Monday’s local food networking event on Henry Street in Roanoke was like a Who’s Who of the slow food movement in Southwest Virginia. As someone who has been covering the movement for several years and is very interested in watching the progression, it pained me to have only 25 inches (about 700 words) worth of space to write for today’s paper. Unfortunately, I had to leave some of the best quotes and most interesting details out of my story.
But that’s why blogs were invented, isn’t it? In any case, I’d like to share some extra info with those of you who care. If you just want to read about the food served at the dinner, I certainly don’t blame you — skip to the end.
The list of groups involved in organizing this event will show you the perceived importance of growing connections in the local food world:
* VT Earthworks (a Virginia Tech group working to develop economic opportunities in agriculture and natural resources)
* The Culinary Institute at Virginia Western (the staff and students volunteered their time, coming in very early in the morning on Monday and working until late at night to prepare a delicious meal of local ingredients)
* Ferrum College, one of the leading purchasers of local food among colleges and universities in Virginia
* Jamisons’ Orchard of Roanoke County
* Roanoke City
* Roanoke County
* City of Salem
* Town of Vinton
* Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op
* Roanoke Regional Partnership
* Runner-bean.com (that local food website I wrote about a couple weeks ago)
* Virginia Cooperative Extension
* Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
* Virginia FAIRS
* Virginia Tech
* Virginia Tech Roanoke Center
Roanoke Economic Development Specialist Lisa Soltis raised $12,000 to pay local farmers for the food served at the dinner. But some producers also wanted to donate food for the event.
Field to Fork started with a resource fair for beginning farmers. At 3:15 p.m., the panel discussion began in the Dumas Center for Artistic & Cultural Development across the street from the culinary school. On the panel were Mike Burton, director of SustainFloyd; Jeff Farmer, executive chef of Lucky; Christopher Carpenter, a buyer for W&L; David Tenzer, a Roanoke lawyer and local food advocate; Leanne DuBois of VDACS; Michael Martin, head of dining services at Ferrum College; Billie Raper, executive chef at Hotel Roanoke; Craig Rogers of Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs; Sean Jordan of the Roanoke Natural foods Co-op; and Tenley Weaver of Good Food- Good People.
Some great quotes from the discussion:
* Burton: ” I think there is a burgeoning market for the real small scale farm growing a kind of high quality, aesthetically pleasing crop the public needs. [But] how can we help our mid-sized family farms that are not mega-farms?” He said that’s where we begin to save land from development.
* Carpenter: “It is important when we have our money in our hands. The global economy will not work unless we have a local economy … and what we are talking about is keeping dollars in our ‘hood.”
* DuBois: Said during Farm-to-School week last year, Virginia schools put some 35 local products on the menu. The general assembly last year formally recognized the second week in November as Farm-to-School Week.
* Farmer: “There needs to be some kind of incentive for restaurants to buy locally, because right now there really isn’t.”
* Jordan: “A lot of money is left on the table” for growers who could produce crops in the winter months, maybe using hoop houses or hydroponics. Also said he keeps hearing that producers need places to aggregate their products.
* Michael Martin: “I don’t see anything wrong with using a large distributor if it can work. It reduces road miles.” Some smaller producers have been reticent about making partnerships with corporate distributors.
* Raper: On consumers’ expectation for perfect-looking vegetables: “There has to be an education to our customers. Blemishes don’t necessarily make a product bad.”
* Rogers: Said auto mechanics are not expected to sell cars and home builders are not expected to sell houses, so why is it that farmers are expected to wear all these hats – grower, marketer, seller, distributor, etc.? They need help.
* Tenzer: Local governments need to “fix the processing problem. Processing is a real issue. Some farmers have to take their product hundreds of miles away … the processors are fewer and farther between these days.” (I’ve written a little bit about that here).
* Weaver (who owns a farm but also a small distributorship that works with other farmers): “I am the dread middle man or the acclaimed aggregator. I’m not sure what we are called this week.”
“We have a couple hundred years of ruination of the local food system to overcome.” She defines success by “every bite we steal back from an industrial manufacturer and every acre in production.”
Later, there was a networking event where buyers could roam around to producers’ booths and talk about their product. There are so many different products made in Southwest Virginia, and these booths well demonstrated that variety. Did you know you can buy whole chestnuts or chestnut puree from Pettijohns’ Orchard in Raphine? Fresh pork and eggs from Bramble Hollow Farm in Montvale? Organic gardening and farming supplies from Seven Springs Farm in Check? That’s just the beginning. For contacts to a bunch of local farms, check out www.roanokevalleylocavore.net.
Field to Fork ended with that superb dinner I mentioned earlier, which was set up under a big tent on Henry Street. Guests included Virginia Western Community College president Robert Sandel and Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill, who said “I think the whole local food movement is a national movement and I think Roanoke is ahead of the game in a lot of ways.”
And now for the best part: the dinner menu.
Harvest Salad featuring products from Beahm Farm, Good Food-Good People and Mountain View Farm.
Roasted Pork with Apples and Cranberry Reduction – Mountain Run Farm, Sandy River Pork.
Herb Roasted Trout – Big Pine Trout Farm
Roasted Vegetables – Roanoke Fruit & Produce
Butternut Squash Casserole – Jeter Farm
Mixed Greens – Greens to Go
Assorted dinner rolls – Bread Craft
Pumpkin Torte – Bread Craft
Chocolate Almond Candies – Alexander’s