query goes back to the idea of this project of whether owners of electrified vehicles actually live this lifestyle. That assumption might just hold true. Do yourself a favor and scan the parking lots near a farmer’s market, co-op, or some hip and cool restaurant that promotes itself as a place that serves farm-to-table dishes. Therein lies your answer.
For me, the 2021 Lexus RX 450h seems to fit in these locations and this lifestyle. It offers a guilt-free experience while participating in a guilt-free sustainable lifestyle.
Besides, no one should feel guilty of living a good life that is rewarding and sustainable for the future. That includes the food you eat.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle and other expenses pertaining to this story were provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern