And what a year it’s been!

Wow! It’s been one year since my “Farm Fresh North Carolina” guidebook was published by UNC Press. Since then, I’ve appeared at more than a dozen farmers markets and addressed many groups, and the book has received amazing coverage in newspapers, magazines, blogs, and on radio and television. I am so grateful! I still have upcoming events this year, including a presentation tomorrow at the NC Agritourism Networking Association conference in Youngsville, and several farmer market appearances.

Mostly I’m thankful for all the places the book research and promotion has taken me, and for all the fine folks I’ve met — and keep meeting! I thought I’d include here the book’s Introduction, which really is a shout-out to everything agriculture in our spectacular state!

Introduction to Farm Fresh North Carolina guidebook:

At Fickle Creek Farm in Orange County I witnessed a chicken lay an egg. She was hovering a few inches above her nesting box and out it dropped. I’d gathered eggs before, many still warm, but I’d never seen that. Most people haven’t, and that even includes some farmers I asked. I couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks.

That was just one of the many thrills I experienced while visiting farms across North Carolina. During the course of my research, I kissed a llama, fed an alpaca, patted a giant hog, picked all types of berries, took a hayride out to a pumpkin patch, sipped on merlot while overlooking the grapevines, shopped at dozens of farmers’ markets, watched sorghum syrup being made, stayed on a Christmas tree farm, ate peach ice cream from a picnic table overlooking the orchard, watched goat cheese being made while the goats grazed outside, and enjoyed scrumptious meals sourced from local farms.

Driving to the farms was usually part of the fun. Meeting the farmers often made the experience transformational. They do back-breaking work all day and still find the energy and passion to entertain, educate, and enlighten us.

I invite you to join me in exploring North Carolina through its family farms, produce stands, farmers’ markets, wineries, orchards, and more. I’ll show you where to cut a fresh Christmas tree or pick a peck of apples. Want to stay overnight on a working farm and eat a meal with freshly harvested ingredients? I know just the place.

Farms mean different things to different people. To parents, they might be about showing their children where food comes from. To local-food proponents, farms are the source of their meals. To local-economy advocates, they provide a way of keeping business in the community. To couples, farms offer the perfect outing, such as a visit to one or more of our dozens of wineries.

My love of farms comes from my love of the land. Farmland and farms were part of my landscape when I was growing up outside of Raleigh. My parents, lifelong southerners, moved to the state in 1958, when I was a year old.

They both loved to grow things, and we had a large vegetable garden. Behind it were miles of woods and pastures—my playground. In the summer, we would pick buckets of blackberries. Every December we’d tromp through the woods to find the perfect eastern red cedar, drag it to the house, and decorate it. No offense to the tree farmers in western North Carolina, but I still prefer the cedar over the Fraser fir.

On many occasions, when I wasn’t in school, I would join my mom, a nurse who worked for United Cerebral Palsy, as she visited clients at their homes. We drove deep into the country, on paved and dirt roads, passing tobacco farm after tobacco farm, slowing for tractors, and occasionally stopping at a corner market for Nekot cookies and Dr Peppers.

My dad had an office job at Nationwide Insurance, but he lived on a farm in Granville County until he reached adulthood. I remember once watching him compete in a watermelon-seed spitting contest at the State Farmers’ Market, back when it was near downtown. I think he came in second.

When I returned to North Carolina in 2003, after an almost thirty-year absence, I discovered, not surprisingly, that things had changed. The rural landscape of my youth had become urbanized, as farmland was being rapidly lost to development.

But I also was delighted to discover that the red clay soil and farmland of my youth were still there, if I looked. And thanks to the tobacco buyout, there were actually more small farms doing interesting things. The end of the federal tobacco support program in 2005 didn’t kill the tobacco industry, but it greatly consolidated it. Tobacco farming was no longer lucrative for most family farms. So farmers got creative. They’re good at that.

Farm Fresh North Carolina is a celebration of our farmers’ ingenuity and successes. The book focuses on goods and services produced directly for the consumer. These might include produce and livestock, Christmas trees, wine, pick-your-own fruit, and even meals and lodging.

This guidebook also introduces a new crop of farmers—young and not-so-young people who want to return to the land, farm sustainably, and support their local economy. While the number of farms statewide has decreased, the number of small, sustainable farms is slowly rising. The renewed farm movement is the bridge between the old-time North Carolina I grew up in and the more progressive state I live in now.

In the past several years, both new and long-standing farms have been boosted by the statewide and national boom in farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, where customers buy a share in the farm’s seasonal harvest and receive a box of the farm’s produce weekly. The Slow Food and eat-local movements have contributed greatly as well, with many home cooks and restaurant chefs going out of their way to use ingredients from area farmers. Some of those chefs, cooks, and farmers have shared their favorite farm-sourced recipes with us. You’ll find a handful in every chapter.

While this book features many farms that are set up to serve the public, others are private, but the farmers nonetheless feel it’s important to let people see the work they do.

As organics pioneer Bill Dow at Ayrshire Farm in Chatham County told me, “If people don’t learn about where their food comes from, then we’re in serious trouble. I feel like it’s my duty to show them.”

Whatever your reason for visiting North Carolina farms—shopping for food, kissing a llama, tasting wine, or waiting for an egg to drop from a chicken—get out there and enjoy yourself. And thank a farmer while you’re at it.

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