Asheville podcasts tell local food and farm stories

KITCHEN CONVERSATIONS: For their new podcast, Skillet, Cass Herrington, left, and Jen Nathan Orris meet farmers, chefs and activists in their own kitchens and interview them while cooking a meal. "Sometimes storytellers open up about family, identity and even loss," says Herrington. "Some episodes are humorous, while others might require a tissue.” Photo by Rich Orris

Asheville’s food scene continues to explode with farmers markets, restaurants, coffee shops and breweries, so it makes sense that food podcasts would rise like artisan bread out of our creative culinary town. There aren’t many, but the shows that exist explore interests for foodies, farmers and cooks, and share informative, humorous and sometimes poignant stories. Here are a few to chew on.

Growing Local

Now entering its fourth year, Growing Local is a partnership between Jen Nathan Orris and the Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project. The show airs its roughly four-minute episodes weekly on WNCW.

“The stories have really grown,” says Orris. “The first year was local essays. Then it developed into more of an NPR-style radio story.” Orris says her collaboration with ASAP is one of her favorite things she’s done in her professional life.

Her background is in documentary radio production, and her focus, she says, is on storytelling. “I think about each episode as a mini-documentary where I want to convey the feeling of being at this farm or with this person,” she explains. “A narrative arc is important to me: How did they get started with their idea, how did it grow, what did they learn? Sometimes there’s a funny story or two along the way. Whatever we can fit into four minutes.”

Growing Local is interested in exploring food systems in Western North Carolina through stories of individual farmers, consumers and restaurants as a way to get to the broader theme of how food moves through the region. ASAP has deep connections with farmers and often helps guide Orris to stories, but she does the reporting, writes a script and works with ASAP to finalize wording and focus.

Ambient sounds play a large role, says Orris, in grounding the listener with a sense of place. In the episode titled “Harvesting Rice at Lee’s One Fortune Farm,” we hear the recorded sound of her shoes glopping through mud as rice farmer Tou Lee warns, “In some places, the water will get up to your ankle; it’s very mucky.”

Episodes air weekly at 8:50 a.m. Monday on WNCW and can also be found on SoundCloud and iTunes. Learn more at asapconnections.org/category/radio-broadcasts.

Skillet 

Orris also has a hand in Skillet, a new podcast about food, memory and the flavors that bind us together. The creators describe it as a cross between oral history and a cooking show and developed it from a belief that the best conversations happen around the table and sharing stories while dinner is being prepared.

Orris co-hosts the show with Cass Herrington. “We pass the microphone over to storytellers in their home kitchens,” says Herrington. “We step back, listen and share a delicious meal. Sometimes storytellers open up about family, identity and even loss. Some episodes are humorous, while others might require a tissue.”

Skillet drops biweekly, with each episode running about 30 minutes. Four of the first season’s eight episodes have aired, and the rest will continue to post every other Tuesday.

Orris had the original idea for Skillet but says that when she met Herrington, “I realized what a tremendous asset she would be. We have puzzle-piece personalities: She’s outgoing and extroverted, while I find joy in the editing process.”

Herrington was a radio producer and reporter in Kentucky before moving to Asheville recently for her husband’s medical job. She Googled “radio reporters Asheville” and found Orris, who she then blindly emailed for advice on freelancing. Once Herrington arrived and met Orris in person, “there was this immediate conversation that felt age-old. We formed a fast friendship,” says Herrington.

Storytellers on the show are “farmers, grandmothers, chefs, activists and anyone who stirs a pot,” says Orris. Something Herrington and Orris had in common was a frustration with food media. “We want to hear from people with a different experience,” says Herrington. “People who didn’t necessarily go to culinary school but are passionate about something.”

“Part of our mission is to foster an inclusive space, a platform to help shine a spotlight on more types of voices and stories,” Orris adds.

In one episode, Louisville, Ky., chef Bruce Ucán prepares a dish called tok-sel lima beans while sharing stories about his mother, his work life beginning at age 11 and racism he faced in his native Mexico. In another, Leicester farmer Robin Reeves cooks her grandmother’s chicken and dumplings while discussing the farm that’s been in her family for seven generations and the changes they’ve had to make to keep it.

Season one of Skillet focuses on WNC and Kentucky, but the podcast aims to eventually have a national reach. At this point, the project is self-funded, so budget plays a factor, but Orris and Herrington hope to travel more widely in the future.

Find it on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Radio Public. Learn more at skilletpodcast.com.

The Dirty Spoon

The Dirty Spoon is an eclectic audio collage with a musical and literary bent. Its creator, Jonathan Ammons, describes it as “a radio show and online journal of consumable culture curating the latest in music, essays, memoirs and interviews with chefs, authors, aficionados and aunties from around the world.”

Nine episodes have aired, comprising season one. Season two will resume after a short break. The show airs monthly with Ammons and Catherine Campbell co-hosting. Inspiring and thoughtful music selections begin each hour-long show and thread through, “setting the pace and mood for the stories,” says Ammons. He says he considers each show “a custom mixtape of sorts.”

“We want to provide something entertaining, comforting, shed light on things that are hard to talk about and also how food traditions can be simple, beautiful,” Campbell adds.

Dirty Spoon began as a food and beverage blog. Ammons, who writes for several local publications, including Mountain Xpress, was frustrated by the constraints of writing about touchier topics on the Asheville food scene. “I used the blog as a vehicle to publish interviews that had been truncated. It caught on as a place where service industry people could have their say, chefs, cooks and bartenders could rant and rave,” he explains. Thus, the origin of the show’s name.

Campbell volunteered to help edit. When she joined full time and Katrin Dohse came on to illustrate, Dirty Spoon transformed into an online journal. Ammons has a degree in audio engineering, so the transition to radio felt like a natural step, he says. Setting out, they wanted to create something like, “This American Life but for chefs,” says Ammons.

Originally, the focus was local. But now, Campbell says, “It’s rippled outward with an interest in Southern food traditions and the food industry in the face of global change.” Following the natural trajectory of the show, Campbell began to actively seek submissions for content. Now story ideas come from all over the United States.

Ammons handles interviews, music, sound, mixing and production. Campbell handles editing, website, marketing and sourcing stories. It’s a labor of love. They currently have no funding, although they recently set up a Patreon account. Goals include securing funding and paying contributors.

Episodes air monthly on 103.7-FM WPVM and can be found on Google Podcasts, SoundCloud and iTunes. Learn more at dirty-spoon.com.

AVL Food Fans

AVL Food Fans arrived early on the scene in June 2015 with hosts Stu Helm and chef Joe Scully. The hourlong show stopped production in October 2017, but 88 episodes are still available online. Find those at spreaker.com/show/avl-food-fans.

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About Kim Winter Mako
Kim Winter Mako is a fiction writer and actor. She's lived in Asheville over 10 years with her husband Chris. Kim held the 2017 Community Author residency at UNCA's Ramsey Library, and is a member of The Flatiron Writers. She's at work on a short story collection and a novel. You can find her at http://www.kimwintermako.com/ Follow me @KimWinterMako

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