Tomatoes are rolling in

W

e hope success will be the storyline for businesses and nonprofits in Jackson County in 2022, and there’s one in particular we’d like to single out today: WNC Farm to Table.

That’s the new local nonprofit hoping to connect growers to customers and customers to growers.

Director Lisa McBride said plans are for participating farmers soon being able to log on to wncfarmtotable.org and list what they have ready to go to market. Consumers, both household and restaurants, would then take a look at what is available and place an order.

The farm to table movement has gained steam across the country in recent decades, but defining what it is can depend on who you ask. In general, farm to table or farm to fork promotes clean local food, local economies and building community ties.

Those values are no stranger to Jackson County. As a rural community the break between people and the land has been slower here than in many places, and traditions of bartering garden goods from tomatoes to honey to ramps can still be found.

However, those traditions buck the trend line in this country, which was built on the backbone of local farms. In 1870 about half of Americans were farmers. By 1935 that was down to 25 percent. As of 2000 the number was 1.3 percent of the employed U.S. population.

Similarly, as family farms suffered from the headwinds of an economy geared to mass production and consolidation, along with land being valued more for development than farming, their numbers also dwindled. The seven million farms of 1935 now number about two million.

Those numbers are possible without people starving by industrial innovation in realms such as canning and freezing, and the big grocers in general do a wonderful job at keeping the shelves stocked.

However, we have arrived at a spot where we have, no pun intended, put all of our eggs in one basket. The reliable supply chains can break down, leaving shelves bare – toilet paper being the most memorable chain break in recent memory.

Farm to table provides a measure of food security from those breakdowns, and a real measure of security by developing local food systems. Developing those systems makes for, again no pun intended, a farm team that can help fill the gap when the supply chain hiccups.

Building that self-reliance also reflects mountain traditions, the days of canhouses filled with locally grown provisions.

McBride says WNC Farm to Table will act as the “middle man” between growers and consumers, but be a middle man that skims little to no profit. She said the mission is “to provide local food to both consumers and to wholesale and increase the market for farmers and producers.”

“Instead of just going to farmers markets or having to network with every restaurant, it simplifies the ordering system for consumers and the farmers,” she said. “The idea is to not have high markups so that you can make the food more affordable and keep the money in the producer’s pockets.”

She’s working through the process of qualifying to accept EBT payments and hopes to open soon at 513 Mill St. in Sylva, the former home of the Paper Mill Lounge.

New venture.

Old values.

Good start to a new year, we’d say.