Designing the 21st-Century Farm-to-Table Kitchen

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Food Storage

Shelter magazines tend to show boxcar-size refrigerators with cavernous freezers. This is a great way to supersize your food’s carbon footprint—more than 30 percent of food energy is burned after you bring it into your home, according to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems—and if you’re cooking seasonal fresh food each day, all those cubic feet are totally unnecessary. A week’s worth of fresh food fits into a pretty small fridge. For larger or longer storage, a root cellar and a chest freezer in the basement offer more for less energy. The Halls sketched a small, efficient refrigerator and freezer into the kitchen and improved the utility of my root cellar by adding a sink at the bottom of the basement stairs, for rinsing farm-dirty vegetables before bringing them up to the kitchen. They also specified a one-way swinging door at the top of the stairs, to avoid fiddling with a doorknob while carrying an armload of rutabaga.

Cleanup Systems

I suspect that for many, one of the biggest barriers to cooking whole foods—rather than packaged or convenience foods—is a reluctance to make a mess. Who wants to face a giant stack of dishes and gear next to a little tiny sink at the end of the day? My answer is to supersize your sink: My current kitchen is home to a large stainless steel three-bay sink. We bought it at a dairy auction for $10 and built a tiled countertop around it. The original purchase was simply an act of frugality, but the system works so well I would not part with it, even in exchange for an automatic dishwasher. The first bay is where dishes are sprayed off, the second is for washing, and the third is for rinsing. Two sinks of hot water will wash a dinner party’s worth of dishes plus all the pots, pans, and irregular items that would never fit in a dishwasher anyway.

My new dream kitchen reuses this sink, but the Halls improved the whole system by installing drying shelves near the rinsing bay. Because these drip-drying shelves are set within a pass-through window to the dining room, clean dishes are within easy reach when it’s time to set the table. The Halls even call for an ingenious swing-out compost bin beneath the pass-through counter, where dirty plates can be scraped when they come back through the pass-through.

Creature Comforts

Maybe the most basic requirement of the whole food kitchen—OK, of any kitchen—is to make it an inviting space that you want to spend time in. To that end, the Halls added clerestory windows high up on the wall to bring natural light deep into the space, plus a set of French doors that lead to the kitchen garden, where I grow herbs and cherry tomatoes. Underfoot, we imagined acid-stained, scored concrete floors with radiant heat. They would look beautiful and also keep us comfortably warm in the winter, typically long in these parts. Erin, who specializes in interiors, noted that we’d want to offset the more commercial elements of this kitchen with warm, natural colors on the painted surfaces. She likes milk paints, which are durable and nontoxic, with no volatile organic compounds. You can buy milk paint commercially, but since we have our own dairy cows, I’d be tempted to make it myself. Finally, we added one aesthetic element that has long been on my wish list (even though it would bust this farmer’s budget): a wood-fired bake oven, large enough for loaves, multiple pizzas, or a slow-roasting leg of lamb. For now the bake oven, like the rest of the improvements, is part of a long-term renovation plan worth saving up for, but if and when this kitchen comes to life in my home, the Halls will be the first people I invite for dinner.

Kristin Kimball is the author of The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love and a frequent contributor to Gourmet Live. Her most recent article was Winter Feasting at Essex Farm.

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