Discovering new ways to eat local in a global pandemic
By Mari Stuart
If this season of “stay at home” living has afforded you some extra time, it might be the perfect opportunity to explore new approaches to food: new recipes and new cooking techniques, along with new places to buy local and seasonal ingredients.
So many aspects of our daily lives have changed since mid-March. We work from home, assume the role of teacher for our children, keep our distance from friends and neighbors, and communicate with family by video-conference. Life has become different in so many ways and yet, slowly and sometimes awkwardly, we settle into a new existence and continue to try to find joy and contentment.
When it comes to food, life has been similarly altered. We cook and prepare more food at home, as local restaurants remain closed for dine-in eating, and make more meals as family members work and learn at home. We do all of this while catering to different appetites, attempting to find variety in the dishes, and keeping a stricter eye on budgets.
We are all eager for life to return to what we know as “normal,” and that may include a return to our old eating routines. But is it possible that we use this time to discover new habits when it comes to the way we shop and cook and eat? New habits that empower us to cook more food from scratch and utilize more ingredients that are seasonal and locally grown?
The process of preparing food is often driven by convenience. That is a fact of modern-day living, even in a global pandemic. Grocery store chains offer all varieties of fruits and vegetables, regardless of the season, and much of it is grown thousands of miles away. Dinners can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, and frozen and pre-packaged foods help make that happen.
But if this season of “stay at home” living has afforded you some extra time, it might be the perfect opportunity to explore new approaches to food, and perhaps even a new mindset about it. The process of preparing food can be an opportunity for experimentation, including new methods for making food from scratch, such as yogurt and bread.
Perhaps even more importantly, this season offers us the opportunity to discover local places to buy our food. From farms and dairies to CSAs and online cooperatives, the process of purchasing fresh and local ingredients can be an adventure and a valuable way to support our local economy.
Fortunately, as residents of Western North Carolina, we live among abundance, and our local farmers and producers are creating low-contact or no-contact ways to offer their foods. By exploring these options, you can support them as well as your own health with locally grown, nutritious food.
In an effort to get you started, we have assembled a list of resources below for local eating in the Asheville area—and identify the safety protocols at each location.
This is a special market designed to protect shoppers and vendors, with special procedures to ensure health standards. The number of shoppers at any one time is controlled, a six-feet distance is maintained, and items are pre-packaged or bunched. No cash or credit cards are exchanged; purchases are paid online afterwards, based on an honor system.
West Asheville’s tailgate market follows most of the same protocols as the A-B Tech Market. Customers wait in line to enter, keeping a minimum six-feet distance, and must wear a mask. Individual vendors may accept credit cards, but ‘No-contact” forms of payment such as Venmo or Paypal are preferred.
At the RAD Farmers Market, vendors wear masks and hand sanitizer is available at every booth. Pre-orders are recommended but not required.
COOPERATIVE ONLINE MARKET
Patchwork Online Market is a newly-formed cooperative of farmers from in and around Asheville selling their products on a joint platform. Customers can place orders online over the weekend, and pick up their orders on Thursdays at conveniently located pickup sites. Patchwork Market also offers home delivery to 2880* zip codes.
BUYING DIRECTLY FROM FARMS
ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project) has compiled a list of local farms that are currently selling to customers. Many CSA and home delivery services, such as Mother Earth Food, are fully booked. But ASAP also keeps an updated list of farms that still have CSA shares available. Some deliver CSA boxes directly to customers, others arrange for on-farm pickup of pre-paid purchases.
As “essential businesses,” farms are allowed to stay open during the stay-home ordinance. A number of farms have drive-through farm stands, so you can still make it an outing and get your food as fresh as possible.
GRAINS AND BAKED GOODS
Bread and baked goods are the ultimate comfort food. So rejoice! There are a number of ways to get yours locally, and even order them online.
Many bread makers and bakeries sell fresh, hot baked goods at the farmers markets listed above.
OWL Bakery, which uses locally ground flours in its products, offers curbside pickup of freshly baked bread, pastries and other baked goods every Friday. Submit orders and payments online ahead of time. The bread from OWL is a virtually sterile product: it goes from a 500F oven straight to a paper bag via gloved hands. You can also add to your order locally grown heirloom grains and flours, local eggs and milk, and even fresh produce.
If you’re passing your time in quarantine by baking bread or other treats—like many of us are—you can order local grains and flours online at Carolina Ground and Farm & Sparrow and have them delivered to you.
The beloved local dairy, Mills River Creamery in Mills River is open. Ice cream is sold to-go, and there’s plenty of fresh milk, cream, butter, and cheese. Curbside pickup is possible; call ahead.
MEAT AND FISH
A variety of quality grass-fed and pastured meats can be found at Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Orders must be placed online ahead of time and picked up at the farm store. Customers stay in their car while the farm staff deliver the order into the vehicle trunk—no physical contact is necessary.
Sunburst Trout Farms, a third-generation sustainable trout farm in Waynesville, also has an online store. You can choose to pick up your product in Asheville or Waynesville, or have it shipped directly to you.
LOCAL PRODUCE ON A BUDGET
SNAP tokens are accepted at the farmers markets listed above.
Bounty & Soul, the Black Mountain non-profit, continues to run fresh “food markets,” providing free produce gleaned and donated by local farms in addition to packaged foods.
BACKYARD GARDENS AND NEIGHBORHOOD BARTER
I don’t know about you, but going on daily walks in my neighborhood during these weeks of quarantining, I’ve seen more people working in their gardens than ever before, building raised beds and planting seeds. If it’s an option for you, growing food in your own backyard is by far the safest, most satisfying, and arguably the most affordable way to bring locally grown veggies and fruit to your table. Even if you don’t have the space or the inclination to garden, you may find gardener neighbors willing to trade or barter their produce. The Asheville-Buncombe Emergency Barter Facebook Group is a good place to find ultra-local and affordable local eggs, vegetables, vegetable starts, medicinal plants, and more.
Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart is the program coordinator for Co-operate WNC’s new community-supported regenerative farming initiative, Carbon Harvest. She teaches modern homesteading skills and writes about them at groundedlife.co.