Community Story: Finding Out Where Food Comes From


Each week on Growing Local, we share the sounds of local food in action. We visit farms, talk to chefs, go to farmers markets and schools to talk to people about their role in the food system.

Once a year we invite community members to pick up the microphone at ASAP’s story booth. Each year, at ASAP’s Local Food Experience, we set up a tent and some mics and talk to people in Western North Carolina about why local food is important to them.

We have a great crop of stories to share with you this fall, and today we’ll follow the journey of a local man who had an “ah-ha” moment about where food comes from when he was stationed in Hawaii. Hendersonville resident Ernie Mowell settled into the ASAP story booth to share the story of the first time he really thought about the idea of local food.

“Back in the early 80s I was lucky enough to be stationed in Hawaii,” he says. “One of the greatest food tours that you can take in Hawaii is that Dole pineapple factory. I mean it is impressive. You walk in at the same time they’re bringing in truckloads of pineapples, and by the time you come out those pineapples are processed and you’re eating them fresh.” 

“But what I noticed was that in the store, if you bought canned pineapples it always said product of the Philippines. So when I went on one of the tours I asked about that and they said yes, in Hawaii they have canned pineapples from the Philippines, and all the canned pineapples from Hawaii are going to the mainland.” 

“It just got me thinking—why am I not eating the pineapples that we have here? So that was the very first time that I ever even thought about ‘where is my food coming from,’ and it’s always been in the back of my mind. Then I come here, where it’s in the front of people’s minds.” 

Before Ernie moved to Hendersonville, he lived in the Cincinnati area and the Midwest. As a child, he mostly ate fresh produce from his parent’s garden, so he didn’t think much about the food system—a lot of his food was local by default. 

“My folks had a garden and it was half of our backyard,” he says. “My mother canned, she preserved. All winter long, we were eating canned green beans and canned tomatoes. It was great. Unfortunately, it didn’t pass on with me. I plant stuff and it just withers up and laughs at me and then it dies. So thank God we have farmers markets and I can get some good food.”

Ernie’s food doesn’t come from his backyard anymore, but he still maintains a seasonal approach to eating. He loves shopping at farmers markets, and rather than bring a shopping list, he likes to pick out what’s fresh and appealing that week. 

“Usually if I’m doing a Monday through Friday menu, there is a day or two that I’m just leaving blank in the summertime,” he says. “It’s kind of like whatever impresses me that day, we go and cook it and we try some new stuff.”

Some of the produce he tried this season is so new to him that he doesn’t know their names, including a large, flat squash that he picked up at ASAP’s Farm Tour. “I have no idea what vegetable it is, but it looked good and it tasted good”

One thing Ernie knows for sure is that he’s learned a lot about local food and how it’s grown since visiting the pineapple factory in Hawaii when he was a young adult. Now that he lives in Western North Carolina, he’s had the opportunity to see agriculture up close.

“I think one of the great things about the local food scene here is the willingness for farmers and growers to have people come and see what they do,” he says. “I grew up with a garden, but I don’t think I ever went on a farm tour when I was a kid. So I read about and I hear about how schools are going out to farms and letting kids do hands-on stuff. I think that’s great. They’re not going to have to wait like me until they’re in their early 20s to figure out where their food comes from.”

We’ll be bringing you more stories from ASAP’s community story booth this fall. In the meantime, find information about local farms, farmers markets, and other places to seek out local food in ASAP’s online local food guide –

Aired: September 2, 2019

Sign Up for Our Newsletters