"Farm-to-table" is a phrase that can mean different things to different people. At its heart, however, "farm-to-table" means that the food on the table came directly from a specific farm, without going through a store, market, or distributor along the way.
In its purest, most honest form, "farm-to-table" means the table is actually at the farm and cooks or chefs prepare and serve the food at the farm (even in the field), as in Outstanding In the Field events.
These are often special meals or fundraisers planned as one-off events.
More commonly, the use of "farm-to-table" emphasizes a direct relationship between a farm and a restaurant. Rather than buying through a distributor or a food service, some restaurants establish relationships with farms and buy directly from them. Farmers benefit by being able to reap more of the profit their goods can earn at market, and many enjoy knowing how their food will be treated and cooked.
Restaurants are usually motivated to these direct relationships by the quality and freshness of the food they get from the farms—items will often be delivered directly to the restaurant within hours of being harvested—as well as the ability to get specialty items that not that many people in their area grow.
In some cases, restaurants and farms may have a fairly deep or serious commitment to one another, with the farm growing produce specifically requested by the chef, or the restaurant guaranteeing to buy a certain percentage (or even the entirety) of a crop.
Like anything with some cachet to it, "farm-to-table" gets overused and definitely misused. I've even seen in on grocery store signs.
And while those vegetables were grown on a farm and would, if they were purchased, be brought home and quite likely served and eaten on a table, that's not what the spirit behind "farm-to-table" means. The very fact that the food has stopped at the grocery store between being at the farm and getting to the table means that it is decidedly not "farm-to-table."
How can you know if something labeled "farm-to-table" really is? Anyone using the phrase "farm-to-table" should be able to name the specific farm(s) from which they are sourcing since they would have gotten the goods directly from that farm!
Also Known As: locally sourced, farm fresh, farm-to-fork