Cultivating the source

BONA FIDE: Katuah Market owner John Swann says choosing who supplies his store’s produce is more about getting to know the farmers than it is about paperwork. Photo by Nathan Metcalf
BONA FIDE: Katuah Market owner John Swann says choosing who supplies his store’s produce is more about getting to know the farmers than it is about paperwork. Photo by Nathan Metcalf

Looking to live the idyllic farm life, yet still be able to pop into downtown Asheville on a whim for dinner and a show?

John Swann, owner of Katuah Market, is seeking an experienced grower to take charge of his farm, 106 acres of mountains and valleys about a 35-minute drive from Asheville in Yancy County. Swann’s plan is a grocery-store twist on farm-to-table dining: He hopes to use produce and livestock raised at Maple Creek Farm to supply his Biltmore Village market.

Swann has never lived on the parcel, which he has owned for eight years, but his son and daughter-in-law have lived in the three-bedroom, one-bath house there for five years. They recently decided to move back to Asheville so, as of April 1, the house will also be available for the new farmer’s accommodations in addition to an Airstream trailer.

The farm now has about an acre of cultivated garden. “It would be easy to double the size of the current acre,” Swann says. “And there are 3 acres on the other side of the creek. They don’t get as much sun, but they’re tillable.

“It’s tough to grow enough veggies to make a living,” Swann says. He’s hoping the plan to have Katuah Market as a wholesale outlet will provide financial security. He also sees a great deal of potential on the livestock side. “There are 20 acres of hillside available as pasture, which is currently unfenced, but there are a couple acres wellfenced.” There’s also a 4-acre hayfield. Although Swann used to raise sheep and goats, currently there are two donkeys, three hogs, one beef cow and a few pygmy goats living on the farm.

At one point the farm was producing maple syrup, but Swann says the past three winters haven’t been cold enough, so the maple supply and the educational “maple tours” have been suspended. Swann says, “Right now there’s nothing going on up there. We’ll build it up with the new farmer.”

According to Swann, some local restaurateurs own farms that supply their kitchens, but he doesn’t know of any other retail grocer doing it. Swann is already working with local farmers to supply his store. “When the bigger companies become corporate, it’s harder for the farmers to work with them. That’s why Katuah is here.”

“Bona fide, not certified” is how Swann feels about the choosing the farmers he works with. “We get to know them; it’s more about being open than paperwork,” Swann says. He credits produce manager Bridget Kennedy’s extensive knowledge of local farmers (she was previously program coordinator for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project) with helping him spearhead this initiative to employ accountability and traceability when selecting farmers.

Like many local farmers, Swann is looking to follow organic farming principles at Maple Creek, but not necessarily to become certified organic. “They say it takes about 40 hours a year just to do the paperwork to be certified organic. What farmer has time for that? Besides, consumers are as concerned about knowing the farm and the farmers as they are about organic.”

Swann is no newbie to the world of grocers; he was a former partner at Greenlife and worked at Earthfare for seven years before that. Swann says he has noticed a trend of consumers voting with their pocketbook. “Organic is worth about one-third more,” Swann explains. “That’s the level people will pay for organic without even thinking about it. But for local it’s 50 percent more.”

Swann says he hopes to attract consumers who value the security of knowing exactly where their food is coming from. “Katuah Market will be a guaranteed sale for the farmer,” Swann says. “Whoever takes over can work with our produce manager, and possibly the meat manager, so they won’t buy elsewhere what the grower can provide.”

If you are interested in living and working at Maple Creek Farm, contact John Swann at Jswann@KatuahMarket.com. For more on Maple Creek Farm visit maplecreekfarm.net.

SHARE
About Toni Sherwood
Toni Sherwood is an award-winning filmmaker & writer of articles, screenplays, and fiction. Recently she wrote, produced & directed two sketch comedy films soon to embark on the 2014-15 film festival circuit.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.