My neighbor, Charlie McDaniel, has a heart as big as his girth, which in itself is pretty sizeable. I love him to death, both for the help he has shown to a family just moved in, as well as his folksy nature.
This past weekend, part of our dinner menu featured "Ambrosia" corn, which is similar to the "Peaches and Cream" that I ate from upstate New York as a child. I did not buy it from the local farmers market, featuring a number of certified organic growers. No, Chalie dumped a bunch by my side door, straight from his garden. I shucked it, cleaned out the itty-bitty bugs that come from just-picked produce, and it was delicious.
Some people don't share that luck, I reckon.
But in the heart of Appalachia, where there isn’t a critical mass of suppliers or customers for whom the term “locavore” rolls naturally off the tongue, the restaurant remains something of a curiosity. Mr. Hopp is, once again, a pioneer. The 50-seat Harvest Table has not yet turned a profit. Over the past several years, it has struggled to build a fan base among the area’s predominantly blue-collar residents for whom the average annual income is $15,750, and many of whom view local and organic food as out of reach.
Well, no, it's not out of reach . . . it's out back, behind the house. The New York Times reports in an article entitled "Local Food Has Been No Easy Sell," that restauranteur Steven Hopp just can't get the locals into his fine-dining establishment. His restaurant, Harvest Table, is located in Meadowview, VA, a small town along Interstate 81. Roanoke, VA is 126 miles away. Greensboro, NC is 164 miles away. Big city folks are just not going to travel that distance for a meal with any frequency.
But I don't like the tone set by the Times that it is the locals to blame for Mr. Hopp's failed experiment.
For many here, “farm fresh” food is not necessarily more appealing than the chain restaurants that are anathema to Mr. Hopp. “If you go over there and eat, you have to pay $20,” said Kay Thomas, 69, who has been farming in Meadowview with her husband for a half-century. “You can go to Pizza Hut and eat for $6. With the economy the way it is, you have to watch what you do.”
It was no wonder that some residents were furious when in 2009, the County Board of Supervisors rejected a plan for a truck stop with a McDonald’s for Meadowview. Supporters of the proposal said it would have lured customers for local businesses off the highway, created jobs and provided a more affordable dining option than the Harvest Table.
The article portrays the locals are sort of culinary barbarians, and I can imagine some Manhattanite, reading this article, and sitting back, thinking, well, that's why they deserve heart disease, cigarette sin tax, unemployment, and Walmart . . .
But the reporter fails to consider that for many people in rural areas, a kitchen garden is a regular feature of the summer, and activities such as canning and preserving are more frrquently seen. Why should someone who is making minimum wage go into Harvest Table for a salad when they have all the fixings back behind their home? And furthermore, for that family treat, why not the Pizza Hut?
I notice in my local Walmart - yes, Walmart, I can buy certified organic produce from California. Or I can buy local Grainger county tomatoes and South Carolina peaches. Which option is more "locavore?" The organic items cost more and are shipped all the way from California. Or, I receive the benefice of my neighbor, who has also left zucchini, summer squash, and cukes by my side door.
“Anything you can get into a little town like this is good,” Terry Hagy, who owns Hagy’s Garage and Wrecker Service in Meadowview, said of Mr. Hopp’s venture. “But we’ve got farmers and working people here. They don’t have time to sit and order a meal. They run in and grab a burger.”
Maybe the problem is that locals, being farmers themselves, just don't see the sense in buying what they themselves grow.
I don't think Steven Hopp is out to be some sort of culinary crusader, determined to drag the cro-magnon cooks into a new enlightened age. But sometimes a business model does not work because of assumptions made; I don't see anything in the article that support the writer's opening presumption that locals view "local and organic food as out of reach." The locavore movement has been in place for centuries in rural places . . . not out of reach, but just out back.