It’s a glorious morning at the North Asheville Tailgate Market. A jazz band serenades shoppers as sunlight filters through the trees. People wander through the tents, picking up fresh produce, cheese, and bread. The mood is languid and relaxed, but not for these farmers.
“Market day is like an adrenaline rush,” says Krista Fayette, who owns New Roots Market Garden with Stephen Rosenthal.
“We work really late the night before and try to get to bed really early. Then in the morning, it’s still dark out, we pack up the van and get to market. It’s something we get so excited for,” she says.
Earlier this morning, their tables were full of leeks, greens, potatoes, squash, and onions. By the end of the day, their table is almost bare and they’re completely sold out of their most well-known offering—their wild salad mix.
Their salad mix stands out because it’s more than simply lettuce. In addition to several varieties of baby lettuces, they also include sprigs of purslane, chickweed, and wood sorrel in the bag. If you’re picturing Krista and Stephen planting these greens in tidy rows or tending to them in a greenhouse, think again. These specialty greens grow in the wild alongside the farm’s crops.
“We add in whatever wild greens are growing in the gardens from season to season, so we’re kind of foraging greens into the salad,” Krista explains. “You’re definitely feeling a lot of love from that because it’s like nature intended for it to be there. We cut it all by hand, which we feel is a big part of why people love it so much is we put the most love into that.”
In 2016, when Krista and Stephen were deciding what to grow on their farm, they looked around at what other farmers were selling at markets. They noticed plenty of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers during the summer, but there weren’t many salad greens. That’s because much of the farmland in Western North Carolina is too sunny and hot to grow tender lettuce during the summer, but Krista and Stephen lease farmland from Bend of Ivy Lodge, a retreat center in Madison County, North Carolina that’s nestled in the woods.
“With our land, it’s really special because we’re bottomland and we’re surrounded by forest,” she says. “So we have a little bit less daylight and a little more shade that comes through earlier and later in the day. So we felt like, wow, greens could be like our niche. The salad mix is what we’re known for right now. It’s always the first thing that sells out.”
Krista and Stephen started the farm because of their desire to help people live healthier lives. Krista studied art and originally wanted to be an art therapist, but after doing a work-trade program on an organic farm in Maryland, she saw food as a way to help people.
“There’s such gratitude out of growing nutrition for your body and your community’s bodies,” she says. “I just feel like I was meant to serve people. Then when I started farming and I just fell in love with it, I thought, well, this is providing food for people. A big part of how Stephen got into it is food for medicine and healing.”
Stephen always had an interest in food and at one time wanted to be a chef. He studied classical civilizations in college and started thinking seriously about becoming a farmer after his stepfather was diagnosed with cancer.
“I lost my stepdad to a really awful cancer, really quick. He had a terrible diet and I saw the way he ate and treated his body his whole life – how that affected him and how he eventually paid for it in the end. I think that, and my interest in food, it all came together to make me think, oh, maybe I would like working on a farm,” he says.
Stephen and Krista had a lot of enthusiasm, but they knew they needed more experience before starting their own farm. They interned and worked at other farms in Western North Carolina and participated in formal training programs, including ASAP’s Business of Farming Conference and Organic Growers School’s year-long Farm Beginnings program.
Stephen says learning directly from other farmers during these programs helped them decide what they wanted for their own farm and how to avoid common mistakes. For example, they were tempted to raise livestock and grow produce at the same time, but after hearing about other farmers’ experiences, they decided to focus on a few crops and their salad mix.
“We would love to have livestock and chickens and a whole bunch of other things, but we realize this is very consuming – the one small thing that we’re doing – and the more we focus on this one thing the better we’ll get at this one thing before we try to be good at 10 different other things. I think as we’re trying to make this our full-time income and it just being the two of us, the more we’re able to focus in on one thing and not just trying to stretch and expand from the beginning – it’s a big thing that I think has helped us,” he says.
Krista appreciates the relationships they formed with other farmers during their training. Now that they sell at three farmers markets and offer a CSA, they’ve expanded that social circle to include their customers. Krista says talking to farmers and customers at the market every week helps her manage the social isolation she sometimes feels on the farm.
“Farming is very introverted,” she says. “You’re out there on the land, you’re with nature, and it’s usually mostly just Stephen and I, which is lovely. But coming out to the market, it’s our family. The vendors here, the community, and then the customers, everything we do comes down to the market. So having people come out and feeling their gratitude, this is why we’re doing this. It’s so uplifting.”
Learn more about New Roots Market Garden and find information about farmers markets throughout the region at www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired August 5, 2019