Small bites: Karen Washington uses food to connect the dots

GREEN THUMB: Activist and farmer Karen Washington grew her first tomato in 1985. She's been involved in the food and farm scene ever since.
GREEN THUMB: Activist and farmer Karen Washington grew her first tomato in 1985. She's been involved in the food and farm scene ever since. Photo courtesy of the Organic Growers School

A revelation can surface at any moment and at any time in a person’s life. For farmer, educator, writer, activist, international speaker and 2014 James Beard Leadership Award-winner Karen Washington, hers arrived courtesy of a tomato.

The year was 1985. Washington was a first-time homeowner living in the Bronx with her two young children. “I was trying to live the American dream,” she says. “I had a huge backyard and three options: I could cement it, put a lawn on it or grow food. I decided to grow food.”

The decision resulted in the life-altering tomato. Washington, who had no prior gardening experience, gathered information from books and elders within her community. “I didn’t know a tomato grew on a vine. I didn’t know a tomato was a fruit. I didn’t know a tomato was red,” she says. “And to actually see this thing growing, and then when I tasted it … it just changed my world. I wanted to start growing everything.”

On Friday, March 9, Washington will lead the workshop Food for All: Growing Our Community as We Grow Our Food. The daylong session will combine storytelling with group activities and open dialogue.

Topics will range from participants’ personal experiences with gardening and farming, to larger issues, including the history of community gardens, food labels, hunger, poverty, food justice and food sovereignty. The event is a pre-workshop associated with the Organic Growers School spring conference, Saturday-Sunday, March 10-11.

Washington says her mission is for participants to roll up their sleeves and dig into the greater issues surrounding the current food system. In the United States, one in six people faces hunger. In Buncombe County, over 34,000 residents deal with food insecurity. “Rural or urban, poor is poor,” says Washington. “It has no face.”

The workshop is also a chance for Washington to continue her work with up-and-coming farmers. “If you were to tell me 10 years ago that young people would want to farm and become farmers, especially people of color, I would have said, ‘Heck no,’” she says. “But now, time and time again, I have been touched by the twinkle of so many young farmers … who want to get involved in the food movement.”

When participants leave the workshop, Washington says, they will have a firmer grasp on the history of the food movement, as well as the challenges that lie ahead. Washington also says students will walk away with “action steps and solutions that they can take back to their communities.”

Food for All: Growing Our Community as We Grow Our Food runs 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday, March 9, at The Sherrill Center and Kimmell Arena at UNC Asheville, Mountain View Room No. 417, 1 Campus View Road. Tickets are $55 for conference attendees, $70 for nonattendees. The Organic Growers School also offers a sliding-scale payment option. For details and tickets, visit avl.mx/4o2.

Chefs in Action

Food Connection, an organization that works to eliminate food waste and ease food insecurity in Asheville, will host Chefs in Action, its largest annual fundraiser on Thursday, March 1. Presented by Wicked Weed Brewing, the event will highlight the steps the organization takes in connecting unused food with people in need. The evening will also feature gourmet dishes prepared by chefs from Pack’s Tavern, Bouchon, Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian, UNC Asheville, Sierra Nevada and Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community. Varden “Papa Vay” Landers will perform at the event. Beer and wine will be served as well.

Chefs in Action runs 6-9 p.m. Thursday, March 1, at Celine and Company Catering, 49 Broadway. Tickets are $65 per person with couples and table options available. To learn more, visit avl.mx/4o3.

Curragh Chase pop-up dinner

“Curragh Chase is a pop-up restaurant that combines the conviviality of a classic pub with a commitment to the highest level of culinary craftsmanship,” says its executive chef, Brittany Kroeyr. Summit Coffee Co. will host the next dinner on Friday, March 2. Menu highlights include chicory Caesar salad, prime rib and a popcorn semifreddo. The dinner will also include alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages prepared by Summit Coffee.

The Curragh Chase pop-up begins at 7 p.m. Friday, March 2, at Summit Coffee Co., 4 Foundy St. Tickets are $60 per person. To learn more, visit avl.mx/4o7.

White Labs Kitchen & Tap fermentation series

White Labs Kitchen & Tap will debut its educational Fermented Pairings Series on Tuesday, March 6. White Labs education and engagement curator Erik Fowler and executive chef Evan Timmons will lead discussions on the pairings and fermented products featured. The menu will include house-made brewer’s yeast-risen bread, cheese, fermented fruit and charcuterie.

Fermented Pairings Series AVL Vol.1 runs 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, at White Labs Kitchen & Tap, 172 S. Charlotte St. Tickets are $25 per person and are available at avl.mx/4o4.

Whole-hog butchery class

On Thursday, March 8, Hickory Nut Gap Farm will host a whole-hog butchery class led by Charles Lee of The American Pig. According to the workshop’s event page, participants will “learn to utilize every part of the hog, from head to trotter and shoulder to ham.”

The class runs 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at Hickory Nut Gap Farm, 57 Sugar Hollow Road. Tickets are $75 per person. For details, visit avl.mx/3xh.

James Beard Award semifinalists

The 2018 James Beard Award semifinalists have been announced, and Asheville is represented on the list in three categories with four overall nominations. Leah Wong Ashburn of Highland Brewing Co. is up for Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional; David Bauer of Farm & Sparrow is nominated for Outstanding Baker; Katie Button of Nightbell and Curate is up for Best Chef: Southeast and Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani is also nominated in the same category. The James Beard Awards honor exceptional food and beverage professionals from across the U.S. and are often referred to as the Oscars of the culinary world. Finalists will be announced on Wednesday, March 14. Winners will be named Friday, April 27.

For the complete list of nominees, visit avl.mx/4o5

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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