ASAP likes to share the stories of people who help us fulfill our mission. This month we talk with Catherine Campbell, founder of Asheville Strong, about why she shops at farmers markets and what she’s looking forward to this spring. Last month Asheville Strong released a print edition of its cookbook featuring recipes from local chefs and restaurants. Proceeds benefit the Feed Our City program, which helps preserve local restaurant jobs by paying for employees to cook meals for community members in need. Buy a copy here.
What are you looking forward to as farmers markets reopen for the spring?
The thing that I’m looking forward to the most is trying new (or new to me) heirlooms or different types of vegetables that I don’t grow in my own garden. That’s an especially exciting part of the farmers market in the spring. There are types of lettuces I’ve never tasted before, radishes I’ve never seen before. It’s so much fun to try something colorful and new.
What’s your farmers market shopping strategy? Do you shop with a plan and a list, or do you like to buy on impulse?
I’ve flipped my plate. I think vegetable first instead of protein first. For me that’s been a creative and exciting challenge to fill a plate with vegetables, then have my proteins complement that. So the first thing I do is visit Ten Mile Farm. What they have in season or determines my strategy for the rest of the market. Next I’ll look for proteins and dairy. And whenever I go to market, I’ll treat myself and my family to one special thing. It could be a chocolate croissant or a fresh jar of kimchi. Maybe it’s even something we would normally get, like eggs, but instead we’ll try duck eggs.
I think what I love the most about shopping at the farmers market is that you don’t want to go in with a plan. If you leave yourself open to that surprise and delight, you’ll find it every time.
Do you have a favorite springtime dish or meal you’d like to share?
I try to keep it pretty simple, like a whole bunch of greens on a plate. I love doing something with fresh radishes and good butter on fresh bread. That’s such a great seasonal treat—really comfort food. Then I pair that with a good cut from a local farm like Warren Wilson, Hickory Nut Gap, or Dry Ridge.
What have you learned from the farmers you buy from?
I’ve really opened my eyes a lot to sheer amount of labor and time that goes into bringing product to market. Really getting to know farmers inside and outside of the market is helpful to changing the system—understanding why things at the market might cost more than at a grocery store or mass market. If you follow a farmers Instagram or chat with them and see behind the scenes, you start to appreciate that and understand that shopping at farmers markets is an investment in your community.
Why is shopping at farmers markets important to you?
I grew up in a farming community, so being part of a farmers market or around farmers has always been a part of my life. What I tell friends and family who have moved from big cities or haven’t had access to farmers markets, it literally tastes so different. Once you taste what fresh local food can be, it’s really hard to go back.