WILMINGTON — The heart and soul of eating local is local farms. And sometimes, getting local foods from farmers’ markets or “farm-to-table” restaurants isn’t enough. Sometimes, you really want food right from the farm.
Kyle Stenersen, who owns and operates the Humble Roots Farm in Wilmington has participated in area farmers’ markets for a few years, but ultimately grew frustrated.
As Stenersen explained, “To just say it, sometimes the produce and meat at the farmers’ market isn’t from local farms. I don’t want to call anyone out, but you’ve definitely got people bringing food from outside the area. You’ve got people who will go buy cattle from other areas and bring them to local processing plants. You’ve got people who will get produce wholesale from wherever and just slap a local name on it.”
In the past several years, a number of states have had issues verifying the localness of farmers’ market food (including produce powerhouses California, Florida and North Carolina). Because many of markets operate as pop-ups and are organized locally, there often isn’t the manpower to trace food. As Stenersen put it, many markets operate on something like the honor system, relying on farmers to be honest about where their food comes from.
The best bet, according to Stenersen, is to do your research.
“Most people have smart phones – you can look up whether these farms are local or not,” Stenersen said.
Seeing your food, firsthand
There are other reasons to go direct to the farm besides avoiding “imitation local.”
“You’re entitled to see how your food is made – you can see how the crops grown, how the animals as pastured and take care of,” Stenersen said.
Stenersen said he was not wild about the idea of marketing his farm as an “agro-tourism” destination, but hoped that people who visited Humble Roots’ farm store would take the opportunity to see that his family has put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.
“We work hard to grow food the right way – it’s organic, it’s non-GMO, it’s real food. That costs us more, and it takes more time, and so – yes – our food cost a little more. But if you want to make real food a priority in your life, it’s worth it. So I hope that people who visit the farm can see that,” Stenersen.
Kyle and his wife Katelyn are both Wilmington natives who moved away, only to return. The family works on the farm full time. They pasture-raise their chickens, pigs and cattle – which means quite a bit of time and effort looking after the animals. Likewise, they don’t use automated pesticide systems, so looking after their produce – including tomatoes, sweet potatoes and ginger – also takes quite a bit more time.
The commitment of local farms, like Humble Roots, to growing produce this way is what powers the latest generation of American restaurants and chefs. Several popular high-end restaurants in Wilmington carry the Stenersen’s produce and meat. RX’s owner James Doss explicitly names Humble Roots on the menu as the source of his chicken.
But, while RX is one of the Port City’s most successful farm-to-table restaurants – and by all accounts makes good food – it probably not a financially viable option for most Wilmingtonians to dine there daily.
Whether you think local food tastes better, or you’re trying to vote for local food with your dollar, Stenersen said heading out to your local farm is the best way.
Bringing the farm (closer) to you
But, not everyone has the time to take a trip out to Humble Roots on Saturday mornings, which is why the family launched their buying club.
“The farm store works well for us, because we’re already here, you’re coming to us,’’ Sternesen said. “We hope people will still do that, but we get that no everyone has Saturdays off – I mean, we don’t. And so we started the buying club as kind of what we thought would be a good solution between buying direct from the farm store and a farmers’ market or a grocery store.”
The buying club allows customers to pick from Humble Roots selection of meat and produce online and then pick up the food from a variety of drop-off locations in Southport, Carolina Beach, midtown and downtown Wilmington and Sneads Ferry. (Get more information and specific locations spots here).
Previously, Humble Roots had focused on produce and chicken; starting this Friday, the farm will also have beef and pork available.
Stenersen said he hoped their expanding offerings would help get people on board.
“We’ll never replace a grocery store – we’re just one farm. But we hope that this system kind of streamlines things and gets it to the point where people can say, ‘yeah, that makes sense, I can do that.’ We think once people taste the food, it’ll speak for itself, but it’s just my family running this farm. So anyway we can get the word out to the most people and keep the place running, that’s good.”
Humble Roots Farm on the Map
Reporter Benjamin Schachtman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on twitter, and (910) 538-2001.