Articles, Blog

Fork to Farmer

(traffic rushing) (orchestral music) – (Susan) People are choosing convenience over kind of, authentic relationships, is a huge issue. What happens 20 years down the road with this convenience
economy that we’ve built? If we just spend our whole lives indoors ordering things to our front steps, then we know that there’s going to be a breakdown in society. There’s going to be a
breakdown of small towns. (birds singing) – In contrast with mega trends for globalization,
efficiency, and convenience, there is a strong
counter-movement for localism. This is especially true
in regards to food. Generally, local foods programs focus on bringing food products from neighboring farms to our restaurants, our markets, and our tables at home. But our project, Fork 2 Farmer, focuses on leading the
local foods enthusiasts to visit their neighboring
farms, and the farmers. In essence we propose that
foodies take the next step in their love affair with local foods by getting to know the farmers that devote their lives to produce these fresh, delicious ingredients that are used by our most
celebrated farm-to-table chefs. We believe that Fork to
Farmer is the next step in the evolution of the
local foods movement. It de-anonymizes the farmer. It brings the farmer from
the invisible to the visible, from the back stage to the front stage. – There’s a part of society that just says oh they’re just farmers. I’ve never felt like I wish
I’d walked a different path. (goats bleating)
And I think part of it is, I have three boys that
I’ve raised on a farm that work as hard as they work, and understand the benefit of working hard doesn’t necessarily
mean driving a Mercedes. Working hard has its own rewards. (mixer humming) – When we visit farmers, first
thing perhaps that stands out is their deep knowledge of
farming, and the environment, but to me the biggest
takeaway that’s inspiring is that these individuals
are deeply value-driven. They’re devoted to making
a difference in society. They’re devoted to growing
healthy food for our communities. You’re meeting these
people that are idealists and they are intentional
about their lives, about everything they do. (upbeat acoustic guitar) – I have lived in North
Carolina all my life, and I have been farming on
this farm here for 23 years. I tell people all the time, I think farmers have got a bum rap,
you know what I’m saying? And society, when I was young, they preached go to school,
get a four-year degree. You know, everybody get
a degree, get a degree. But I look at it, everybody’s
more important than the farmer but you look at the
essence of the whole thing, no one can survive without the farmer. – I have a strong environmental ethic. I think that we should
preserve everything we can, over the course of our lives. I think a lot of people don’t really take that in consideration, be it using a lot of prepackaged food, or driving their car unnecessarily. And I think instilling that in our culture is one of the most
important things we can do. – I want to be assured
that I can provide food for myself and for my community. I do have neighbors that come to the farm. – The skillset that we value here is commitment, and willingness
to understand accountability. And there is no, I don’t
feel like milking today or I don’t feel like feeding today, that these animals rely
on us for everything and we can’t just put our needs first. I think it’s that connection,
that so many people just don’t have with their food, that we are trying to bridge that gap. – I see my primary role as a chef as someone who is
celebrating these producers. It’s my job to make sure that
their work is recognized. – We rely on the fact that we have a customer base that understands
the importance of local. When you have an opportunity
for people to buy local food, the next step is to actually get them to see where the food is produced. Part of the commitment to
local is an education process. We bring people in and we
can help them understand why it’s important, and
maybe it’s more expensive, but why is it more expensive? And they can make the
choices based on that as opposed to walking into a grocery store and seeing a local food table that maybe local means the Southeast as opposed to 20 miles down the road. When a chef comes to visit me and takes the time out
of their busy schedule, it validates my lifestyle choice. It validates my commitment
to my product line. It helps me to understand
that somebody else appreciates on a lot of
different levels what I’m doing as opposed to just
expecting certain amounts of pounds of product to be delivered. – I couldn’t do what I do
if the farmers and producers were not doing what they do. – Through a collaborative relationship between a chef and a farmer, if a chef truly understands that that relationship can help that farmer to stay in business, there’s great opportunity for the chef to also encourage
patrons of the restaurant to go out to the farms
and visit the farms, which can inspire that
additional income through the farm visit itself,
through direct sales of the farmer to the patrons on the farm, but it also can inspire that building of relationships between
the consumer and the farmer. – There’s this great
opportunity with community, of how restaurants can get involved, and then individuals who
go to those restaurants, they don’t have the time necessarily to research my farm or to understand how my farming practices are, but they can trust that restaurant and they can trust that chef to have done all that groundwork for them. (water rushing) – Wow. I love the roots, you know? – [Woman] What is that? – A little dirt on there. That’s gourmet, there. I have been organic gardening
for almost 40 years. I came to North Carolina
from the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. And what I’m doing here is
growing on a small scale in a very intimate way. For me to harvest, I
start early in the morning and by the time I’m done and ready to go to town with my deliveries I have put in six hours. – The relationships between these farmers and the chefs that they supply is incredibly complex and brittle. So one of the things they do
that they express is crucial to make their collaboration
work is communication. – The best thing that we have
done with a lot of our farmers is develop these consistent orders. Tom from Rise Uprooted, who
gives us all our greens, he knows that if he’s
got ’em, we’ll take ’em, and we’ll take X number. – Without the relationships
that I have built, and with Katie Button being an example, you know, I wouldn’t be able
to exist without her support. Because I’m so small. – They really collaborate with each other in a nonhierarchical, very level manner. They know that they are crucial
to each other’s success. – There are products
that don’t sell that well in farmers markets. If we can incorporate those
products from the farmers, things that grow really
well here in our area, then we can help them fill that slot and make some money off of those products. – Small businesses are
important to our communities. And collaborative relationships
between chefs and farmers can help both businesses
to stay in business. – This business is 90%
about the relationships that we have with our
producers and our growers, and our mutual commitment to each other. And I think you only develop that by visiting someone at someone
else’s house, so to speak. – I think that’s the most important part of this business for
me, is the building of the relationships with my clients. And so when I go in there it’s not just me dropping off a box of greens. They recognize me, they know who I am. We chat, it’s just not here you go, here’s the invoice, see ya. – It’s the funny thing about our business, or our businesses, both the
production of the raw product and the finished product on the plate is that it does vanish, but what remains, it’s the permanence of those relationships and those stories. (machinery humming) – Agriculture is a
connection to our heritage. Agriculture is one of the top industries and in the state of North Carolina it is the top industry. Farmers are very resourceful. They are the original entrepreneurs. They’re trying to make
it, and they’re having to learn new things every day. – You know, we always talk about the tiny margins of a restaurant, but I think that the
margins of a small farmer are even more tiny. So I think that farmers
have to be really creative in the ways that they
make their ends meet. – You know, farming can be a
relatively solitary experience. But by having farm visitors,
there’s more interaction with the public. And by having that
interaction with the public there may be also an increase in identity, in sort of raising your
opinion of yourself because other people think you’re fabulous because you’re able to grow these things and they understand all the methodology, all the research that you’ve done, and they appreciate it and
they’re telling you that. – When people come out here and they’re excited about what’s going on, it rejuvenates me and makes
me appreciate what I’m doing. – We get energized by having people who aren’t familiar with what we’re doing, who have become
disconnected from the land, to actually get out here and help us, get their hands dirty,
help us move the cows, help us with the chickens. And you really see it in their eyes how engaged they are that
wow, people are doing this? This is really neat. And you just see them embracing it, and it’s a whole new experience. They’re here actually participating in seeing how the animals move
from one pasture to the other. This really brings the chance for them to reconnect with the land,
and that’s what we find very energizing for us as well. – [Katie] It would be
wonderful if the spotlight would get shown on farmers, or
other people in the industry. The products have to be prepared properly, and that requires a very
talented, diligent farmer. We can only make things
shine that shine themselves, on their own. I feel like I do very
little, cooking and creating. (quiet acoustic guitar) – As a chef, I am passionate about working with ingredient and technique. I want to do as little as
possible to the product, because I like to respect it. I don’t want to cover anything up, I want to enhance the product not hide it. I believe our tastes have been so skewed. We’ve been inundated with
salt, sugar, artificial flavor. Going back and changing our palates, so that when we are hungry we will crave something with flavor and not something that’s just sweet or salty. That’s why I think this movement
is important, for everyone. – I want to keep seeing the
farmers markets doing well, and people doing most
of their shopping there and then going to the supermarket. We have to support the farmers
in order to keep that going. – The dollar that we pay our local farmer will then circulate within our community rather than going to some other place, whether it’s South America
or even California, some place other than home. – You don’t realize how
important it is to buy local until you’re a small
business owner yourself and then you realize how important it is that you support the other people in the positions that you’re in. – The more that we
support our local farms, that supports our local economy. Chefs do understand the value
of supporting local economies, because without our local farms
we’ll lose our small towns, we’ll lose our agricultural
working land spaces. Small businesses depend on that
dollar circulating locally. So your farmer is going to typically spend their dollar in
the small town, you know, visiting the pharmacy,
visiting the hardware store, or visiting their own grocery store. And that’s what we want to support to bring vibrancy back to small towns. – What we provide is a tie-in
to all the other great things that are being done in Randolph County. All of us benefit from the energy that the visitors bring and
that we provide back to them through a great experience. – The thing about Fork 2 Farmer is that it really
emphasizes relationships. It’s a new economy really, an economy that’s not just financial. We want them to value each
other and care for each other, and they care about their place. If we try to think about success stories of what’s really been
a place that exhibits what we want to happen in
the local food economy, we can think about
Kinston, North Carolina. (minor key guitar arpeggios) (truck rumbles) – You know, tobacco sort
of paid all the bills when I was coming along. And then I raised my family on it, and it was a good thing for a long time. – We all kind of, in
Eastern North Carolina, have this connection to the tobacco trade, both its rise and ultimately its fall. – When agriculture changed, I think our economy changed drastically. And that is what, as
farmers look for new ways to make money to replace
the tobacco production, they were looking at foods
that were maybe unique or could bring a good cash crop. And I think that all happened
at about the same time that folks started wanting to know where their food was coming from. – It became our goal to start
trying to get local farmers who had once been tobacco farmers back into growing something,
and the hope was that it would be produce or
niche proteins or cheeses. You know, I was asking if
anybody had suggestions of folks that I would be interested
in growing something for me and this same person’s
name kept coming up. – Every growing season, it’s
almost like rolling the dice, you don’t ever know what
you’re going to get. If it hails and tears a
bunch of sunflowers down, I mean I don’t get as upset
about it as I used to. I was like “Why?” (laughs) I was just kind of figuring
out it’s just part of it, you know, bad things are going to happen, good things are going to happen. Here you go boys. Girls, look at there. They love the scoop on the ground. – Warren is someone who really
finds joy in what he does, and that’s something that
I have observed about him and something I strive to glean from him. (chicken clucking) – Damn. – The agriculture, the
farm-to-table movement, has made a huge difference
in people that are coming and visiting and how they’re
enjoying our community. Because the experience
for all of our visitors, whether they’re coming for art or whether they’re coming
for Civil War history or just history in
general, or for baseball, they all have food in common. So they’re all coming
to that table together to enjoy the hospitality,
and enjoy local foods that are grown here in our area and that we’ve grown up with
and that we think of everyday as just what we generally have, it’s an experience for
them that’s different. So I think that’s made a
huge difference for us. – [Tammy] And I think
also as the farmers create new crop industries they are
actually making more money which means that they
are selling more product which means that businesses can thrive. I mean, they can come
into town and spend money, and so people are providing businesses for where they can come spend money, which creates a greater
economy in the downtown area. Or in the whole country, really. – You know, I don’t think until recently anybody would have taken
you in the backyard when they were making a fish stew and show you how they
cracked eggs over the top, because I don’t think they
thought it was interesting, I don’t think they thought
it was a worthy story. But those are the things that make this region so interesting. I don’t think that people
here necessarily understood that the way that we
cook whole-hog barbecue is incredibly interesting and unique and that people from other
places would find it like, you know, earth-shatteringly interesting. I mean they’ll travel from
freakin’ Minnesota to come here and watch you cook chicken
and rice with your mom. So I think a pride of place and a pride of understanding where you
come from and who you are, and what makes you unique,
what makes your place unique, and really being able
to share those stories can interest people from elsewhere. – I think the Fork 2 Farmer
movement is a creative idea and I think it’s an important one. – It matters because community matters. That is one of the huge
losses in this country, and it’s not just this
country, it’s around the world. We’re all becoming so isolated. And having that connection
to farming and agriculture and having the connection
to the earth, it grounds us. (water splashes) – The closest that we
can be with the earth, the more we understand
and appreciate life. – I think there’s a place
for the convenience economy in everybody’s lives;
there are some things that you just need to
buy quickly and cheaply and have them delivered to your door. But I think there’s
also a need within that, that we have the economy
that’s built on community and relationships and people. (echoing guitars)

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