They are fresh from the ground after someone has been lovingly tending them and working hard to keep them safe from pests. They are fresh and filled with nutrients. The benefit from having locally grown produce is their remarkable taste, texture, and flavor. It is time to celebrate the region’s family farms and producers.
Alan and Barbara Ward of Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards have just opened Appalachian Ridge Artisan Ciders in Hendersonville, which will be on the tour for the first time this year. In a beautifully restored 1940s apple barn, tastings are being offered. Appalachian Ridge offers a Wallace Cider series of hard cider on tap with Bold Top Mountain as the driest and Clifford Mountain as the sweetest. Bear Wallow Mountain is the Original Wallace, the first and most popular cider of the series.
In addition, Appalachian Ridge offers other drinks, including beer on tap from Sanctuary Brewery, apple brandy, sherry and wine. The view from their deck is quite spectacular and a lovely place to relax. The kids can play with bean bags nearby, while their parents enjoy relax and enjoy the incredible hillside view of small newly planted apple trees from Normandy, France, near the more established larger apple trees nearby.
This is the 10th Annual ASAP self guided tour, which blankets the farming area around Asheville. The territory has been divided into six clusters—Candler, Fairview, Henderson, Leicester, Smith Mill Works, and Yancey. A few examples are: in Candler you can visit Joel Mowery’s Smoking J’s Fiery Foods, a large specialty chile pepper farm and sauce manufacturing company. In Fairview you can see Walter, Wendy, and Andy Harrill’s Imlardris Farm with their 60-year old blueberry orchard, or see fields of flowers, and strawberries at Isaiah and Annie Louise Parkinson’s Flying Cloud Farm.
In Mills River, you can visit Paul and Simone Shoemaker’s Holly Spring Farm with over 40 different tomato varieties and other vegetables, or see Jason Davis’ North River Farms with row crops such as corn, soybeans and small grains or visit the Bradley’s Mills River Creamery and Dairy, where there is delicious homemade ice cream and milkshakes to taste. The Jersey cows at this farm are direct descendants of the original Biltmore Dairy herd, the oldest herd of registered Jerseys in the country.
In Leicester, you can go to Dr King’s Farm with Carolina Bison, African Watusi cattle, camels all grazing in the pastures and even be able to get close to the animals on a wagon tour. At Charles and Sally Hudson’s Sunburst Chef and Farmer, you can see hydroponic float beds aquaponics, containers, and raised beds filled with flowers, lettuce greats and even a few fish.
You can explore Travis and Lori Denley’s Serendipity Farm in Burnsville where you will see pasture-raised meat, chickens, heritage breed egg-laying chickens, guineas, duck and Angora rabbits. Kids will be able to pet and feed some rabbits and chicken. No doubt about it, there will be more to see than available time.
Paul Shoemaker, a retired vegetable pathologist and owner of Holly Spring Farm, is opening up his Mills River farm for the 2018 ASAP Tour. With a doctorate from Cornell University, he has spent more than 30 years studying tomatoes at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River. According to Shoemaker, Henderson County’s mild summers are ideal for tomato growth because, unlike Georgia or upstate South Carolina, it’s not too hot.
He gave some details for growing his 40 different tomato varieties. He had planted the tomatoes on higher ground, so the unexpected downpour of torrential rain did not cause a problem. On April 21 this year he planted some indeterminate tomatoes, and they already have some beautiful green tomatoes hanging on the vine. He expects to bring them to market June 30th. He said these tomatoes can grow to 6 or 7 feet high, only stopping with a frost.
His Heirloom tomatoes are smaller at the moment and most probably will be ready to sell at the end of July. He is also growing many other vegetables, such as lettuce, sugar snap peas, asparagus, kale, Swiss chard, and beets. His produce is sold at the new Sierra Nevada Farmers Market on Tuesdays late afternoon (a new farmers’ market to discover), the Flat Rock Farmers Market on Thursdays, and the Mills River Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.
In addition, Shoemaker supplies produce for discriminating chefs at various restaurants, such as Postero in Hendersonville, the Flat Rock Village Bakery, Kenmure Country Club and Sierra Nevada Brewery.
By taking the ASAP tour, one can have a better understanding of how Mother Nature affects the foods you find available locally by talking with the farmers who grew them. You can learn about commercial farming practices and can see all sorts of livestock, such as alpacas, bison, camels, elk, rabbits, and Himalayan yak. Some farms will even offer hay rides or have displays of their tractors and farm equipment. Small farming in Western North Carolina has grown considerably in the last ten years, as has the population.
ASAP’s Farm Tour features farms within an hour drive of Asheville. The variety of farms that are showcased is quite astounding, but it is advisable to plan your route. This is the 10th year that ASAP has been arranging these self-guided tours, demonstrations, hands-on experiences and visits with the farmers. All farms will have products for sale, and some will be offering meals for purchase.
Many farms offer family friendly activities like hayrides, u-pick, and visiting and touching farm animals. A car pass is $30 in advance and $40 the weekend of the tour—for both afternoons. It is advisable to wear comfortable walking shoes, possibly a hat, perhaps have water bottles and a cooler to take home fresh vegetables. However, no dogs or other pets are permitted on the tour, as they can pose food safety threats and be hazardous to farm animals. Further information and driving directions can be found online, just go to www.asapconnections.org.