By Kristen Pope
With one of Carrboro’s unofficial mottos being “locally owned and organically grown” Weaver Street Market and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association are teaming up to give the public a chance to witness first-hand exactly where local food is grown.
On Saturday, April 21, and Sunday, April 22, 34 farms will open their doors during the 12th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour. Each farm is open to visitors from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on both days.
“The tour is meant to be an educational opportunity to introduce people to where to their food comes from,” said Amy Eller, communications director for the CFSA. “We’re trying to connect people back to where their food is grown and how it is grown.”
Eller said many people, children especially, say their food comes from the grocery store, and the CFSA wants to show people that “there is real food growing in the dirt” and to “put a face with the food.”
Six new farms appear on the tour this year as well as three wineries. The wineries are a farily new addition, with two first appearing the on the tour last year, Eller said.
Tickets to the tour are $10 per car per farm or $30 per car for the entire tour. Advance tickets can also be bought for $25.
All proceeds go to the association, a non-profit organization that educates farmers how to grow sustainably and organically, Eller said.
Located in Pittsboro, the CFSA incorporates farms all across North Carolina and South Carolina. In addition to the Piedmont Tour, the CFSA sponsors three other tours in different regions of N.C. and one in upstate S.C., she said.
The Piedmont Tour was the first, started 12 years ago in cooperation with Weaver Street Market, which was looking for a good Earth Day event, Eller said.
“It’s an Earth Day celebration,” she said.
Eller said they typically see about 2,000 people attend the tour each year. She said kids love the tour, and the wineries have attracted more young professionals.
To begin planning your tour, pick up a free Farm Tour map, available at many locations in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. These maps have a short description of each farm, a key letting you know which farms have restrooms, food available and activities for children, as well as exact locations of each farm.
The maps are divided into three regions: North (including Mebane, Efland and Hillsborough), Central (all the farms west of Carrboro) and South (farms south of Carrboro, including farms near Pittsboro and Siler City).
The makers of the map suggest sticking to just one region each day in order to see as many farms as possible that day. They also say not to expect to see more than three or four farms in a day.
And keeping with the Carrboro spirit, the Farm Tour is open to bicyclists of all skill level who wish to bike the tour. Price-wise, two to 20 bicyclists traveling together count as one car.
Though sponsored in part by Weaver Street Market, the farm tour is not just for Carrborites. Maps and buttons are available in cities such as Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and Graham. The farms are located all across the Piedmont of North Carolina.
A Farm Tour kickoff will be held on Thursday, April 19, from 6-8 p.m. on the Weaver Street lawn. The kickoff is a chance to start the fun early, with live music, product samples from local producers, grilled food and an opportunity meet some of the farmers on the tour.
Anyone interested in volunteering (and seeing the tour for free) can contact the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association at (919) 542-2402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival is offering half-price admission for up to two days of the festival to anyone who shows a Farm Tour button. And the CFSA is releasing the 2007 Carolina Guide to Local and Organic Food, which will be available for free at each farm on the tour.
Eller said the tour is a great way to meet farmers, buy fresh local produce and realize that “out in the country” can be just 15 minutes from Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
Many of the farmers who open their farms on the tour sell at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, Eller said, so attending the tour is also a chance to make a lasting community connection.
“(The tour) is a wonderful way to get out in the country,” she said. “It’s wonderfully rejuvenating.”
Here’s the low-down on everything you’ll need to know about the Farm Tour:
Where do I buy buttons?
If you choose not to pay at the farm-by-farm rate of $10 per farm, you can buy a button for $30 at the first farm you visit. Your “Support Local Farmers” button will serve as an admission ticket to the rest of the farms.
You can also purchase your button in advance, for only $25, at Weaver Street Market, Fifth Season Gardening Co. and Maple View Ice Cream Store in Carrboro, as well as other locations in the Triangle and Triad areas.
Buttons are available online at www.carolinafarmstewards.org.
Source: Farm Tour map
So where do I get maps?
Maps can be picked up at the following Carrboro/Chapel Hill locations:
Weaver Street Realty
Maple View Country Store
Orange County Visitor’s Bureau
Source: Farm Tour Map
What’s sustainable farming and what’s so important about it anyway?
According the CFSA’s Web site, “sustainable agriculture must be ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just or equitable.” The Web site explains that environmentally sound means that the farming system should not deplete natural resources, and economically viable means that the farmer should receive a fair wage and that food should be available to the public for a fair price. Socially equitable means the system “must factor in the social impacts of fair wages, migrant labor, and rural community health,” said the site. Sustainable farming is “the key to healthy food systems in the future,” Eller said. The CFSA asks farmers to be on the tour because of their good farming methods, Eller said. Eller said that while the farms might not all be certifiably organic, each is still environmentally safe.
What should I expect when I get to the farm?
“Each farm devises their own plan,” Eller said, so you should expect something a little different at each one. For example, some farmers do a continuous circle where visitors can jump on and off the tour at any time, while others do a set tour that might require a short wait. Baldwin Family Farms even offers a covered wagon tour of their farm, Eller said. At each farm, though, you can expect to meet the farmer and see the fields. The tour is self-guided, and visitors can show up to any farm anytime between 1 and 5 p.m. each day, she said.
– Grab a group of friends. Carpooling allows you to split the cost of the tour — and gas — several ways.
– Know where you’re going. Invest in an atlas or spend some quality time with
www.mapquest.com before you head out. Though the Farm Tour maps give you a good idea of where each farm is, they aren’t drawn to scale and might not be sufficient for the directionally-challenged.
– Especially if you’re biking, be aware of the distance between each farm. Depending on the route you take, some of the furthest farms are 40 to 60 miles from each other. And while you might be the next Lance Armstrong, don’t push so hard that you can’t enjoy the tour.
– According the Farm Tour map, you should bring a cooler if you plan on buying any of the fresh produce and dairy products from the farms you visit.
– Also according to the map, you should plan a route in advance, choosing three or four farms in one region for each day. And remember that you’ll have a chance to see most of the farms you missed on next year’s tour.
– Bring your I.D. There are three wineries on the tour this year, and if you’re over 21, you’ll want a chance to take part in the free wine tastings these farms are offering.
– Finally, “Relax and enjoy it,” Eller said. “Know that you’re going to be on a farm. It’s OK to get dirty.”