By Lauren Stepp
When folks trek out to Heritage Homestead Goat Dairy in Ashe County, they have lots of questions. Intrigued sightseers ask things like “How long does it take to make cheese?” “Can you milk a boy goat?” and “Why is your cheese more expensive than store-bought?” Owner Carol Coulter is always happy to provide detailed answers, but worries consumers are becoming disconnected from their food. “They don’t realize how much effort and how many resources go into creating quality products,” she says.
Coulter is the founder of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA), a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening local food systems by supporting female growers. This fall, BRWIA is partnering with Appalachian State University (ASU) and The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce to present the 2017 Food Summit—Dynamic Traditions, Resourceful Communities: Food Ways and Food Waste in the High Country—on Saturday, October 28, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Plemmons Student Union.
The conference, which has been hosted for more than three nonconsecutive years, meditates on local foodways by bringing together regional farmers, chefs and community members like author Ronni Lundy. Lundy is a Kentucky-born journalist whose award-winning text, Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes, illuminates the history of dishes like root and sausage pie. As keynote speaker, Lundy will feed off lore documented in Victuals, priming a daylong dialogue. In addition to her speech, the summit will also feature seed saving stories, a locally-sourced lunch from F.A.R.M. Cafe, a food waste panel discussion and more.
Though some 140 guests have attended in years past, BRWIA is still struggling to connect its farmers to consumers. “We’re seeing good trends where buyers are paying attention to how food is being raised and produced,” says Coulter. “But we’re only reaching around one percent of the population in Watauga County.” According to Ben Loomis, upping those numbers requires intentional outreach.
Loomis serves as program director for the Patterson School Incubator Farm (PSIF). Opened in February by BRWIA, the Caldwell County farm allows growers to rent half-acre plots of fallow land. The agronomists can also rent dorm rooms, consult with an onsite agriculture expert and use a shared commercial kitchen. The hope is that PSIF will reduce the upfront costs associated with agriculture, making it a more viable venture. “We’re aiming for a community,” says Loomis. “We see this as a space where a variety of people can learn from one another and grow together.”
Though miles apart, there is a clear tie to this Caldwell County initiative and the 2017 Food Summit, says Coulter. Chiefly, that both are centered on good, sustainable food. “It makes sense to create cars in factories,” she continues. “It doesn’t make sense to create food in factories.”
The Plemmons Student Union is located at 263 Locust Street on Appalachian State University’s campus in Boone. Tickets are $15 for students, $30 for all others. Ronni Lundy will also be hosting a locally sourced dinner and book signing at The New Public House in Blowing Rock on Friday, October 27, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $75. For more information, visit foodsummit.brwia.org.