In Asheville, “farm to table” isn’t just a kitschy slogan slapped on produce or paraphernalia to rope in customers. Here, farm to table is a veritable lifestyle. We fill our plates with a rainbowed bounty of vegetables and a pinky gradient of fresh meats, locally sourced from farms that call the loamy valleys around Asheville home.
And in Asheville, “farm to table” doesn’t just mean farm stand to home kitchen. There are a myriad of experiential adventures with farm to table—or, more accurately, farm to table to delighted palate—at their core. From family-style dinners to windswept eatery tours, your farm to table escapade is just a bite away.
Foothills Local Meats
On a warm summer night—one of the season’s last—a crowd clusters in the rustic amphitheater behind Hi-Wire’s Big Top. It’s an amalgamation of folks that gather around the lengthy dining table; hat-clad hipsters sit side-by-side with wizened, buttoned-up gentility. They pass plates, exchange stories, and most of all, enjoy a meaty, five-course feast.
This is The Butcher’s Table, a dinner series hosted by Foothills Local Meats and founder Casey McKissick and including great local chefs like Steven Goff, Craig Dehil, Kyle McKnight and Adam Hayes.. Under the bountiful shroud of summertime, a local chef and butcher collaborate on an expansive spread featuring local produce and Foothills’ meats, paired with Hi-Wire’s brews.
The Butcher’s Table is the culmination of McKissick’s efforts, which began (as you might expect) on a local farm. McKissick and his family raised beef cattle, hogs and chicken to sell at local farmer’s markets and restaurants. But in 2002, his perspective widened. “I became determined to find a way to make better products that our customers wanted and have them available more hours of the day and days of the week,” he explains. “That inspiration led me to open the retail store in Black Mountain in 2013.” Though Foothills’ kitchen is no longer open to the public, you can still order online for CSA pickup in Black Mountain and at the Hi-Wire Big Top in Asheville, snag snacks from their new food truck at Hi-Wire, and through their extensive catering program, as well as, of course, their monthly dinner series.
For the meats and products he makes and markets through Foothills, McKissick buys from local farmers he knows personally who raise their animals on pasture-based farms without routine antibiotics or hormones. “We have relationships of trust and commitment that benefit both businesses, but also benefit our customers in huge ways—I don’t know any other way to even think about doing business,” he says.
“Consumers of many types are demanding greater transparency in their food supply—and specifically in proteins such as meat and dairy,” he says. And that’s exactly what you get at the Butcher’s Table, where diners can hear the sound of their dinner sizzling—and the history of the animals behind it.
Asheville Farm to Table Tours
Though “farm to table” is a popular concept in Asheville, the “farm” part isn’t always accessible—or at least it wasn’t until the recent formation of Asheville Farm to Table Tours. “I realized that although the farm to table movement was vibrant in our area, there was little opportunity to experience this movement from farmer to seed to meal,” says founder Ann D. Stauss. She spent the quiet months of winter reaching out to a slew of local farms, opening her enterprise in the spring of 2016.
Stauss offers three tour series: Madison County, Buncombe County and Fairview. Hop in Stauss’ fancy van, munch on your local snacks, and take to the mountains, where you’ll wander the farms with their owners at your side. Each tour culminates in an al fresco lunch featuring fresh produce and products of the farms you toured throughout the day.
The Fairview tour offers an introspective peek into a range of local agriculture, from the cutest farm stand to hand-stirred cheeses.
Flying Cloud Farm
Verdurous fields of dahlias and okra line the roadside of Flying Cloud Farm; situated at the midpoint of this avenued acreage you’ll find their mostly unmanned farm stand, where locals stop in to pick up fresh veggies, kept cool in hinged boxes, and drop their payment into an honor-system box.
Flying Cloud Farm relies on variety; it’s their insurance, and it’s their selling point. Whether you subscribe to their weekly CSA boxes or just stop in at their post at the farmer’s market, you’re bound to find a bevy of fresh produce and flowers, their selection shifting with the season.
Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery
Victor Chiarizia is a man of many talents—among them, glass blowing and cheese making. Nestled in a crooked curve up a nameless mountain, you’ll find Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery, where he partakes in both his arts.
But with more than 23 cheeses in their arsenal, BRMC is much more than a hobby. Their cheeses are aged significantly longer than most other local cheeses (most of them for over a year), and unlike other creameries, they age their cheeses in a genuine cave, carved from the mountainside by that jack-of-all-trades, Chiarizia.
Hickory Nut Gap Farm
Hickory Nut Gap Farm is a far cry from the quaint farmsteads that litter the hills to the west. This fourth-generation farm raises grassfed beef and pastured pork and chicken for distribution at local markets and restaurants and their own farm store.
But they’re much, much more than just a farm. Their kitchen slings out some of the finest burgers and sandwiches in Asheville. Join them on Friday nights for a family-friendly barn dance, and check their website for fun, seasonal events and festivities.
“If we were all living anywhere in the world 100 years ago, we would only be eating farm to table,” Stephen Steidle, owner of the ever-popular food tour Eating Asheville, says with a laugh.
Although most Ashevillians now prescribe to that age-old tradition of farm to table, it wasn’t always that way. When Steidle first ventured into the downtown food scene ten years ago, well, it didn’t exactly exist. “There were just a few restaurants,” he says. “I found this passion to promote the great people I work with, and to see them succeed as well. I wanted to link the people who are interested in good food and the people who have good food.”
Over five years ago, he began Eating Asheville. “The original concept featured only independently owned, farm to table restaurants,” he explains of the tour, which originally only encompassed a few restaurants downtown. Since then, the enterprise has grown to include over 40 restaurants with tours in West Asheville, South Slope, downtown and even a High Roller tour for the luxuriously inclined. Every restaurant on the High Roller tour features farm to table fare, their menu selections shifting with the season and with the mood of the chef.
Eating Asheville is arguably one of the best food tours in the country—and with good reason; everyone on staff is a food and beverage expert. “We have over a century of food and beverage experience, and we take a lot of pride in being able to educate people on the culture,” notes Steidle.
At the end of the day, it’s about community. “It’s meant the world to me that some of these restaurants that I’ve worked with for a long time haven’t just gained customers, they’ve gained fans.”