Local food lovers, rejoice!

Spring starts: Gabe Noard in the Appalachian Seeds, Farm and Nursery greenhouse with his plant starts. They specialize in heirloom tomatoes, but, “we pretty much grow everything,” he says. Photos courtesy of ASAP

It’s been a long winter, but a green glow at the end of the tunnel is finally visible. “My asparagus is starting to wake up,” says Danny McConnell of McConnell Farms in Hendersonville. While his exact harvest date is up in the air (literally; it depends upon the weather), he estimates they’ll be ready around the second week of April. That means you could possibly snag some spears from him and other area growers at the first tailgate markets of the season.

While McConnell’s other early spring crop, strawberries, won’t be ready until mid-May, he’s keeping busy all the same. “We’re weeding and thinking about the dreaded frost protection,” he says. Despite the weather waiting game that every farmer plays this time of year, McConnell always gets excited for the season. “That’s when the farm looks its best and the greenhouses are full,” he says.

Amy Hamilton gets excited, too. She and her partner, Gabe Noard, own Appalachian Seeds, Farm and Nursery, where they grow plant starts. “There’s so much potential with the starts. You know they’re going to be so delicious when they’re older!”

Her excitement started off as anxiety this winter, though. She and Noard bought the 13-year-old business from the previous owner, Chip Hope, in February. “We immediately started sowing seeds,” says Hamilton. “Had we bought the business just a week later than we did, we wouldn’t have been able to pull it off this season.”

The duo are finishing things up in their greenhouse now, transplanting starts into the containers you’ll find for sale at Earth Fare stores, the Hendersonville Community Co-op, Jesse Israel & Sons Garden Center and B.B. Barns Garden Center.
Appalachian Seeds is known for their heirloom tomatoes — both seeds and plants — but they don’t stop there. “We’ve got greens, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce, plus some more unusual things like purslane, radicchio and endive, as well as all the culinary herbs and flowers and veggies,” Hamilton says, noting that it’s all 100-percent locally produced. “We’re pretty much growing everything; it’s basically our variety garden gone wild!”

In addition to finding their products at area groceries and nurseries, also look for Appalachian Seeds at the Asheville Herb Festival, April 29 and 30 at the WNC Farmers Market. Hamilton’s specialty is working with medicinal herbs, and she says that’s a direction they’ll take the company in the future.

Shopping for your starts? Hamilton advises asking the grower about their soil mix and fertilization program. “It’s just like raising a child,” she says. “If you give a plant what it needs from the moment that seed makes contact with that soil, it’s going to set the tone for that plant’s life — it’ll flourish.”

Hamilton and Noard use a soil mix with a wide range of macro- and micro-nutrients that are organically sourced — from green sand to worm castings. “A lot of times in big-box stores, a plant will look good, but when you take it home, it’s a different story,” Hamilton says, because of a heavy use of fertilizers. “Rather than feeding it that way from the top down, we feed it from the bottom up, to give the plant the healthiest start.”

On Your Mark-ets…

Tailgate markets begin opening next month, and vendors will have plant starts, eggs, cheeses, meats and select spring veggies — McConnell hopes to make it to early markets and have asparagus to sell.

The West Asheville Tailgate Market (April 12), Asheville City Market (April 16) and North Asheville Tailgate Market (April 16) are some of the first to open. Outside of town, the Madison County Farmers and Artisans Market starts first (April 2), followed by the Weaverville Tailgate Market (April 13) and Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market (April 16), just to name a few.

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) is compiling information about market openings. Check asapconnections.org, for start dates. And, find out what’s fresh at markets during opening week in ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at buyappalachian.org/search/tailgate_markets.

…Get Your CSA

Now is the time to sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). As a CSA member, you pay the farmer in advance for “shares” of the season’s bounty. Then, you get to enjoy a steady supply of fresh foods, from meats to veggies, straight from the farm every week. 

To help you find the farm share that’s right for you, ASAP is hosting a free Meet Your Farmer CSA Fair on Saturday, March 26. Find more information about that in this week’s Small Bites. Those unable to attend the fair can browse the more than 90 farms offering CSAs in ASAP’s Local Food Guide at buyappalachian.org/search/csa.

For more information about the fair visit asapconnections.org/csafair.html.

Danny McConnell and McConnell Farms can be reached at 692-2819 or mcconnell_farms@bellsouth.net. To reach Appalachian Seeds, Farm, and Nursery, call 400-7014, email seeds@appalachianseeds.com, or visit them online at appalachianseeds.com.

— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at maggie@asapconnections.org.

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