Farm to Table: Wilmington and North Brunswick County residents on the eat-local bandwagon are supporting local farmers in a variety of ways
The farm-to-table dining trend is exploding all over the nation, and Brunswick County and Wilmington are no exception.
PHOTOGRAPHY by Jason Hudson
Health-conscious residents are taking a closer look at the sources of their food, and many are opting to buy their food directly from farmers and producers rather than traditional grocery stores. Organizations like Feast Down East and Got to be NC are working to highlight the importance of shopping for and eating locally grown produce.
The farm-to-table movement is steadily growing among local restaurants too, and establishments like Wilmington’s RX have seen a very positive response from customers.
RX Chef James Doss changes his menu as often as needed to reflect what is in season, fresh and available from local farmers. Chef Doss explains that he aims to source all of his ingredients from within a 60-mile radius of the restaurant. Some of his suppliers include Black River Organic Farm in Ivanhoe, Heritage Farms in Seven Springs and Nature’s Way Farm in Hampstead. Doss says he has relationships with all of his suppliers and has visited their facilities. For him, buying local and serving farm-to-table food “just makes sense.”
In addition to buying from local suppliers, Doss uses ingredients grown on the rooftop garden above the restaurant as well at his home. A seasonal summer salad at RX that perhaps best highlights the farm-to-table trend includes stone crab caught off the coast of Wilmington, compressed melon grown on a local farm, country ham that was cured and smoked on-site, nasturtium from Shelton Herb Farm in Leland, honey from Red Beard Farms and jalapeno from Doss’s home garden.
RX is not the only local restaurant to utilize this type of cooking. Recently, Manna, located in downtown Wilmington, hosted a farm-to-table–themed dinner featuring produce from local farm Cottle Organics.
In addition to sourcing their own ingredients, restaurants like RX and Manna are utilizing the aid of programs like Feast Down East, also known as Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Program (SENCFS.) Feast Down East’s mission is to make sure everyone has access to fresh foods. The organization runs several programs locally, including a Farm-to-School program, a Buy Local Food campaign and their Farm-to-Chef program.
The movement is not limited to restaurants. New Hanover County and Brunswick County residents are supporting their local farmers by signing up for CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) programs. In this scenario, local farmers offer shares of their products to customers for a fee. The customers then receive a box of the farm’s goods on a set schedule, usually about once a week.
Residents are also shopping at local farm markets in greater numbers. Julie Bishop, manager of the Riverfront Farmer’s Market in downtown Wilmington, has seen their market’s attendance grow steadily for the last several years. There are weekly farm markets on the downtown Wilmington riverfront and in Poplar Grove, Wrightsville Beach, Rankin Terrace, Carolina Beach and Southport. The goods sold at these markets shift according to what is in season and what is in demand.
Another way local residents are supporting farmers is through a program with Down East Connect, a nonprofit organization that aims to support local agriculture by connecting farmers with customers. Down East Connect has a program in place that allows customers to place their orders online and have their orders delivered to set pickup points throughout New Hanover, Brunswick and Columbus counties.
Some farms have found ways to market directly to consumers without setting up a farm market or using an intermediary service. Farms like Hilltop Angus Farm in Mt. Gilead have instituted a monthly delivery of their meats to the Wilmington area. About every five weeks, farmers Sharon and Dale Thompson meet their customers in downtown Wilmington to deliver their orders of grass-fed beef, pastured pork and grass-fed lamb.
The Thompsons market exclusively via word-of-mouth, yet their customer base has grown so much in the last year that they have had to consider not taking on new customers in the Wilmington area.
The Thompsons also sell their meats at farm markets in the Pinehurst area, but Wilmington remains a big market for them. According to Dale, the Wilmington market is a third of the farm’s total volume. Despite only delivering to the Wilmington-area customers once a month, Hilltop sells as much in one day in Wilmington as they do at five farm markets in the Pinehurst area.
Many of their customers are families with children, and the Thompsons feel passionately about being able to provide meats for their customers and the next generation of families.
“We care about clean food and the legacy of the farm,” Sharon explains.
Part of the reason why the Thompsons’ farm is so popular is due to the fact that their product is fairly unique in the Wilmington area. Hilltop Angus adheres to the dietary standards set forth by the American Grassfed Association and is certified as Animal Welfare Approved, both factors that are important to health-conscious consumers.
As local residents continue to become more educated about their food sources and strive to make healthier choices regarding what they eat, it is safe to say that the trend of farm-to-table style dining is only going to increase in popularity in the Northern Brunswick County area.