Cycle to Farm offers the best of both worlds

201403_05_logo Cycle to FarmVelo Girl Rides, organizer of the Cycle to Farm tour of local farms by bicycle, added two more locations to bring cyclists to beautiful local farms to enjoy stunning scenery, eat locally-grown and raised food, and buy products at local farms — Chapel Hill and Greenville, SC. Already there are rides in Black Mountain and Sandy Mush, both near Asheville.  The rides are about 62 miles long and the cost is $69. Non-riders can sign up to eat for $14 for adults, $7 12 years old and under.

“It was difficult to choose just two additional locations, since there are so many beautiful cycling routes and fantastic local farmers throughout the South, and so many communities eager to expand agritourism,” explained Jennifer Billstrom, creator and director of the Cycle to Farm events, in a news release.

201403_06_Chapel Hill rideThe first Chapel Hill event will be held on Saturday May 3 in partnership with Farmer Foodshare, which provides locally grown food to families that need support.

The first Greenville event will be held on Saturday June 14, 2014 and is in partnership with LiveWell Greenville. I wrote a travel story on Greenville for the Boston Globe. Great place to vist and cycle!

The third annual Black Mountain event will be held on Saturday, July 19, 2014, in partnership with the Black Mountain Parks and Greenways and the event returns to Sandy Mush for a second year, on Saturday, October 11, 2014, in partnership with the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District, to promote farmland preservation.

201403_07_Black Mountain rideAll of the events are strictly limited in the number of cyclists, so that the smaller farms are not overwhelmed with customers, and to keep the Fabulous After Party small and a real opportunity for the farmers, volunteers and riders to gather as community. As a result, these events sell out well before the day of the ride.

For more information, and to sign up as either a volunteer or rider, see Cycle to Farm events use a route of about 62 miles,  a “metric century,” visiting local farms about every 10-15 miles. The farmers offer samples of tasty food to the cyclists, as well as offering their products for sale. Cycle to Farm staff collect the purchases and transport them by vehicle back to the Start/Finish, where riders return after 4 to 7 hours riding through beautiful rural countryside. For many, it is their first experience riding the route and discovering the area.

Once back at the Start/Finish, cyclists enjoy a delicious farm-to-table meal at the Fabulous After Party, sourced from the farmers they visited during their ride. The farmers and the many volunteers who work the event also join in the meal, along with beer and local musicians providing entertainment.

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‘Farm Fresh Georgia’ joins the family

201403_01_Farm Fresh GeorgiaI’m very excited to announce the arrival of “Farm Fresh Georgia,” another sister book, after Tennessee. This one has a North Carolina component — it was researched and written by Charlotte journalist and travel writer Jodi Helmer.

Jodi is as enthused as I am about travel, sustainable agriculture, rural living, and good eating. Her book delves into all those topics and more. Like mine was, it’s the first of its kind for its state and includes a tour of almost 400 farms and farm-related attractions, all open to the public and vetted by Jodi.

The book is organized by six state regions covering 90 of the state’s 159 counties. Nine categories of attractions include farms, farmers’ markets, orchards, farm stands and U-picks, dairies, wineries, farm-to-table restaurants and lodging. I just randomly chose a lodging section in the table of contents and came to The Farmhouse Inn at 100 Acre Farm in Madison, between Atlanta and Augusta. What a find! A large working farm with animals, a nice inn, activities for the family. Thanks, Jodi! From there I stumbled upon Alligator Soul restaurant in Savannah, “a who’s who of Georgia Farmers. Even the cocktails have local flair.” I’m adding that to my list too!

201403_03_Jodi Helmer

Author Jodi Helmer (photo: Lindsay Wynne Hess)

And let’s not forget the 13 recipes Jodi collected from chefs and farmers. On facing pages, I found two of my favorites in the book, Apple Crudo from Sean Wight at Frog Hollow Tavern in Augusta, and Brown Sugar Bacon popcorn from Sue-Anna Dowdy Maley at the Orchards at Atwell Pecan — the perfect starter and finisher.

OK, y’all, let’s show Jodi some love by buying her book. It’s hot off the press from UNC Press and costs $22.

Jodi, welcome to the “Farm Fresh” family! We’re glad you’re here.


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Posted in Books, Family travel, Farmers, Farmers' markets, History, Livestock, Lodging, Recipes, Road travel, U-pick farms, Wine | Leave a comment

Help RAFI help farmers with book project

RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International), based in Pittsboro, has an impressive project in the works. Growing Innovation will document 17 years of farmer innovation in North Carolina with an online library and printed book. These will be tools for farmers to share tips, advice and successes with other farmers, anywhere.

To help fund the project, RAFI has launched a Kickstarter campaign. Check it out to see a video about the project. If you donate, you’ll receive gifts, too! To promote the Kickstarter, RAFI is hosting two events, Feb. 27 at The City Tap in Pittsboro and March 19 at Steel String in Carrboro.

Since the start of RAFI’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund in 1997, it has helped finance more than 500 farmer-led projects across North Carolina. Projects have included innovative mobile farmers markets, heritage poultry breeding and heirloom vegetables, beef liver jerky, mozzarella cheesecakes, farm-to-school projects and wind-powered farms.

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Laurey Masterton: a pioneer who kept pushing

When it was time to choose a spot to have my western NC book-release party in 2011, I immediately said: Laurey’s in Asheville. The cafe, run by chef and owner Laurey Masterton, embodied everything I love about the local foods movement. Laurey was committed, genuine, and friendly. She showed folks that farm-fresh food could be affordable. She also pushed for gay rights and for a living-wage campaign in Asheville. She was a big cyclist, my other passion, and she lived life fully, in part because she’d defied death many times during an almost lifelong battle with cancer.

This week, the disease got the better of her, at age 59, with a rapid ferociousness that was not expected by family and friends.  You can read her obituary here. Food writer Jonathan Ammons wrote a lovely tribute to her. Below is my entree for Laurey’s Cafe from the book, and I’ve written about her in other venues as well. Laurey, you remain an inspiration!! I hope the awesome restaurant you started carries on!

Laurey’s Catering and Gourmet to Go

Laurey’s Catering and Gourmet to Go is the kind of place you’d want to support even if the food wasn’t outstanding. Luckily, it is. Owner Laurey Masterton, a cancer survivor whose often touted motto is “Don’t postpone joy,” serves up fresh meals in her lively café in downtown Asheville. And, yes, she runs a full-service catering company. Masterton works with a long list of local farmers to incorporate local ingredients and products at every turn, an admirable feat for a high-volume business. She was a charter member of the county’s Living Wage Campaign, and in 2009 she rode her bicycle cross-country to raise money for cancer research. We’re happy to support her causes, especially when she’s doing the cooking.



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Eat greener, cleaner, and local in 2014

It’s a new year and time to consider a farm-fresh lifestyle, if you’re not already there. Here are a few suggestions for folks wanting to eat real food from real people:

JOIN a CSA. A Community Supported Agriculture program is the best way to ensure that you’ll have local food every week from spring to fall. You give a farmer money upfront and you get fresh produce (and sometimes more) throughout the growing season. Things to consider before signing up: pickup convenience, box size, organic vs. sustainable vs. conventional, variety of offerings, communication with other members, etc. For variations thereof, see below.

BECOME A MEMBER of a food co-op. Our state’s many food cooperatives offer a mix of local and non-local sustainable goods. They also build communities of folks interested in green and clean foods and products.

COMMIT to shopping at a farmers’ market. With hundreds across the state, there’s no excuse not to. Not all markets are equal, so choose yours based on what’s important to you. Does your market focus on sustainable, conventional or offer a mix of farms? From how many miles does the market source? Around 75 miles is the norm, with some, such as Carrboro, limiting supplies from an impressive 50 miles.

SEEK alternatives. If none of the above work for you, look into food buying clubs and food delivery services. These are popping up all over. If you can’t find any of these options in your area, let me know and I’ll do some digging. Speaking of digging, another way to locally source food is to grow your own. For more variety, set up a neighborhood share with other gardeners. An added benefit: You’ll meet your neighbors!

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Everyone is clucking about local turkeys

Thats quite a neck on this Narragansett

That`s quite a neck on this Narragansett

I’ve seen plenty of wild turkeys in my day, but I’d never been around farm turkeys much until I wrote “Farm Fresh North Carolina.” When I was researching the book, in 2008, regular folks getting farm-raised turkeys for their Thanksgiving feasts was a rarity. These days it’s practically de rigueur among certain foodie tribes. Here in central NC, there are now plenty of sustainable farms that raise the birds.

What I learned by visiting farms that had turkeys is that they’re just dang cute. Beautiful, really. They’re curious and very social, with each other and humans. At night, they keep away from predators by roosting in trees. Both their feathers and crazy colorful neck waddles are lovely. (Now if only human “turkey necks” were so attractive…)

Heritage breeds at Indigo Farms: a Bourbon Red is flanked by Narragansett turkeys

Heritage breeds at Indigo Farms: a Bourbon Red is flanked by Narragansett turkeys

Turkeys flocked around me when I visited Indigo Farms in Calabash, N.C., which is near the coast and the South Carolina state line. Owner Sam Bellamy gave me a tour of his organic family farm, which includes a small flock of heritage turkeys. Heritage breeds are old-time ones that are threatened because of factory farming standardization.

Sam had two breeds, Bourbon Reds, turkeys named for Bourbon County in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region where they originated in the late 1800s, and Narragansett turkeys, named for Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, where the variety was developed. Those descend from a cross between native Eastern Wild turkeys and the domestic turkeys brought to America by English and European colonists beginning in the 1600s. Now that’s what you’d call a blue-blood turkey. Sam says turkeys have the best hearing and eyesight of all farm animals, but I can’t vouch for that.

A rafter of young turkeys at Goat Lady Dairy in Climax, NC

A rafter of young turkeys at Goat Lady Dairy in Climax, NC

Now is a good time to tout the wonderful advocacy and education group Farm Sanctuary, which “opposes the slaughter, consumption and commodification of farm animals.” They have an Adopt-a-Turkey program that promotes raising money for saving turkeys instead of spending money on eating them.

Whether you admire the turkey from afar or on your dinner plate (I’m not judging), Happy Thanksgiving!

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Pepper Festival returns with more pep than ever

Somehow, regretfully, I end up being out of town every year for one of my favorite events — the Pepper Festival in Chatham County, so please go for me! This year’s fest, on Sunday, Oct. 6, from 3 to 7 p.m., is at Boulder Park in Briar Chapel. The outdoor celebration of local food, chefs and businesses, is in its sixth year. Ticket holders get to sample pepper-themed dishes from local chefs including from Pittsboro’s Oakleaf, Raleigh’s 18 Seaboard, and Carrboro’s Glasshalfull. There will also be beer sales, live music, and information displays about local farms, renewable energy, and local food.

For children, activities include bubbles and face painting. Tickets are $30 in advance, and $35 at the gate. Admission is free for children under age 12. The festival is a benefit for The Abundance Foundation, which spreads the word and the fun about sustainability, and for research at Piedmont Biofarm, a year-round vegetable farm in Pittsboro that specializes in peppers and seed saving.


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Flurry of farm-fresh fall festivities

Wow, there’s so much going on that I feel compelled to do a round-up. Typical fall in the Carolinas!

The 8th annual and always entertaining Eastern Triangle Farm Tour is happening Sept. 21-22. Six new farms are included among the 27 open for touring. As always, proceeds benefit Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. In other CFSA news, the 28th annual and always educational Sustainable Ag Conference will be Nov. 15-17 in my hometown of Durham. Go here for more info and know that SEPT 6 is the last day for early-bird rates! Also, a tip: tickets to the Local Food Feast and the Sandor Katz Fermentation Workshop on Nov. 15 are going fast, and many other events will likely sell out. So don’t miss out!

In the Queen City, one of my and all of metro Charlotte’s favorite farms, Grateful Growers, run by Natalie Veres and Cassie Parsons, has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help with a new restaurant. Farmer – Baker – Sausage Maker will be a restaurant /bakery/butcher shop in downtown Lincolnton, not far from the farm. Natalie and Cassie will source ingredients from farms within 100 miles of their doors, much as they already do at their awesome Harvest Moon Grille in downtown Charlotte.

TerraVITA, the annual must-attend culinary event in Chapel Hill, has announced its amazing lineup of participants. Some of my personal favorites include Chef & The Farmer, Firsthand Foods, French Broad Chocolates, Market, and The Eddy. Great beer, wine, and spirits too. The multi-event production runs Oct. 10-12, with the Grand Tasting on the Green on Saturday, Oct. 12. Check out the schedule and take your pick!

I enjoyed reading about NC apple varieties now growing in Africa. Here’s the first paragraph: The heirloom apples in the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard at Horne Creek Living Historical Farm are prized for their role in ensuring plant diversity in the U.S. Now they are prized for their special adaptability to climates in Africa. Several of Horne Creek’s eight tested apple varieties now are growing in Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda with the help of an innovative nonprofit.

Happy Indian Summer!



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Some favorite U-pick farms for U

The U-pick season is shorter in the mountains and middle of the state. Here are a few of my favorite spots there, with their entries from my book. Check ‘em out! (But of course call or check online before you visit.)

Old Orchard Creek

After former Raleigh residents Walter Clark and Johnny Burleson purchased Christmas tree farmer Dale Shepherd’s 1890s home place near Lansing in 2003, they continued many traditions. One was to renovate the historic house and another was to protect the land by placing conservation easements on the eighty-eight-acre farm. But the one the public is most familiar with is the continuation of the farm’s U-pick berry operation. The 3,200 heritage blueberry bushes at what is now called Old Orchard Creek attract a steady stream of visitors each summer to pick berries. Walter and Johnny have made the farm, which includes an apple and peach orchard, even more inviting by adding covered picnic tables that look out onto the 5,000-foot-high Pond Mountain. 410 Swansie Shepherd Road, Lansing (Ashe County), 336-384-2774, Open July to August.

Zimmerman’s Berry Farm

In 2000 Pam and Billy Zimmerman turned to U-pick berries to help save their former tobacco farm, set deep in the mountains in central Madison County. It helps that they love to eat them, too. “Before growing them, I never had all the berries I could eat,” Pam said. Picking season on their eighty-five acres (three are for the berries) begins in mid-June with black raspberries and ends around mid-August with red raspberries and blueberries. In between are blackberries and wineberries. From her tiny farm stand, Pam also makes jams, jellies, and syrups from the berries, which she finally gets her fill of every summer. 2260 Revere Road, Marshall (Madison County), 828-656-2056, Open June to August.

Haight Orchards

Eileen and Ed Haight cashed out of their family orchard in pricey Westchester County, New York, blaming high taxes and a push toward development, and bought an abandoned tobacco farm outside of Reidsville in 1987. When they married in 1961, Eileen was a city girl. “I knew nothing about farming,” she said. That changed fast, and she joined Ed, a sixth-generation fruit grower, in the orchard business. Over the years they’ve added peach trees, and they now have four acres of peaches, five of apples (with ten varieties), and about 100 nectarine trees. The beautifully maintained orchard, situated on rolling hills, is a lovely place to spend an afternoon, and warmer than New York. 2229 Pannel Road, Reidsville (Rockingham County), 336-427-6933, Open July to September.


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Our NC peaches are peachy keen

Freshly harvested peaches at Kalawi Farm

Freshly harvested peaches at Kalawi Farm

Back in the day, North Carolina’s peach crop, concentrated mainly in the Sandhills area around Southern Pines and Pinehurst, used to be shipped up the East Coast. Those days are gone, but luckily for us, the peaches are not. By the way, if you think Georgia is the top peach provider in the South, you’d be misled by their impressive marketing machine. South Carolina actually takes that prize. We here in North Carolina don’t pay too much attention to all that because we have our own peaches to brag on.

Here are some peach orchards and farm stands from my guidebook “Farm Fresh North Carolina.” You can find local peaches at many farmers’ markets as well. A fun fact: The 2008 movie “The Secret Life of Bees” was partly filmed at Geraldine’s Peaches and Produce in Lumberton.

Johnson Farm

Peaches at Johnson Farm

Peaches at Johnson Farm

As times change, so do Johnson Farm’s sales locations. Known mostly for its peaches, the Sandhills farm store is now in its fourth location, prompted by the addition of Interstate 73/74 and the Highway 220 bypass. Run by Garrett and Barbara Johnson and in business since 1934, the farm grows thousands of peach trees, as well as produce, on about fifty acres. Inside the market, whose bins are filled with just-picked peaches from June to September, is a gift shop with local art, pottery, and peach preserves, jams, and other products made with Johnson Farm’s peaches. But the most popular feature is the snack stand, which sells homemade peach ice cream and peach dumplings, similar to turnovers. 1180 Highway 220 North, Rockingham (Montgomery County), 910-997-2920. Open May to December.

 Auman Orchard

Fresh peaches from Auman Orchard in West End

Fresh peaches from Auman Orchard in West End

Peaches are to the Sandhills what apples are to Henderson County, and no other peach farm is as much an institution as Auman Orchard. It first flourished under the care of Clyde Auman, whose father started a small orchard in West End in the early 1900s. Clyde and his brothers expanded the orchards greatly, becoming some of the largest landowners in Moore County. During peach season, Clyde held court at the packing shed behind the family’s home, chatting up customers and doing business. His son Watts, now in his seventies, carries on the tradition of both farming and conversation. From his home on the farm, Watts greets customers new and old as they drop by to pick up their bags or bushels of just-picked peaches. Even for folks who have been coming here for more than fifty years, the scenery, including the open-air shed, hasn’t changed much. When asked if the orchard really is open on Sundays (most aren’t), Watts replied, “We’ve tried to close, but the doorbell just keeps ringing.” 3140 Highway 73, West End (Moore County), 910-673-4391. Open June to September.

Chappell Peaches and Apples

Fourth-generation farmer Ken Chappell is rare in the Sandhills in that he grows several varieties of apples as well as the more typical local offering of peaches. From the family’s basic farm stand along Highway 211 in Eagle Springs, Ken sells the fruits in season, as well as assorted vegetables and melons. In 2009 the farm added heirloom tomatoes to its mix. 672 Highway 211, Eagle Springs (Moore County), 910-673-1878 (works only during season), Open June to October.

Kalawi Farm

Road sign for Kalawi Farm’s stand and adjacent Ben’s Homemade Ice Cream Shop

Road sign for Kalawi Farm’s stand and adjacent Ben’s Homemade Ice Cream Shop

From the day they open around Easter, Kalawi Farm’s stand and the adjacent Ben’s Homemade Ice Cream Shop stay busy. Art and Jan Williams started their peach orchard on family land in Eagle Springs in 1982 and added a stand in 1985. They grow about 5,000 peach trees on thirty acres, as well as row crops and produce, which also is for sale. Their thirty-five varieties of peaches are harvested through mid-September. Next to the stand under a grove of pine trees is an area with picnic tables for sitting and licking. The Williamses gave the farm its moniker using letters in the names of their children, Katie, Laura, and Will. When Ben came along several years later, he got the ice cream stand. 1515 Highway 211, Eagle Springs (Moore County), 910-673-5996. Open April to November.

Geraldine’s Peaches and Produce

Though the Sandhills are known for their peaches, a Lumberton farmer is proving that the lowlands of Robeson County are ripe to grow the fruit as well. Roy Herring and his wife, Geraldine, planted peach trees when they saw the tobacco buyout coming. In 2005 they were ready to sell their first harvest, and now they have about 2,500 trees, some open to U-pickers. At their roadside stand, Geraldine’s Peaches and Produce, they sell the bounty from their diverse produce garden. “Everything for sale here is from our farm,” Geraldine said. Items include blackberries, raspberries, melons, potatoes, tomatoes, okra, and greens. While the farm is known for its produce, it also had its fifteen minutes of fame as the location for several scenes in the 2008 Hollywood film “The Secret Life of Bees.” But because the filming had to take place in the winter the leaves you see on screen are made of silk and the fruit is plastic. 10728 Highway 41 North, Lumberton (Robeson County), 910-739-8686. Open May to December.

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Peregrine Farm founders spread the wealth

Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farm get the star treatment they deserve in yesterday’s News & Observer. Writer Andrea Weigl wrote a great profile about the farmers in Graham. Part of the story is how they’ve mentored so many other farmers along the way. What I found also refreshing is how they have an open-book policy, believing that everyone benefits from showing each other the way. So true. The Hitts are a hit in sustainable agriculture!

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Dig deeper with Taste Carolina food-farm events

April McGreger of Farmer’s Daughter Brand with on left Drew Brown of Farmhand Foods

April McGreger of Farmer’s Daughter Brand with Drew Brown of Farmhand Foods

I got to hang out with some of my favorite food purveyors last night — Farmhand Foods, which distributes local, pasture-raised meats, and April McGreger of Farmer’s Daughter Brand, sweet-and-savory queen of all that is preserved or fermented. And I met Jay Murrie, owner of Piedmont Wine Imports, who paired wines from his collection of sustainable Italian varieties.

The event was one in a series of cool farm/food/artisan tie-ins presented by Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours and held in Durham and Orange countries. Taste Carolina tours, available in several cities, are an appetizing way to get a know a downtown while filling your belly (I speak from experience.) These new offerings are unique events that take the food-chef-farm-entrepreneur connection to a deeper level. Four evenings remain, and tickets can be purchased for bundled events in advance or bought separately a week before the event. (Last night’s was $45 a person.) See the schedule at the end of this post.

Dinner was held at Eastern Carolina Organics

Dinner was held at Eastern Carolina Organics

Our dinner, with mini-cooking demo, was held at Eastern Carolina Organics, a food distribution service in Durham that works with more than 100 organic farmers and sells to chefs, buying clubs, and more. ECO has a deep history of helping to grow our state’s sustainable farming movement. They’ve also sustainably retrofitted their new/old Durham digs and opened up space to like-minded groups. Yay for them!

Half radishes topped with butter and salt

Half radishes topped with butter and salt

So on to the food and wine. We started with half radishes topped with butter and salt. Creamy and tangy! That was served with Cascina Barisel Foravia Monferrato Bianco, a wine made of a grape called Favorita, Jay told us.

Drew Brown, a chef and Farmhand sales manager, prepared pork butt in a mustard rub — to perfection — and also bratwurst, served with a zippy coarse mustard. April offered up collard kraut and pickled green tomatoes. Loved them both. I could seriously make a meal of the kraut (OK, I practically did). The vino: Pietralta Chianti, made from Sangiovese grapes. While we ate, April taught us a simple way to pickle vegetables in brine.

For dessert a freshly strawberry and rhubarb preserve over a panna cotta

For dessert, freshly made strawberry and rhubarb preserves over panna cotta

For dessert (really all I needed was more pork butt), April made a strawberry and rhubarb preserves — yes, right in front of us, and gave us the recipe — and put a dollop or two over the panna cotta Drew had prepared the night before. April garnished it with cornmeal black pepper shortbread. Wish we’d gotten the recipe for that too! The final wine was light, sweet and fizzy — Cascina Barisel Moscato d’Ast.

Cheers to all for a lovely evening!

Here’s the rest of the Taste Carolina event lineup. Check out one, or all four!

April 30: Cackalacky Hot Sauce, Fullsteam Brewery, Pie Pushers, American Meltdown, and The Parlour: An Amalgamation. Beer, hot sauce, food trucks, and ice cream? Perfect! Learn about these five local companies while enjoying food and drink.

May 7: TOPO Vodka Distillery and The Crunkleton. Learn the art of the cocktail featuring local, organic vodka.

May 14: Durham Taquerias and LocoPops Tour. Come explore Durham’s taquerias followed by a tour of LocoPops!

May 22: Two Chicks Farm and Panciuto in Idyllic Hillsborough. Join us for a tour of Two Chicks Farm followed by dinner at Panciuto.


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If it’s April, it must be time for beer

Craft beer followers already pour into North Carolina because of its reputation as the South’s premiere beer destination, with more breweries than any state south of Pennsylvania (73 and counting). More and more of those breweries are now locally sourcing hops (at least in part) and even growing their own (again, in part).

In April there’s another reason to imbibe — a month of foam-focused activities, including tastings, hotel packages, and special events as part of the state’s inaugural North Carolina Beer Month. “We hope to open even more eyes and palates to the popularity of craft beer,” said Win Bassett, director of the North Carolina Brewers Guild.

NC Beer Lover’s Weekend at O. Henry Hotel in Greensboro

Participating breweries range from “nano-brewery” Bear Creek Brews, west of Raleigh, to Oskar Blues, the state’s largest craft brewery, near the Pisgah Forest (its parent brewery is in Longmont, Colo.). Offerings include a float trip down the French Broad River in Asheville followed by a tour and tasting at Altamont Brewing (April 20 and 27, $50); the Hickory Hops festival hosted by Olde Hickory Brewing with 40-plus breweries, music, and the Carolinas Championship of Beers.(April 20, $10-$30); and NC Beer Lover’s Weekend at O. Henry Hotel in Greensboro, with dinner and cooking class featuring beers by Highland Brewing Co. (April 26-27, $319 to $678).


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Farm Fresh Orange County — in print!

I had a great time (but it was work, too!) organizing and writing content for a special 8-page guide to finding farm-fresh food and fun in Orange County. The booklet is first appearing in the March/April issue of Chapel Hill Magazine and also is available at the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau. I hope at some point it will be distributed around town as well, though I’m not sure about that.

The guide highlights some farm-to-table restaurants, shops with dining, farms to visit, farmers markets and special food and farm events in and around Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough, NC. It’s like a mini “Farm Fresh North Carolina.” I appreciated that I could again highlight some of my favorite farms and events, and also provide updates. The other thrill was the fab design, with eye-popping color, and the great photos by Donn Young. While I loved the design of my book and the photos (by creative photographer Selina Kok, who, yes, happens to be my spouse), the images were in more-affordable black and white. Color is so sweet! I was able to do some back and forth with the visitors bureau and the designers, and we all agree that the final product is smashing. See you for yourself!

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Cheese and goats and beer!

So many cool Triangle events coming up!

Prodigal Farm, one of just two Animal Welfare Approved goat cheese dairies in North Carolina, is hosting some cool events. On Jan. 27, they’ll have a Beginning Cheesemaking Workshop, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.. On March 29, also from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., they’re offering a Beginning Goat Husbandry Workshop. The farm is in Durham County, near Bahama. They’re also hosting a dinner at King’s Daughters Inn in Durham on Jan. 22 at 6:30 that highlights cheese and Mystery Brewing brews. Yay!

Up the road in Chatham County, near Siler City, Celebrity Dairy, which hosts monthly dinners at its B&B, is having one of their mega-popular Open Barn weekends on Feb. 9-10 from noon to 5 p.m. Go see the babies!

Back in Durham, Sean Wilson of Fullsteam Brewery and Page Skelton of Cackalacky condiments have paired up on a yummy brew called Cackalacky, with a ginger pale ale flavor. Can’t wait to try it — which I’ll do at the launch party at Fullsteam on Jan. 27, from 3 to 5 p.m. They’re going nationwide with this beer, and we get the first taste! See you there!

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How sweet it was …

I got this sad news today from John Swann at Maple Creek Farm, famed for its southernmost maple syrup. I’ve written about them here before, and check out the photos too!

To our Followers, Customers, and Friends:

We regret to announce that due to increasingly warm winter temperatures over the past few years, the yield of maple syrup at Maple Creek Farm has been steadily diminishing to the point that it is no longer feasible to produce maple syrup at all at our Yancey County farm. Consequently, we will also no longer be able to host our annual Maple Tour in February.

We wish to thank all those who have visited our farm and bought our maple syrup. We hope that the climate change will reverse, and that winters in these parts will once again be cold enough to produce maple syrup, but we have our doubts that this will occur, given the trend of increasingly warm winter temperatures.?

It was sweet while it lasted…

Thanks again for your support,

John Swann

Maple Creek Farm

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Tribute to a gentle giant in farming

Bill Dow at Ayrshire Farm in 2009

Bill Dow, one of the state’s sustainable-farming pioneers, passed away this week at the age of 67. Bill was a kind and gentle man whose humility served him well, first as a doctor and then as a farmer advocating a healthier way to grow food and consume it. This lovely story detailing his many achievements ran in the News & Observer today. Those include becoming the state’s first certified organic farm, in 1980; helping start the now famous Carrboro Farmers’ Market; and placing a conservation easement on much of his land, in Pittsboro.  Chatham County extension agent extraordinaire Debbie Roos put together this lovely tribute page for Bill.

I included Bill in “Farm Fresh North Carolina” even though his farm had no official public interaction. Still, I felt he was so notable that I  asked if I could include him. (Other private farmers of similar status turned me down.) I cautioned him that he might get calls from strangers wanting to see the farm. He was fine with that, he said, saying that it helped spread the good word. This is what I wrote in the book’s introduction:

Bill and I chatted during a 2011 book signing with Andrea Reusing of Lantern, who uses his farm’s produce

While this book features many farms that are set up to serve the public, others are private, but the farmers nonetheless feel it’s important to let people see the work they do. As organics pioneer Bill Dow at Ayrshire Farm in Chatham County told me, “If people don’t learn about where their food comes from, then we’re in serious trouble. I feel like it’s my duty to show them.”

And below is my entry on Bill’s farm. May his lasting legacy give comfort to his loved ones. Thank you, Bill Dow, for your years of dedication.

Ayrshire Farm

Bill Dow of Ayrshire Farm, near Pittsboro, became the state’s first certified organic farmer in 1980. Three decades later, he’s still farming without pesticides, though he dropped the certification. Bill also helped start the Piedmont Farm Tour and the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, and is still active in both. On about three of his twenty-two acres, all held in a land-conservation trust, Bill grows a mix of vegetables, including greens, tomatoes, and peppers, as well as heirloom apples and blueberries. During the course of our thirty-minute visit in the late morning, three restaurant owners called, asking, “Hey Bill, what do you have today?” Bill welcomes visits from individuals and small groups because, he said, “It’s terribly important to show people where their food comes from.” He also helps groom future farmers. “Farming is a viable option for young folks—if they can afford the land.”


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Food fest recap: all yummy all the time

Colleen Minton, the belle of the ball

I was treated to some glorious dining and noshing events at TerraVITA in Chapel Hill last weekend. and now it‘s back to watching the waistline.

I’ve witnessed this fine food and beverage festival, founded and run by the gracious and energetic Colleen Minton, blossom from a decent-sized one-day happening to a three-day Southeastern to-do featuring classes, gatherings, and tastings from more than 45 food and beverage purveyors. I met people from around the Southeast coming to sample dozens of yummies from North Carolina chefs, wine makers and beer brewers. The providers of sustenance have one thing in common (other than offering quality nourishment) — they focus on sustainable products, meaning local farm fare that is grown with minimal chemicals.

Biscuits with pimento cheese and kale pesto

Friday night’s East to West sit-down meal featured three of our state’s top chefs — Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer in Kinston, Cassie Parsons of Harvest Moon Grille in Charlotte (and a farmer herself), and Adam Rose of Il Palio in Chapel Hill. Offerings included collard dolmades with pork, confit of carrots and beets, Sunburst Trout fritters, rabbit three ways (ravioli, sausage, and confit), and collard green and country ham creamed Carolina Rice middlins with pickled collard stems and turnip roots. I’m having fantastic food-fueled flashbacks! We sat at long communal tables and ate family style, great for getting to know your neighbors, though I missed the aesthetic of plating dishes.

Tasty, lovely morsels from Herons at the Umstead

Saturday’s “Grand Tasting” proved equally compelling, and this time plates abounded, tiny ones and plenty of them with samplings too numerous to mention. Several fell into the meat and biscuit category, my favorites being Weathervane’s butternut squash biscuits with pulled pork, and Chapel Hill Country Club’s sausage biscuit with pimento cheese and collard pesto. Chocolate purveyors were sprinkled throughout, including my two favorite in the state, Escazu from Raleigh and French Broad Chocolates from Asheville. It being early afternoon and with no designated driver, I passed on the alcohol but enjoyed eyeing the microbrews, wines, and the state’s first all-local and organic spirits from Top of the Hill. Next year I’ll have to bring Bob.

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Fermenting food in a few easy steps

April McGreger leads a workshop on fermenting food

I’m bubbling over with excitement after my workshop on fermenting! OK, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but it was very interesting to get a primer on the process that I’ve been reading so much about over the past several years. I have had in mind to write a big piece about the health-minded followers of fermentation. Some day.

Last week, eleven of us gathered at The Cookery in Durham, where for $40 we got a two-hour-plus lesson from April McGreger, aka The Farmer’s Daughter. I’m a longtime fan of April, who is a food-preservation artist and maker of some amazing fermented and canned products, which she sells at farmers’ markets and even online now.

April and her lovely assistant process cabbage while a fellow student chops carrots for kimchi

We made sauerkraut and Korean kimchi, a ubiquitous relish using the “wild fermentation” method — as opposed to “lactofermentation,” and meaning you don’t add any culture. The longtime leader of the wild movement is Sandor Katz, so if you want to know more about it, check out his website or books.

April told us that fermentation is the oldest method of preserving food and basically allowed people, always traveling in search of food, to stay in one place for awhile. It changed the course of civilization! And did you know that the oldest fermented cabbage is from China – fed to the builders of the Great Wall? Later it landed in Germany, where sauerkraut became a national staple.

We each got to take home a jar of kimchi

The sauerkraut was ridiculously simple – cabbage, salt and dried juniper berries (optional). The trick is to keep air out during the fermenting process. We each brought home a little batch and I’ve followed April’s instructions to prevent air from getting in. We’ll see! The kimchi involved a lot of chopping and a lot more seasoning, leading me to think how fun it would be to have a kimchi party, with a few folks coming together to share the prep and chopping duties, and of course the goods!

Meanwhile, the day after class, Tasting Table posted this great article about the many uses of kimchi. I guess everyone is bubbling over!

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Let ‘Chefs of the Mountains’ be your guide

First, there was the “Food Lovers’ Guide to the Triangle.” Now there’s “Chefs of the Mountains: Restaurants & Recipes from Western North Carolina” (John F. Blair, $19.95), by food critic John E. Batchelor. John doesn’t know it, but he helped me with researching my guidebook, “Farm Fresh North Carolina,” because I learned about tons of restaurants in the Triad region from his stories in the Greensboro and Winston-Salem papers. Thank you, John!

John will be promoting the book – with chefs in tow – at several bookstores around the state. Check out the schedule here and keep in mind you’ll probably be treated to some nibbles, too, but no guarantee. He’ll be at my local awesome bookstore, The Regulator, on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. with Chef Michael Barbato of Chetola Inn and Resort in Blowing Rock. Speaking of BR, John includes several restaurants from that resort town south of Boone. The book came at the right time for me, as I’ll be in Boone in a month and haven’t been there for several years. I think I’ve picked out the place, thanks to John: Vidalia. We’ll see.

Author John E. Batchelor

“Chefs of the Mountains” is part of a series started by my friend Ann Prospero, who wrote “Chefs of the Triangle.” Like Ann did, John gives us tasty morsels about each chef’s personal and professional life, followed by several recipes. There is a big difference, though: color photographs grace this book. Lucky John! The only glaring omission is a price key. Maybe next edition?

John says all 40 chefs use fresh, local ingredients, and in sidebars he highlights some of the farmers and artisanal producers, such as Imladris Farm in Fairview and Sunburst Trout Farms in Canton, two places I’ve enjoyed visiting.

If you love the NC mountains and good food (who doesn’t?), John has a book he’d love to sign for you!

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Posted in Ashe County, Avery County, Books, Buncombe County, Cooking, Family travel, Haywood County, Henderson County, Recipes, Road travel, Watauga County | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment