Posts Tagged ‘Farm Fresh North Carolina’

Secret location of ‘Secret Life’

July 27, 2009
The Secret Life of Bees (photo Fox Searchlight)

Stars from "Secret Life of Bees" buzzed around Watha, NC (photo Fox Searchlight)

North Carolina, which has an active film industry based in Wilmington, has not done a very good job of promoting sites in the state that have been in films. So let me fill you in on one I thought was very cool — the big pink house that was the primary site for the 2008 film “The Secret Life of Bees.” The movie, featuring Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Sophie Okonedo, is based on the book of the same title by Sue Monk Kidd.

The Secret Life of Bees (photo Fox Searchlight)

The pink house as seen in publicity photos (photo Fox Searchlight)

I put off reading the popular “Oprah” book for a long time because I thought it would not be “literary” enough, snob that I am, but I quite enjoyed it when I finally got to it, save for the too-tidy ending. The movie, however, was everything I feared the book would be, way too polished. But I love the story line, about a white girl running off with her black housekeeper, only to end up on a peach farm (in South Carolina in the story) that she had a mysterious connection to. Lots of good themes, mainly the wonderfulness of women and the evils of racism.

The secret pink house in Watha, NC

The house as it looks a year later

So a funny little story about finding the house, in Watha, just a few miles west of Interstate 40. The tourism folks there in Pender County didn’t even know where the house was, and the film folks never told me either! Finally, after pressing Pender, I guess they asked somebody for an address, but the result was quite puzzling. I was already in the area doing farm research, and so headed for where they told me, only to find a nondescript light pink house that I knew wasn’t in the film. I was annoyed. Did someone simply say, “find a pink house for that pushy writer”? Leaving “town,” as it was (which it barely is, with 200 residents), I saw a couple old buildings, and decided to go up the street they were on just for fun. Suddenly I passed by a big old pink house on the main street. Bingo!

The back of the pink house

The back of the pink house

There was not one clue that the house had been part of a major motion picture. Unfortunately, not until I was home did I find a great article about it by Allison Ballard in the Wilmington Star-News last year, which also mentioned that the stone wall that held the notes the character May wrote was still there, as well as the honey house. Oh well, next time, now that I know where it is. I liked Allison’s decription of the color of the house — “a shade that falls somewhere between raspberry sorbet and Pepto-Bismol.” (I think it’s closer to the sorbet.) Sue Monk Kidd also wrote a fascinating blog entry about being there for part of the filming. According to my GPS, the address is 500 Watha Road.

The other movie location nearby Lumberton

Another "Bees" location, in Lumberton, and the house Lily lived in with her father

This wasn’t the first “Secret Life” location I’ve visited. My research for “Farm Fresh North Carolina” earlier took me to Geraldine’s Peaches and Produce in Lumberton, where Geraldine and Roy Herring loaned a part of their peach orchard for the filming. The building there was portrayed as the childhood home of Lily Owens, the main character, before she ran away from her father, T. Ray.

True to movie-making form, because the filming had to be done in the winter, peach tree leaves were made of silk and the fruit was plastic.

The address is 10728 Highway 41 North, about 8 miles east of I-95 in Lumberton. The seasonal farm stand is a great one, and if you ask nice, Geraldine will let you drive back and see the house. Tell her I sent you.

More farm-fresh fun in North Carolina

April 30, 2009
Just follow this sign for the annual Piedmont Farm Tour

These signs dotted the countryside

While we don’t suggest that mere mortals try this, Wessel and I managed to visit 10 farms in five hours during the 14th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour in central North Carolina. That’s because we’re seasoned pros. When you’re researching a farm-travel guidebook, it’s all about chop-chopping (time, not vegetables). While I can’t stop and smell the radishes, I hope my research and Wessel’s photos will lead others to go on more leisurely farm visits. Here’s his collection from the Piedmont tour, with captions and everything.

Albino bunny was baffled by all the visitors

One of the angora rabbits at Avillion Farm

What I loved most about the farm tour, other than the awesome farms and the hordes of curious visitors, was that the route was laid out for me instead of me having to spend a day with Google maps to come up with my own. (Love Google maps, though!) If only every NC region had a farm tour and I could follow their routes! (Many more do now, including mountain regions and individual counties, such as Franklin and Jackson, to name a couple.)

Visitors tour at the Winery at Iron Gate Farm

Visitors tour vineyards at Iron Gate Farm

Like the gardens you’ll see in this yearly event, the Piedmont Farm Tour keeps growing and growing. Co-sponsored by Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Weaver Street Market  in Carrboro, the tour started in 1995 with less than a dozen farms. Now about 40 dot the self-guided route. This year some 3,000 families visited them. That’s a lot of farm fans. A few locations received 1,000 or so guests. Whoa!

The CFSA bills the weekend as “the nation’s largest farm tour,” and while there’s no national accounting of farm tours, their claim is quite credible. Tours include a mix of sustainable produce farms, those with humanely-raised animals, nurseries, vineyards, and educational agriculture projects. This year more than 150 volunteers helped the farmers, who stay busy chatting up visitors. While some of the farms on the tour are always open to the public, this is a chance to view others that typically aren’t. It’s also an excellent way to show kids where their food (and sometimes clothing) comes from, and if you pack a cooler, you can bring some home and cook it up for dinner.

Farmer Roland Walters models this year's farm tour T-shirt

Farmer Roland Walters sports tour T-shirt

Several farmers and volunteers were sporting this year’s awesome farm tour T-shirt, on a dark background emblazoned with bright orange carrots, 100% cotton. Not just any cotton, natch, but organic! Not just organic, but local (!), from TS Designs in Burlington. I haven’t told those guys how much I’ve taken a cotton to them, but they’ll absolutely be in the book. So will nine of the 10 farms I visited on Sunday. So will CFSA and Weaver Street Market, which is selling those awesome T-shirts for $18. As of April 28, they had plenty. Hey, could you reserve a medium for me?

Thanks from the bottom of our sustainable hearts to all the volunteers, farmers, organizers, and fans who made last weekend a smashing success!

The roads traveled are two-way streets

April 27, 2009

I wrote the essay below for a special travel section in the April issue of Ode MagazineIt’s on their website as well.  If you don’t know Ode, I suggest you check it out. It’s at a magazine stand near you. (Borders, Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, etc. Or better yet, buy a subscription and keep Ode alive.  Its tagline is: For Intelligent Optimists. Hey, that’s me! And I’m guessing you, too.

This farmer in Lombok, Indonesia plows with an ox-plow

Farmer on Lombok Island, Indonesia, plows his fields the traditional way

The Eiffel Tower. Big Ben. The Taj Mahal. Only 20 years ago, these were the notches on the traveler’s money belt, which, incidentally, was stuffed with travelers’ cheques. Today we’ve been there, done that. Affordable airfare and Western wealth (yes, we’re still comparatively wealthy even now, in the midst of the credit crunch) have brought travelers to every corner of the globe. We hop on transcontinental flights armed with our debit cards, functional in cash-dispensing machines from Dubai to Denali.

But simply seeing the sights is no longer enough. We want to stray from those beaten paths, dig deeper, get a read on how the locals live, work and play. This can include eating at a restaurant favored by residents instead of Westerners, participating in an outdoor adventure or visiting sites not found in most guidebooks. In industry jargon, it’s called “experiential travel”-travel we live through instead of look at-and it’s never been more popular. It’s popular because it’s typically cheaper than traditional travel; money is tight but we still want to go on vacation, some of us to faraway places. And it’s popular because we want to tread more lightly during our trips, in terms of our impact on the environment and on the people we visit. We want to give something back.

The desire to experience a different culture through activities and people goes deeper than adding another notch to the money belt, though that plays a role, too. It’s as basic as life. It’s our fellow human beings who transcend us. At the end of the day, we recall the burka-clad woman on the train reciting prayers as much as we do the centuries-old treasures in the museum.

A polar-bear-shaped license plate from Northwest Territories

Diane's much-coveted gift from locals in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada

When I think back to one of my life’s highlights-seeing the northern lights in the Northwest Territories, Canada, during 2002-I also relive the hospitality of the citizens of tiny Fort Smith, who cooked for me, took me dog sledding and gave me a polar-bear-shaped license plate that hangs in my house today. The most lasting impression of my 11-week backpacking trip to Europe in 1982 is my still-enduring friendship with Federico, who lives in Vicenza, Italy. In my home state of North Carolina, as I travel to research a farm-travel guidebook, the farmers stand out as much as their bounties or the sweeping rural landscapes.

Diane (left) met Federico Lauro in the mid 1980s

Diane and Federico Lauro in Vicenza, Italy, in 1986. And, yes, they're still in touch.

My reaction is hardly unique. While I’ve done a fair amount of traveling of my own, I’ve also interviewed hundreds of people over the past eight years for a column I write for The Boston Globe called “Where They Went,”  about other people’s trips. Without fail, these travelers will recount adventures, sights, tastes, but almost always add: “The people were the best part. They were so nice, so warm, so welcoming.” Those people’s stories are the ones they recount to me again and again, especially if they were allowed a look inside a community or a family.

These days, even the most mainstream tour operators include experiential travel on an otherwise-standard tour. For example, in the 2009 Grand Circle Travel land and cruise tour “China and the Yangtze River,” participants will not only visit the Great Wall, Beijing and Hong Kong; they’ll tour a kindergarten or senior center and have a home-hosted lunch. “You’ll see local customs enacted first-hand as your gracious hosts prepare and serve a typical Chinese meal,” the itinerary reads. For the traveler wanting a less-staged version of hospitality and sightseeing, many cities have forms of community-based or locally led tourism, which originates with citizens instead of national or international tour operators.

A local guide prepares a meal for a 2-day hiking trek on Lombok

One of our local guides prepares an Indonesian meal during a hiking trek up Mount Rinjani (12,224 ft.) on Lombok.

Digging deeper also requires that we set aside our demands for a money-back-guaranteed quality and “safe” experience. That can be instructive in itself. I recall a community-based “ecotourism” hiking trek my husband and I chose on the island of Lombok in Indonesia. The guides lit our campfires with the help of splashes of gasoline from the jugs they carried and they littered along the way. I later reported these issues to the organizer, who lived in the capital of Mataram, miles and worlds away. He was extremely apologetic, as he’d been trying to get the villagers to understand tourism basics. On the other hand, I saw the real way of life there. It was worth the trade-off. And I was much happier to donate money to people in the village than to an international travel outfitter.

These school children on Lombok are excited to see two cycling tourists

Schoolchildren in a tiny village on Lombok are excited to see two cycling tourists

After hearing me speak about the virtues of getting off the tour bus, one African safari tour operator told me proudly how at the end of his luxury lodge-hopping trip in Tanzania, he takes his clients into the city of Arusha to visit poor neighborhoods and give trinkets to the local children. “Everyone came away deeply moved,” he said. “The crazy thing was, after seeing all that big game, what I heard from them was it was the most memorable part of the trip.” I suggested he consider moving the outing to the beginning of the tour, so it would be on their minds as they met Tanzanian workers along the way. “Oh no, that would be too much for them,” he said.

Perhaps our challenge as citizens of the world is to decide how much is enough-and then go soak it in. Even if the recession has wiped out a quarter or more of our wealth, we’re still rich by global standards. Experiencing how other people live, whether in Appalachia or Addis Ababa, will make us even richer. And likely them, too.

200,000 miles and counting for my Honda

September 29, 2008

Diane's Honda turned 200,000 miles

Hooray for my wonderful 1994 Honda Civic DX! The little two-door hatchback turned 200,000 miles yesterday! The momentous event occurred around 6 p.m. on Route 4 in Virginia near the Kerr Dam and Reservoir. We were returning home from a visit to our four acres on a creek in Virginia, affectionately and also appropriately dubbed Chiggerville.

We were prepared, having brought a bottle of chilled champagne and four glasses. We pulled over in a little clearing and had a quickie party, even pouring a bit of champagne on the Honda.

Worries about missing the big turnover

Wessel and I had been worried we’d miss the big turnover because we are loaning the car to our Dutch/Friesian visitors, Wessel’s longtime friend Liekle and his brother Tjits, while they explore the NC mountains this week. From our calculations two weeks ago we were convinced the Honda would hit 200,000 with them, so we were doubly excited that we were present for the event.

Toast to Diane's Honda Civic

Toast to Diane`s Honda Civic

While hybrids are great, the Honda ranks up there in fuel efficiency. Plus I haven’t wasted energy on new materials to assemble a new car in 14 years, and the car still gets about 32 mpg in the city and 36 mph on the highway.

While I have named cars in the past, for some reason I never named this Honda, which I bought for $10,000 at Weymouth Honda, south of Boston. But it has served me well. My last Civic (“Hokie,” for its origins in Blacksburg, Va.) died at the early age of 120,000 miles. Most of this Honda’s miles have been for fun or errands, as I’ve always, on purpose, had a short commute to work. Wessel now takes the car to work, about 20 miles roundtrip. I’ll be putting a fair number of miles on the car during the next year, while crisscrossing the state to research my book, “Farm Fresh North Carolina.

Diane celebrates milestone with champagne

Diane celebrates milestone with champagne

I’ve had some great road trips in this car, especially when I load it to the gills (grills?) for car camping. The Honda and I have driven up and down the East Coast and halfway across the country, but not to the West Coast. I’ve had three bicycles on the back, and three dogs inside. I’ve also had some very romantic moments, with Wessel and a few who preceded him.

Diane and Wessel somewhat successfully attempt to "spell" 200 while holding Sabrina and Roxy and not breaking champagne glasses

Diane and Wessel somewhat successfully attempt to `spell` 200 while holding Sabrina and Roxy and not breaking champagne glasses

Honda and I have had our share of dramatic moments, too, from getting caught in a snowdrift in the White Mountains in New Hampshire to hydroplaning on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Mass., and ended up sitting on the median – uninjured and facing the wrong direction. We’ve gotten only one speeding ticket (my only one ever, when returning from the NC coast four years ago.) We’ve lost a couple radios and wallets to thieves in Boston, and a suitcase (of a houseguest!) to vagrant neighbors in Durham. We’ve never run out of gas, but we have broken down on a few occasions. Of course I’ve locked myself out of the car several times (who hasn’t?) and left the lights on, running down the battery (again, don’t we all?).

I hope we still have many happy years together. When our time comes to say so long, I’m thinking Honda Fit; a maybe a hybrid, if the price drops; or even more exciting, a plug-in hybrid. But for now, I’m very happy with my little Honda Civic. Pass the champagne, please.

New River’s old-timey pleasures in Appalachia

August 27, 2008
New River Trail State Park (Click to ENLARGE)

New River Trail State Park (Click to ENLARGE)

For years I’d been hearing about the New River Trail State Park, the highlight of which is a 57-mile-long crushed-gravel rail trail that for 39 miles parallels the New River in southern Virginia. Wessel and I had a chance to finally check it out last weekend when we were in the mountains of northwest North Carolina doing research for my book “Farm Fresh North Carolina.” (Despite its name, the New River is considered by some geologists to be one of the oldest in the world, between 10 million and 360 millions years old.)

Morning fog shrouds the New River

Morning fog shrouds the New River

We camped Friday and Saturday nights in Sparta, NC, right along the water at the lovely New River Campground, a small, private campground that accommodates tents and campers, with tents being well separated from the RVs. Hooray!! They also rent canoes and kayaks. I made one of my dumbest mistakes ever by mapping a “nearby” New River outfitter with an almost identical web address. Driving there, we went a good 20 mountain miles out of way, and our cell phones (ATT) didn’t have signals. Lo and behold, the one driver I could flag down for help was returning from dinner to his campsite — at New River Campground. How lucky was that?! So back we went, happy to finally pitch our tent just before dark.

Sunday we drove the 20 or so miles to Galax, Va., the southern end of the trail, which officially starts northeast of there in Pulaski. Galax, pronounced GAY-lax, is a former manufacturing town of 7,000 that still seems pretty depressed beyond its very spruced up historic Main Street area. That strip was deadsville on a Sunday morning, so we didn’t get to see it in action nor eat at the famed Galax Smokehouse.

Barn along the New River Trail (Click to ENLARGE)

Barn nearby Galax, VA along the New River Trail (Click to ENLARGE)

Galax is one of the best known stops along The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. It’s home to the Old Fiddler’s Convention, a famed traditional music convention since 1935, and the Blue Ridge Music Center, a few miles away on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had breakfast at the best choice, Aunt Bea’s, a fast-food crossover that cooks the eggs and meat, but serves it up on Styrofoam. The clientele was very, very country.

Diane cycles on New River Trail

Diane cycles on the New River Trail (Click to ENLARGE)

Fully carbo-loaded, we hit the trail at 10 a.m. for six hours of cycling. We took our time and stopped often, so made it only 22 miles out and back, for 44 total. We were on touring road bikes. Hybrids or mountain bikes, with fatter tires, would be better on this trail, but we were fine. Confession: we didn’t wear helmets! But we did carry them, just in case we ended up needing to be on the road.

Horse camping along the New River Trail

Horse camping on the Cliffview Campground along the New River Trail

We passed several runners, walkers, and cyclists, including families and a Boy Scout troop. Horses are allowed on most of the trail, and though we saw signs of them, we didn’t meet up with any. We passed gorgeous meadows with barns glistening in the sun, shady wooded areas, rushing water, and picnic and waterfront camping areas, one with campsites for horses.

Wessel cycles on bridge across the New river

Wessel cycles on bridge across the New River

We loved cycling over the old railway trestles and many smaller bridges. We first started along Chestnut Creek and then the New River. We saw people and great blue herons fishing, while flocks of Canada geese hung around to watch. We took a side trail to the tiny riverfront town of Fries (“freeze”), which is slowly being discovered by retirees and second-home buyers. With its former textile manufacturing base decimated, I hope new arrivals and tourism save this lovely place. At mile 49.5, we stopped at Cliffview Ranger Station, which has a great little gift shop, indoor restrooms, and ice-cold water in its fountain.

It was a perfect day. Thanks to all the rail-trail advocates and the state of Virginia for providing such a beautiful trail and park.