Posts filed under ‘Whole Food/ Locavore Eateries’
By Dee Reid
What happens when two sustainable farmers and a chef decide to offer farm-to-fork dining at a biofuels plant in Pittsboro? That’s not a reality TV show pitch. It’s actually what took place on Saturday night when new Piedmont Biofarm co-owners Brett Evans and Will Carmines collaborated with new Chatham Chef Geoff Seelen to host their first hyper-local dinner at the Piedmont Biofuels Eco-Industrial campus on the edge of town.
Their synergy warmed our hearts and bellies, and ignited a unique locavore pop-up dining series that is sure to succeed.
Tickets for the first Piedmont Biofarm-to-Table Dinner sold out in two days. Some 30 guests paid $30 each to enjoy a tantalizing four-course meal in an impromptu festive dining space, just steps away from the vegetable beds that produced fresh ingredients even in mid-winter.
Just before dinner, we also got a chance to sample spirits infused with seasonal ingredients, at another fairly new venture, Fair Game Beverage, “Pittsboro’s only legal distillery.” Like the Biofarm, the distillery is also based at the Eco-Industrial Complex.
With a farm, distillery, kitchen, swing space and great parking on site, the complex is an ideal setting for community gatherings.
The seeds for the dinner series were first planted when Chef Geoff moved to Chatham from New York, where he had been working in the renowned Blue Hill restaurants.
“I met Will at one of the weekly community lunches,” Geoff explained. “And we began talking about this idea of joining forces to create special dinners.”
Will and Brett are excited to be carrying forward the sustainable ag vision of Doug Jones, who founded the Biofarm. He mentored his two former interns to take over the farm when he was ready to spend more time on other ventures, including cross-breeding new varieties of Pittsboro peppers. Now the Biofarm continues to successfully produce an abundant variety of vegetables with no synthetic chemical inputs.
Saturday’s first course was a tasty mixed-greens salad featuring chard, Brussel sprout leaves, and radishes. That was followed by a lovely small plate of mini-crepes made with four varieties of roasted sweet potatoes drizzled with a squash-based sauce.
The main attraction was Chatham rabbit (from Fatty Owl Farm) — white meat cooked tenderly and served over a bed of warm greens and sun chokes, flavored by a rabbit-liver-based sauce enhanced with a Fair Game port. Yum. We cleaned our plates.
Geoff, Brett and Will decided to make their first dinner especially challenging by presenting it in January, the most difficult month for food production. They made it look easy, except for dessert. (No summer peaches or blueberries to fall back on.) They came up with a frozen dairy ice, topped with pulverized acorns and black walnuts harvested “right out back,” said Geoff. I enjoyed the creative and no doubt labor-intensive use of wild ingredients, but kept thinking a splash of warm Fair Game brandy might have taken it up just a notch on this cold night.
We’re glad they are ready to continue the series, perhaps monthly, though they expect to raise the price a bit, so that wait staff can be paid instead of working just for tips. Sounds reasonable, as long as it doesn’t get too pricey for eclectic locavores, whose enthusiasm at this dinner was almost as essential to the experience as the menu.
Seated at our end of the table were a young furniture craftsman who also plays classical piano, a future elementary school teacher, a massage therapist, a “slow money” advocate and a potter. We had plenty to talk about between bites, and that was half the fun.
Many thanks to Geoff, Brett, Will, Abundance NC, Fair Game Beverage and all who contributed to a special night out in PBO. We look forward to more.
UPDATE: Supper tickets to this are sold out, but you can still attend, drink some brew and make a $10 donation to support the cause.
Friends, this is a no brainer. I love eating seasonal food raised on local farms. Especially when it’s served in a local eatery. I’ve been dying for a quench of that new Cackalacky Ginger Pale Ale at FullSteam in Durham. And who wouldn’t want to chip in to support new community-based funds for newbie local farms and food enterprises, through great local orgs like Slow Money NC, the Abundance Foundation and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association?
Looks like I’ll get to do all of this and more by plunking down $15 at FullSteam Brewery, Jan. 27 at 7 pm. A little extra for the brew. What a deal, all part of a new dinner series called Funds to Farms. And you can join in the fun. Here’s how it works.
The first Funds to Farms event will be a buffet style, sit-down meal featuring soup (veggie & meat) donated by Vin Rouge Bistro. Attendees will have the first half hour to get their food and drinks and make it to a table.Bon appetit.
Then, five local beginning farmers and food entrepreneurs will each pitch a project for which they need our funding, i.e. the dough-re-mi we gave at the door, and some of the brew proceeds, too. After all of the presentations, attendees (that’s us) will vote on which project we would like to fund. The winner gets the proceeds from the evening and promises to attend the next Funds to Farms event to give a progress report.
Tickets are available online and at FullSteam on the day of the event.
Eric Henry, president of TS Designs, produces tee-shirts made with cotton grown organically right here in North Carolina. Eric is an entrepreneur with a social conscience – he supports several local farm, food and energy initiatives, always thinking and acting creatively about how to make a more sustainable community. This interview is reprinted from a great guide called, “How to Advocate Locally to Support Sustainable Food & Farms: A Brief How-To Manual,” available free from (CFSA), another mover and shaker in our foodshed. Plenty of information and inspiration here. Thanks, Eric and CFSA.
Eric Henry is well known in North Carolina for his dedication to sustainability. In 2009, he won the Sustainable Champion Award from Sustainable North Carolina. He adheres to the triple bottom line business philosophy (people, planet, profits). His apparel company, TS Designs, even has its own organic farm.
Eric also founded the Burlington Biodiesel Co-op, and runs his own car on biodiesel or vegetable oil. He devotes a lot of time to furthering the sustainable agriculture agenda in his county: He serves on various community organizations and local government boards, as well as on the Board of Directors for , a co-op grocery in Alamance. Eric is a true champion for system-wide change towards sustainability. Market
CFSA: How did you become knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture so that you could be an effective advocate?
Eric: Through my apparel business I learned about the importance of a local and transparent supply chain. This made me want to learn more about sustainability and local agriculture. I began to educate myself on sustainable issues through research and by connecting myself to people of the same mindset. I am a member of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and attend their annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference; working with them has proven to be a great way to stay up to date on sustainable agriculture issues. I also regularly talk to sustainable farmers whom I know.
CFSA: How did you find out who held the power in Alamance, so that you could determine how to make changes in your local food system?
Eric: I have lived in Alamance County for over 50 years and I’m involved in a lot of civic groups ranging from Elon University to the Chamber of Commerce. I also met with the County Manager and other members of local government as a way to gauge who in county government were sympathetic to sustainable agriculture. I go to lots of local community meetings to keep up with what is going on.
CFSA: How did you prioritize the projects that you have undertaken?
Eric: Alamance already had a farmland protection plan and a good group of organic farmers. We were ready to go to the next level. I personally put in a lot of time working on getting Company Shops Market off the ground.
I wanted to help to build a local living community and I thought that linking local farmers to local consumers via a retail store was ambitious, but doable. Another project that I took on was creating a large organic garden at TS Designs. This created a way for me to share sustainable agricultural practices with customers of our shirts and healthy eating information with our employees.
CFSA: How did you negotiate with those in power to affect the changes that you wanted to see happen around sustainable agriculture in Alamance?
Eric: When we were organizing the Company Shops Market we had to do a lot of negotiating with local government and others as we worked to locate the shop in downtown Burlington. I had to convince officials that this was something that was going to be good for the downtown area and would be good for local businesses. We had to be forceful in our negotiations and eventually convinced decision-makers that this would be great for local business, farmers and consumers.
One thing we did was invite in another county manager, one who is sympathetic to local food, and introduce him to our manager. That helped build trust. Also we invited Michael Shuman, a national economic development consultant, to talk with local folks about local food economies.
CFSA: Looking back, can you talk about some successes and failures, as well as reflect on anything that you may have done differently in your efforts to promote sustainable agriculture?
Eric: The biggest success was establishing Company Shops Market and creating a place that connects citizens to local foods. Our challenge is still that sustainable, local agriculture is a very small part of our local food system. We need to do a better job of selling local food as economic development and job creation. We need more allies and to continue to educate the broader community about this goal.
By Dee Reid
They say, “It takes a village…” In this case it took 16 local-food friends.
It all started when Chatham Marketplace had a financial obligation looming. The Pittsboro-based co-op grocery was facing a $300k balloon payment on its start-up loan. The note would come due in about a year. The bank might be willing to re-finance, but there was no guarantee about that, or whether the Marketplace would get the same terms.
Then Carol Hewitt recalled a great idea that came up a few months earlier when she was first co-founding Slow Money NC, the Pittsboro-based initiative that facilitates peer-to-peer community-based loans. Chatham Marketplace Finance Committee member Paul Finkel had suggested re-financing the co-op’s loan through individual lenders in the community.
Slow Money wasn’t ready to take on something that big last spring, Carol said. But by fall, Slow Money had already facilitated more than a dozen micro-loans to farmers and food entrepreneurs. Maybe they could tackle the Chatham Marketplace loan after all.
Carol and Slow Money co-founder Lyle Estill began crunching the numbers. They would need to find 16 individuals willing to loan $25k each at a 4.5% interest rate. Each lender would receive equal monthly payments over an eight-year period, and the loan would then be retired.
Slow Money NC would help them aggregate their funds into one pool that could be managed centrally. That’s when Bringing It Home Chatham LLC was formed.
It didn’t take all that long to line up 16 lenders, Carol said. The folks who had helped start the Marketplace– Tami Schwerin, Melissa Frye and Katherine Conroy– met and suggested names. It was a community effort and one-by-one people agreed to participate. The loan was attractive to them for several reasons: They believed in putting their money to work in the community. Many of them had already made micro-loans through Slow Money NC and they felt confident their funds would be repaid.
They knew the risks associated with supporting a small local business, Carol said, but they would rather see their money working on Main Street than riding the recession roller coaster on Wall Street. And, they would be getting a better return on the Marketplace loan than they would from a savings account or CD.
The loan was also a very good deal for Chatham Marketplace. It locked in a much lower interest rate, reducing the grocery’s monthly payment by 1/3. That means a savings of about $2500 a month – no small change for any food enterprise in these times.
“Now Chatham Marketplace is locally financed by people in the community who care deeply about its success,” Carol said. “That means we will do whatever we can to help the Marketplace succeed.”
“Bringing It Home Chatham is one of the first projects of its kind in the US,” Carol added. “It’s just the beginning of finding new and better ways to keep local food growing here in Chatham County and beyond.”
Does it drive you crazy when it turns out that the supermarket produce labeled “farm fresh” actually comes from China or Chile? How can we find out where our “fresh” food really comes from when the labels are hard to read and deliberately vague?
One answer for those of us living in North Carolina is the new “Piedmont Grown” label, which means what it says — this food was cultivated and harvested within our region.
Piedmont Grown is a new local certification program to clearly designate food and agricultural products that are grown, raised, or made within the 37 county Piedmont region, including the Triangle, Triad,and Charlotte areas.
The label helps consumers make informed buying choices that will benefit farms in the region and our local economy.
“Our mission is to support Piedmont farms and rebuild a regional, community-based, farm to fork, local food system,” says farmer Noah Ranells, board member of Piedmont Grown and Ag Economic Development Coordinator for Orange County. “We want to link consumers to local farm fresh foods, build local markets for farmers and food entrepreneurs, and grow healthy and prosperous communities.”
Local food retailers like Darren Stevens of Triad Meat Company in Greensboro are excited about being Piedmont Grown certified. “We believe our customers are looking for ways to get fresher, healthier food selections,” he says. “Being a part of Piedmont Grown is just one more way we can provide them with what they are looking for.”
Piedmont Grown will make its first public splash at the Farm to Fork Picnic at the Breeze Farm in Orange County on June 26th, and with the launch of www.piedmontgrown.org. The website provides a user-friendly local food directory and map spotlighting over 100 Piedmont Grown certified farms and businesses. The site also allows qualified new entities to become certified online. As the program grows, the website will become a central hub for consumers to find local food and to learn about the farmers and businesses that make up our local food economy.
“With so many consumers interested in buying local food we feel there is a need for a program like Piedmont Grown to both identify and reward those that provide it,” says Jay Pierce, Executive Chef of Lucky 32 Restaurants in Greensboro and Cary. “Piedmont Grown removes the mystery from local food purchasing.”
Piedmont Grown is actively certifying farms, farmer’s markets, groceries, restaurants, local food artisans, and other local food businesses. To become certified, members must meet standards and practices specific to their category and sign an annual license agreement to use the Piedmont Grown logo. The standards for using the logo are intended to protect the integrity of the brand and reinforce to the public that these are indeed Piedmont Grown products and businesses.
The annual certification fee of $100 has been prorated to $50 for 2011 and, thanks to a grant, is free for farms this year.
“We enrolled in Piedmont Grown to make the public aware that there are still family run dairies that process their own dairy products and are a valuable resource to the community in which they live,” says Teri Bowman from Homeland Creamery in the Julian community of Guilford County. “We do our own milk so we know it is fresh and isn’t mixed with other dairies as far away as New Mexico.”
The program is managed by Piedmont Grown NC Inc., an incorporated non-profit comprised of a Board of Directors that includes many local food visionaries. Current board members include Ranells and Pierce, as well as Dr. Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Jonathon Romm (Elon University and Company Shops). A keystone team helps to guide this effort and includes Debbie Roos (Chatham Extension Service), Marco Shaw (Eno Hospitality / Piedmont), Mike Lanier (Orange Extension Service), and Robin Crowder (UNC-CH Gillings Sustainable Ag Project). Piedmont Grown received support from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and the Tobacco Trust Fund and is a partner with the 10% Campaign.
“Local means different things to different people,” according to Garland McCollum of Massey Creek Farm in Madison, Rockingham County. “Piedmont Grown is our effort to define local and identify those products that meet our definition. Small business is the force that drives the national economy. Identifying those local farms, restaurants, and markets that provide fresh healthy alternatives is a way we can all work to build our local economy, the national economy, and preserve our green space.”
By Dee Reid
There are many things to love about Pittsboro‘s newest farmers’ market opening April 16 at Chatham Mills.
- It’s a first for downtown Pittsboro. The Chatham Mills Farmers’ Market is located at the renovated historic textile mill on the north end of town, 480 Hillsboro Street. That’s the same property as Chatham Marketplace, the natural foods co-op grocery and cafe, within easy walking distance of many shops and homes, with plenty of parking. You’ll be able to pick up your fresh farm products at the market and then complete your grocery shopping inside at Chatham Marketplace.
- It’s open on Saturdays from 8 am to 12 noon from April 16 through November 19. This makes it especially convenient for folks like me who commute to work outside the county during the week and often can’t get to the Thursday afternoon farmer’s market on the other side of town.
- More than 25 local farmers and farm vendors have already signed up to sell their goods, including a wide range of fresh vegetables, meats (pastured chicken, lamb, goat, beef and pig), cheese, eggs, honey, gluten-free bread and other baked goodies, flowers, pottery, jewelery and other hand crafts.
- The season will include chef’s demonstrations, kid’s days and other farm and food related special events during market hours.
- It will draw more shoppers to downtown Pittsboro. Chatham County is famous for its sustainable small-scale farms, whose food is found in markets throughout the region and on the menus of the Triangle’s best restaurants. Now consumers seeking out the freshest local food will find it more easily in downtown Pittsboro, spending more of their food dollars closer to home. That’s good for local farmers, local shoppers and the local economy.
By Tami Schwerin
What could be a better opportunity to promote local food, health and nutrition than the school lunch? We are hearing more and more about the worldwide epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes. School lunches are the perfect place to make a big impact.
Welcome to The Chatham County Chef Challenge in which we introduce three celebrity chefs to the ingredients, facilities, and nutritional guidelines of the iconic school lunch. Their assignment is to develop healthier menus using the same ingredients and guidelines and staying within budget.
Three Chefs have volunteered their time and expertise: Colin Bedford of the Fearrington House Restaurant (North Carolina’s only official Five Star), Jimmy Reale of the Crossroads Restaurant at Carolina Inn (four star and four diamond restaurant), and Steve Caldwell of the Natural Chefs Culinary Program at Central Carolina Community College, (first community college in the nation that offers a wholistic, sustainable culinary arts program). They all have quality and local food in common. Two have children….it will be interesting to see what they come up with.
The chefs must develop recipes and techniques to increase the amount of vegetables on the menu, and to raise awareness about the lunch program. The menu needs to be quick and easy so that the lunch ladies can replicate the menu.
Debbie McKenzie, Child Nutrition Director, is leading the charge and organizing the different school lunch teams. It’s her job to juggle getting the most nutrition in the lunches and keeping the budget of $1.00 per child. I don’t envy her challenge.
We took the chefs to visit Northwood High School, Moncure School, and the brand new Pollard Middle School to give them a taste of what they would be working with. There was a lot of enthusiasm from the school lunch teams.
After the chefs develop their new menus, the school lunch teams will serve them up over three days in April. Students will also have opportunities this month to interview the chefs at their restaurants.
We think The Chef Challenge is going to be a lot of fun. It will give us a chance to learn about some of the myths and realities from behind the counter of our county’s largest food service organization. And it will give Chatham County Schools some exposure to our mission of local food and sustainability. And of course we love working with the kids.
More to come! Next steps are the menu creations, teaching the teams to create these for the 17 county schools and then implementation. Can’t wait to see what unfolds!
–Tami Schwerin is executive director of the Abundance Foundation in Pittsboro.