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F.A.R.M. Cafe To Enact Changes To Sustain Model, Continue Its Hunger Mission For Years To Come

By Jesse Wood

Jan. 2, 2013. To ensure that F.A.R.M. Café is around for years to come, the nonprofit pay-what-you-can community kitchen is tweaking the current structure while remaining steadfast to the mission of feeding those of less means.

The most visible changes that customers will notice is the Jan. 13 price increase of the suggested donation and the elimination of the larger plate. With “nearly two years under our belts,” Executive Chef Renee Boughman said that staff noticed that the larger plate wasn’t as popular as the other two options.

A long line stretched out the F.A.R.M. Cafe entrance during the first days of operation last year. Photo by Jesse Wood
A long line stretched out the F.A.R.M. Cafe entrance during the grand opening last year. Photo by Jesse Wood

The suggested cost of the plates, which include dessert and a drink, will now be $5 to $7 for the small plate and $8 to $10 for the regular lunch plate.

Boughman said that one reason for the increase is that food prices in general have risen. She said she has noticed a misconception from members of the community that think most of the food F.A.R.M. Café prepares and serves is donated.

That is not the case, Boughman said, adding that 95 percent of the food served is purchased just as any other restaurant would.

The board of directors has also set a goal of better communicating the pricing structure and how that relates to the cost of operating the kitchen. For example, Boughman said that folks who pay on the higher end of the scale –  $10 for the regular plate and $7 for the small plate – are paying cost. Those who pay above and beyond the suggested donation are helping to subsidize those who may not be able to afford to pay for their meal, which, of course, is the mission of F.A.R.M. Cafe. 

“This wasn’t as clear as we would have liked that to be,” Boughman said.

Even with the price increase, Boughman said customers will still receive a “great value” compared to other establishments.

The first customers at the F.A.R.M. Cafe on the grand opening in May 2012. Photo by Jesse Wood
The first customers at the F.A.R.M. Cafe on the grand opening in May 2012. Photo by Jesse Wood

“We usually have anywhere from five to seven items, plus a drink and dessert. If you think about that [and add] a tip for a server when you go to have a meal somewhere else, you are still coming out with a great value,” Boughman said. “Plus you are doing something good for the community and helping others.”

F.A.R.M. Café serves about 75 to 90 people when ASU is in session and since it opened in May 2012 the kitchen has served more than 36,000 meals in less than two years. More than 25 percent of those meals were subsidized, meaning payments didn’t cover the cost of the meal. That percentage, though, includes those who volunteer their labor in exchange for a meal.

“People always ask me, ‘Do people really work for a meal?’ and they do, and I am not just saying this. It’s true. Most folks who exchange labor for a meal work a lot more than one hour,” Boughman said. “I’ve been really amazed and touched.”

Folks from all walks of life eat at the café and socialize with each other, perhaps not knowing that one or the other is down-and-out for the moment and needs a subsidized meal. Stories of a lawyer sitting next to a laid-off mechanic or a professor sitting next to the father or mother who works at the café in exchange for a meal because it supplements the food at home reserved for the children are told by those familiar with the café. 

“That’s a whole other aspect that is part of the café that we have come to realize after a year and a half is the community piece that it creates downtown,” said Tommy Brown, who is a board member of the F.A.R.M. Café and eats there about three to four times a week. “It’s not designated who is getting the free meal. Nobody knows other than the staff collecting the money. Everyone is kind of equal.” 

Boughman maintained that the café is “still absolutely pay as you can and we are not going to stand at the register and say, “Oh…” 

The changes to be enacted in the near future are just a progression of staying in line with the economy and adapting to what has been learned after being in business for nearly two years, Boughman and Brown said.

F.A.R.M. Café, located at the old Boone Drug location downtown, is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m and can be reached at 828-386-1000. Click to F.A.R.M. Café’s website or Facebook page for more information and to check out what’s on the menu.