How is it that Western North Carolina is blessed with such a thriving food scene? Great local agriculture helps. That’s where the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project comes in. ASAP’s mission is to help local farms thrive by linking farmers to markets and supporters and building healthy communities through connections to local food.
“ASAP’s work over the last decade has focused on helping make sure farms can continue farming and that everyone has access to local foods,” says Charlie Jackson, ASAP’s director. “Our approach has been to create supportive environments in which farms, businesses and consumers can innovate and try new things.”
ASAP offers marketing assistance and training to area farmers. The group also connects chefs and foodservice buyers at schools and hospitals with the farmers who best suit their needs. And ASAP’s decade-long Local Food Campaign helps all of us reconnect with our food. As part of the campaign, ASAP publishes the Local Food Guide, a free print and online directory of the area’s family farms, tailgate markets and businesses that use local agricultural products.
ASAP’s Growing Minds Program works with area schools to foster the next generation of local farm supporters. The program provides training to farmers, teachers, chefs, school nutrition staff, parents and other community members, as well as resources like seeds, farm field-trip mini-grants and lesson plans to provide the education that helps children know where their food comes from. That helps them develop lifelong healthy eating habits. Part of that hands-on work includes cooking demonstrations to introduce children to the wonders of locally grown foods — more than 700 children have already been served through ASAP’s Farm to School Cooking Program this year.
ASAP also organizes the Asheville City Market and coordinates the Mountain Tailgate Market Association, a network of 22 tailgate markets in counties throughout WNC to provide locations for farmers to sell their products. What does that mean for you? A chance to meet and engage with growers. See the ASAP-provided list of tailgate markets elsewhere in the guide.
And every summer, ASAP hosts the Family Farm Tour — a weekend where WNC farms open to visitors and offer enriching on-farm experiences.
That approach seems to be working. “There are more farms doing more things than ever before in our area, and more per capita than just about any place in the country,” says Jackson. “Businesses are opening to feature local ingredients. Farms are expanding and new farms starting. Farmers are trying new things.”
And that benefits the entire food community, whether farmer, chef, shopper or diner.
To learn more about ASAP’s work in the region, visit asapconnections.org or call 236-1282. Search our online Local Food Guide at buyappalachian.org.