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Farm & Fork to offer an experience like no other

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What could be better than eating a farm-to-table dinner, al fresco, on a late-summer evening? Maybe eating that meal on Sutton Avenue with 99 of your friends and neighbors.

The Black Mountain Farm & Fork dinner at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, will provide exactly that experience in an effort to support local food and farming.

A buffet-style table, with seating for 100, will be set up in front of the train depot. The meal will be made from fresh, local ingredients, according to the director of the event, Elisha Lee.

“The theme of the dinner is Southern Appalachian,” she said. “It’s going to be contingent on what local ingredients are available in September, but all of the food used will come from farms within a 50-mile radius.”

The decor will reflect the theme as well.

"We expect a lot of Mason jars and white lights," Lee said. "We'll be buying flowers from Urban Farm Girl, and our decor crew is really excited to bring some Southern flare."

Lee was inspired to organize a farm-to-table meal in Black Mountain when a story about a similar event in Jonesborough, Tennessee posted on the Friends of Black Mountain NC group's Facebook page generated a significant amount of feedback.

"I thought, Black Mountain needs this," she said. "I was really excited to see all of the responses on the Friends of Black Mountain page."

As the former manager of Roots & Fruits Organic Market, Lee saw an opportunity to help local farmers, many of whom she came to know through the Black Mountain Tailgate Market (tickets for Black Mountain Farm & Fork are available there).

"These farmers put in a lot of work and bring their stuff to market every week," she said. "So the opportunity to help bring awareness to them is special."

More than 30 full-time vendors sell products they grow at the Black Mountain Tailgate Market, which runs from May-October, according to manager Joan Engelhardt.

"The market is an opportunity for local farmers to sell their product and for local buyers to meet the people that are growing their food," Engelhardt said. "This is good food grown by people whose livelihood depends on selling their product."

The market has become "phenomenally successful" since it began in 1994, Engelhardt said. The market owes its success in part to consumers' concern about where their food is grown. It also owes part of its success to the genius of its farmers, who are learning to do more with less land, she said.

"Look at Becki (Janes) at Becki's Bounty," Engelhardt said. "She proves that you don't need a lot of land to have a successful operation."

Janes started Becki's Bounty, an urban gardening operation on Hiawassee Avenue, in 2008. She joined the tailgate market the following year. Her business has grown to two gardens, a greenhouse, and a small poultry operation. She will be one of the farmers providing food for Farm & Fork.

"My intention is to provide heirloom tomatoes," Janes said. "Raising heirloom tomatoes is kind of my specialty."

Farm & Fork helps raise public awareness of local farmers, she said.

"It puts our product out there for people to experience," she said. "It also provides a one-on-one experience where the farmers and customers can engage one another."

Lee also plans to showcase the skills of local chefs during Farm & Fork.

"Right now we have three teams of chefs that have agreed to take part," she said. "Heidi and Dylan (Stockman) from Stockwild Kitchen, Jenny Bowman and her daughter Kaylea (Lamson) from the Red Rocker Inn and Mark Tomczak from Fresh Wood Fired Pizza have all signed up so far. We're working on getting more."

Tickets for the dinner are $75 each for the multi-course meal. The money will be used to purchase the ingredients at market value, according to Lee. Profits will be used to create a scholarship for local students interested in studying sustainable agriculture in college.

"Farming is a hard life, but it's extremely rewarding," Engelhardt said. "The more we can encourage young people in high school and college to consider (farming) as a future, the better. Because if we don't, I don't see how we have a future in food."

Taste what's local

What: Black Mountain Farm & Fork dinner

When: 7-9 p.m. Sept. 17

Tickets: Available at Black Mountain Tailgate Market and communityroots501c3@gmail.com

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