The South is a traditional and friendly culture. Albeit folks down here are known for being set in our ways, but we would do anything for our neighbors and we definitely love our college basketball. I’m from the South and have also lived in the Northeast and California where I fell in love with the locavore culture in San Francisco and Sonoma county. However, after moving back to North Carolina recently, I have found the Triangle area to be quite a gem for a locavore lover.
Our southern regional culture may not be as progressive as San Francisco’s, but the South should not be excluded from the progressive food movement. To clarify, the terms “local food supporters; organic; sustainable agriculture; heirloom; free-range; locavore; and small farm” are a growing part of the dialogue here in NC. And it’s not a challenge at all to be a foodie and sustainable agriculture advocate in Tar Heel country.
Sure we are known for our tobacco and giant hog industry (thanks Smithfield Farms), but we also have hundreds of amazing small sustainable farmers, local food restaurants, foodie and farm advocates and organizations, and many local products that are doing a great deal of good.
The Triangle, or known as the Piedmont region, includes three main cities, Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. It also includes several wonderful small towns, like Carrboro, Hillsborough, and Pittsboro. Famous for the Research Triangle Park, the area is home base for IBM, SAS, Bayer, Glaxo Smith Kline, RTI, Burts Bees, as well as three outstanding colleges, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, and North Carolina State. The area has one of the highest rates of PhDs in the nation and our public school system is nationally known for diversity and excellence. This region is educated, progressive, accepting of change, and the beautiful rural country is right at our elbows.
It is easy to find a local farm, visit a farmers market, join a local CSA, and eat out at incredible restaurants that buy form the local producers. There are more than 120 small farms within a 50-mile radius of Chapel Hill alone and over 200 restaurants in the Triangle that buy from local farms. In fact, in October 2008, Bon Appetit named Durham-Chapel Hill America’s Foodiest Small Town. Andrew Knowlton, the article’s author, was so pleased that he was tempted to leave New York City for the laidback culture of the Triangle.
A few of my favorite restaurants that are notorious for buying local include: Chapel Hill’s Lantern and Weathervane, 18 Seaboard and Zely & Ritz both in Raleigh; Heron’s at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, and Durham’s Watt’s Grocery and Four Square.
Zely & Ritz is extra special on my list because over 50% of their ingredients come from their own farm, Coon Rock Farm, a sustainable family farm in Hillsborough, NC. The farm provides the restaurant with organically grown heirloom vegetables and heritage breed pasture-raised meat and eggs. They believe that “good food is important and that where you eat and what you eat is a choice that affects not only your personal well-being but also that of the planet.”
Where did this locavore culture come from in North Carolina? Farming has always been a significant vocation in NC, but similar to all other agricultural regions across the US, big agricultural businesses have taken over in the past 50 years which put small farms out of business. However, in the past 10 years, there has been an emergence of young farmers and more small organic farms. The Crop Mob young farmer movement that North Carolina’s own Trace Ramsey reported on for Civil Eats started here, and it is definitely proving to be a powerful force sweeping the nation.
As one local writer, Molly Dougherty, states in her article The Triangle: A locavore’s oasis, “a recent emergence of hip, young farmers in combination with numerous venues and events that build strong bonds between those farmers and the rest of the community, are making North Carolina’s Triangle area a locavore’s oasis.”
Speaking of these strong community bonds, there are two spring events that capture the Triangle’s locavore culture. This past weekend the Carolina Farm Tour hosted by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) based in Pittsboro, North Carolina hosted its 15th annual farm tour — the biggest farm tour in the southeast. There were over 40 participating Piedmont farms this year and hundreds of people in attendance.
On May 23rd, the local Triangle Slow Food chapter and the Carolina Environmental Farming Systems organization are putting together a farmer, restaurant, and patron picnic. The Farm to Fork Picnic event will highlight local Piedmont farmers and cooks.
Over the next few months, I will meet local farmers, artisans and advocates and attend events in order to capture the Triangle locavore and sustainable agriculture stories and share them with you. Stay tuned for more from the locavore gem of the south.