What’s Cooking? Polk County Farm to Fork Trail in the works

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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A small group of farmers, restaurateurs and winemakers is developing a food and drink trail around Polk County that visitors can follow to experience firsthand what makes the area special.


The Foothills Farm to Fork Trail is being organized by five agriculture-related businesses and their leaders. They plan to build on the synergy that links farms and restaurants, and want to add more people to their group.

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Creating the trail are representatives from TK Family Farm, Looking Glass Creamery, The Rural Seed, Mountain Brook Vineyards and Caitlyn Farms.


“Our goal is to show how coordination and collaboration among farms, wineries and restaurants can benefit an entire community by bringing tourism, new and repeat customers who share in the incredible experience of visiting and enjoying our region,” said Brittany Klimstra, co-owner and operator of TK Family Farm in Green Creek. She and her husband Jon, along with their three children, operate a high-density trellised apple farm, the first of its kind in Polk County.


Klimstra and Carole Gassaway, marketing, catering and front-of-the-house manager at The Rural Seed restaurant in Columbus, turned to Kelly Elliott of Caitlyn Farms in Mill Spring when looking for a like-minded entrepreneur to help develop the trail.


They rounded out the formative group by adding Jen Perkins, owner and cheesemaker at Looking Glass Creamery in Columbus, and Lindsay Johnston, marketing and events manager at Mountain Brook Vineyards in Tryon.


This is the beginning stage of the trail’s development, and they are inviting similar entities to join and participate in creating a large trail that could expand to surrounding counties. An organizational meeting will be held on September 17 at 6 p.m. at Mountain Brook. (Sign up at https://foothillsfarmtoforktrail.org


Already in the works is the creation of non-profit status and developing ways to generate scholarship and internship programs for youngsters who want to pursue careers in agriculture-related fields.


Gassaway was born and raised in Polk County. “I am well aware that we struggle with a balance between progress, population growth and supporting our own economy. It just makes sense to encourage and promote our agricultural community in a way that will bring security to our farmers and jobs to the area without creating a large growth in population,” she said.


Jennifer Perkins, cheesemaker and owner of Looking Glass Creamery, already is a trailblazer. She brings to the group first-hand experience because she started the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail and the Carolina Mountain Cheese Fest before expanding her family business from Asheville to Polk County.


“An organized effort like this trail is in line with the long-term plans of the county to preserve the agricultural heritage of Polk,” Perkins said. More people interested in farming are going to move to Polk from places such as Asheville. “It would be great to have this effort lead the way to connecting and supporting them,” she said.


Lindsay Johnston, marketing and events manager at Mountain Brook Vineyards, wants the trail to bring young talent to the county. “Our region has such great diversity and much of WNC’s wine business is yet to be discovered. The wines now coming out of this area are exceptional.”


Caitlyn Farms supplies locally grown beef to several restaurants, stores and markets in Western North Carolina, and Kelly Elliott believes the trail effort will further enhance how visitors “get the real and beautiful experience that is within this area.” 


Collaboration and education are driving the effort.


“With the collaboration among many farms, we can grow sustainably as a family farm and focus on investments here that will serve our community and our family long term,” Klimstra said.