Finding Home Through Local Food

There’s so much to discover in Western North Carolina, especially for someone who’s recently moved to the region. One way to become part of a new community is to explore the area through local food.

“It’s just so great to be a newcomer to the region and learn about everything that’s grown here,” Kay West says. She stopped by ASAP’s community storybooth earlier this fall to talk about how local food is part of her life. 

Kay moved from Nashville, Tennessee to Asheville, North Carolina in January. She was a food writer and worked at a farmers market, so local food was already important to her. When she moved to Asheville, she expected that the farmers markets to be pretty similar. She was a little surprised to see how different the growing seasons are here. She learned that Western North Carolina’s cool nights mean salad greens are available nearly year round. She tasted produce that’s unique to this region, like ground cherries. She also learned when to expect her summer staples like tomatoes, corn, and peaches.

Now she goes to three farmers markets a week and has gotten to know the personality of each one. She especially enjoys seeing local chefs find ingredients at the markets.

“You can sort of follow along behind them and see what they’re buying,” she says. “And they’re super friendly, too. You can ask them what they’re going to do with it. I stopped a couple of chefs that were buying nettles because I have no idea what to do with nettles.”

The chefs told her she’d need gloves to separate the leaves from the spiky stalks.

“I just decided I’d just rather go to the restaurant, let them do the nettles, and I wouldn’t bother with it,” she says.

Then she dove deeper into Asheville’s restaurant culture and found places where she could enjoy nettles for a few brief weeks each spring.

“There was nettle season that lasted for a few weeks and there were different restaurants that were doing different things during the week. You know, I dreamed of nettles for a long time,” she says.

In addition to trying new foods, Kay also made new connections and formed relationships with farmers at the markets—like Chue and Tou Lee from Lee’s One Fortune Farm.

“They had those beautiful Asian greens and she’s so generous with telling you what to do with them and how to do it. And really it was within just a few weeks of me moving here as a complete stranger, I would walk up to her table at the indoor market and she would have a bag of greens ready for me that I love,” she says.

Her friendship with the Lees grew over the summer and she looks forward to catching up with them each week. 

Kay says that going to farmers markets has been an important part of feeling at home during her first year in Western North Carolina.

“It’s such a huge bounty of wonderful things,” she says. “Getting to know the people that do it and make it is just so nice and so welcoming.

Find farmers markets and local food activities in ASAP’s online local food guide

Aired: November 11, 2019

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