Connecting the dots between farm and table

Published 11:44 pm Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My great grandmother had a farm in Virginia, but I remember very little about it. As an adult, the closest I ever came to farming was growing tomatoes in pots in my yard in L.A. I did the same my first summer in Tryon, but learned quickly I could find much better tomatoes at the farmers market on Thursdays, and saved myself the trouble of planting tomatoes again.

As a city girl, I’d always given very little thought to where my food came from. Buying food in supermarkets seemed so far removed from farming, I hardly made the connection. Living in the center of Los Angeles, I was miles and miles from the closest farm.

But after sitting at tables here eating food that’s come from an actual farm just up the road, “farm to table” has become more than a yuppie expression to categorize a new restaurant that boasts fresh food. Living here has changed my perspective.

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I was recently invited to a dinner party at which my hosts challenged the caterer to only serve local food. There was nothing store-bought on the table, including the butter for the bread. And it was delicious.

I’ve mentioned Girls’ Night at Thompson Garden Gallery before—always the last Thursday of the month. Erin Thompson hosts, and hires a local caterer and has a local speaker. She even buys the beverages locally. If you haven’t been to a Girls’ Night, you should let Erin know you’re interested. It’s a wonderful way to meet new women in the area, and get a taste of local cuisine.

The caterers at Girls’ Night vary, but they’re always excellent. Before the meal is served, we get a tutorial on the dishes prepared, and every ingredient is local, fresh and in season.

At a recent Girls’ Night, I was listening to Cinda Austin of the Twisted Fork explain what she had prepared and where she’d gotten the produce, and it dawned on me that she not only knows where to get the food, she knows the actual farmers. I saw the dots connect in my little city girl brain, and realized there doesn’t have to be much between farm and table at all.

I know friends who shop at the Ag Center for fresh eggs and produce, but hadn’t seen it for myself until I recently attended the Farm to Fork dinner and fundraiser for the Mill Spring Agricultural Development and Community Center.

The Ag Center store (The Mill Spring Farm Store) is inside the once abandoned Mill Spring School, now cleaned up and repurposed after standing empty for 20 years. The building still retains its high-ceiling charm. I stepped inside and was transported back to my days at Asheville High School where I spent my teen years.

When I stepped outside, I was swept away by the scene of the Farm to Fork feast. We ate delicious fresh food at long tables set with a mix of plates and cloth dinner napkins—all brought and donated from diners in previous years–and drank out of mason jars (this year’s donation for future events).

A parked 1951 Chevy pickup with a gooseneck trailer served as a stage for the band, and we enjoyed music, food, and wonderful company until the sun set between the mountains, marking the end of the meal with a glorious show.

There was a silent auction to raise some extra money, and we all checked out the Ag Store I’d heard so much about. It’s more than just a place to pick up fresh produce and eggs though. You can also find a mix of handmade pottery and other crafty goods and even some gardening supplies—all at great prices.

The food items include fresh bread, stone ground flour, jarred sauces, relishes, jams and jellies, grains and beans, all kinds of dairy products, and even ready to eat items like trail mixes and popcorn.

I learned the Ag Center also conducts agriculture classes, holds indoor farmers markets, and houses exhibition and demonstration gardens, among other things.

I saw many friends at this sweet outdoor country event, one of whom just happens to be a farmer, and I snagged myself an invitation for a tour of his farm.

Being so connected to farm life wasn’t something I had considered when I made the decision to move to Tryon, but it has become an unexpected bonus.

We can shop weekly farmers markets here, enjoy food that’s as fresh as possible, and our friends and neighbors just might be doing the actual farming.

Who knew eating well could be so much fun? I guess now I do.