What started in 2006 to help farmers create greater marketability across 11 counties east of I-74 and I-95—and create a shorter distance from farm to fork—has evolved into a viable nonprofit known as Feast Down East (FDE). Founded by Leslie Hossfeld, from UNCW’s public sociology program, and Mac Legerton, from the Center for Community Action in Lumberton, the initiative, then known as Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems (SENCFS), began as a resource to ensure farmers, restaurateurs, and chefs could work together to promote local sustainability and economically impact the areas they fed altogether. Seeing as southeastern NC remains one of three major regions of poverty across the state, the function of the program has aimed to alleviate job loss and decrease the poverty rate.
Since its inception, it’s evolved by conjoining the private and public sectors. Not only does FDE successfully link farmers to restaurants, it operates one-on-one within the marketplace via their online grocer—or “buyer’s club,” as they call it. Folks can log onto www.feastdowneast.org, and order directly from local growers, artisans, food-makers, and the like. The processing and distribution program culls products from a 100-mile radius at the train depot in Burgaw, and delivers to pick-up points across Wilmington on scheduled days. They also deliver to markets, schools, hospitals, the Wilmington Housing Authority, assisted living facilities, and other institutions. Their constant reach relies on grant-funding to keep the nonprofit afloat and ensure healthy food is made available to everyone, no matter socio-economic status.
“We are trying to tap into community, corporate resources, and support to keep the project going strong and help expand our reach,” FDE director Jane Steigerwald says. “One of our goals is to purchase a refrigerated delivery truck.”
With this truck they will be able to appropriately keep their products fresh to consumers, chefs, and food businesses. As well, it will keep prices affordable so rural and low-income communities—also known as food deserts—have the option to buy nutritious foods.
Outside of grant-funding, FDE holds a conference every February to help raise awareness and monies for the initiative. Adding to their fund-raising platform in 2014 comes their first Raise the Barn dinner, open to the public, at Poplar Grove Plantation. The dinner will feature tapas-style food created by a host of local chefs. Chef Keith Rhodes of Catch will provide crab cakes, while Chef James Doss of Rx and Pembroke’s fame will work off the cuff and plan his dish by the weekly offerings from farmers. 22 North’s Brent Poteat will make clam chowder.
“I am from Wrightsville Beach and grew up eating my mom and grandmom’s cooking,” Poteat says. “I take local foods I grew up with and present it in a contemporary style with a low-country and Creole touch. FDE helps access this food with variety and volume, so when people come to Wrightsville Beach to vacation, they experience the local flavor fully.”
Craig Love of Surf House Cafe will whip up a dish using fresh rainbow trout, while CAM Café’s Jessica Cabo will serve short ribs in some fashion. UNCW Campus Dining team Ryan Andress and Jon Michael will make a host of items, including a 20-spiced pork belly from Wells Farms, crispy local oysters with toasted fennel and Shelton Farms herb-crust. Pickled root veggies, edamame-wasabi hummus, and other tasty items round out the menu. The chefs will be working with local farmers from Shelton Herb Farm, Cottle Organics, Triple J Farm, Shaken Creek, and Mott’s Channel.
While the centerpiece of the evening revolves around food, diners will enjoy entertainment as well. Live music will be performed by local Americana rockers L Shape Lot, plus wagon rides across the historic grounds will be open until dark. “There will be beautiful décor with starbursts hanging from the trees, hay-bale seating areas throughout, seating at tables, [and] cocktail tables,” Steigerwald describes.
Folks are encouraged to dress in black-tie and sequins—but leave home the high-heels, ladies (studded cowgirl boots will do just fine). There also will be a photo booth, and live and silent auctions throughout the evening.
Cocktail hour begins at 6 p.m., with specialties courtesy of Carolina Bourbon, infused with blueberries sourced from Ivanhoe area farms. NC breweries Natty Green and Lone Rider will provide the beer, and coffee will come from locals Port City Java. Desserts will be provided by 9 Bakery and Lounge and will commence after dinner, which promptly starts at 7 p.m.
“We are hoping that the public can gain an appreciation for local farm food, how easy it is to seasonally cook (as demonstrated by our chefs), and commit to support the effort to help small-scale farmers create a viable living from farming,” Steigerwald concludes. “It is important to our future to have access to healthy local food. Supporting a local food system benefits our economy, reduces poverty, creates jobs, helps the environment, improves the quality of our food source, and is healthier for you.”
Raise the Barn
March 22nd, 6 p.m.
Poplar Grove Historic Plantation
10200 US Hwy 17 North
Tickets: $80 • www.feastdowneast.org