By Nathan Ham
High Country residents outside of Boone now have another location where they can pick up food orders placed through the High Country Food Hub. Starting on Wednesday, January 5, residents in Ashe County will be able to get their high-quality, locally-sourced food orders at the Ashe County Public Library in downtown West Jefferson.
“Over the last several years, we’ve recognized that more people would love to access fresh, healthy local food, but that it’s just not convenient. The pandemic shed new light on this situation,” said Katie Cavert Ferrell, the Satellite Coordinator for the High Country Food Hub.
Ferrell said that orders increased by as much as seven times the normal volume from February through May of 2020.
“However, when stay-at-home orders ended, many customers found it hard to make it to the Food Hub’s downtown Boone location. We had significant interest in having more pickup locations outside of Boone, and so the idea of satellite locations hatched,” Ferrell said. “That’s when the Food Hub found support from the Golden LEAF Foundation and the Conservation Fund to purchase a delivery vehicle, hire additional staff and build out an additional walk-in cooler. Ashe County is a natural place for us to expand our delivery operations and will be our fourth satellite location to open since August 2021.”
The High Country Food Hub is operated by the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA), a women-led organization that builds an equitable, sustainable food system and offers new and exciting opportunities for farmers and consumers. The Food Hub operates year-round and is essentially an online farmers’ market where people can go online and order numerous locally-grown food and artisan products. Vendors are located within a 100-mile range of Boone.
“We offer a convenient system for locally-minded consumers to eat delicious, high-quality food grown and produced by their neighbors while strengthening the local food system. The best part is that customers can order local food each week online and pick it up at a convenient location near home,” Ferrell said.
In addition to the Boone and the new West Jefferson location, food orders can be picked up in Blowing Rock, Banner Elk and Vilas with possibly more locations to come later this year.
Many of the products available include vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, bread, goat cheese and milk, chocolate, locally roasted coffee, beauty products like soaps and lip balms and fermented foods like kimchi. Customers simply go online to the High Country Food Hub and shop for items Thursday through Monday and place an order that can be picked up on Wednesday from noon until 6 p.m. at the Food Hub located 252 Poplar Grove Road in Boone or from 4-6 p.m. at the Ashe County Public Library, located at 148 Library Road in West Jefferson. Thursday pickup locations are in Vilas from 12-2 p.m. at the High Country United Church of Christ located at 8235 US Highway 421 North, in Banner Elk from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the Western Youth Network office located at 2951 Tynecastle Highway and in Blowing Rock from 4-6 p.m. at the Blowing Rock Market, located at 990 Main Street. Orders must be placed by 11:59 p.m. Monday night.
The popularity for locally-sourced foods has continued to grow over the last few years, not only with consumers wanting these products, but also farmers and vendors using outlets like the High Country Food Hub to sell their products.
“We have seen extraordinary growth over the last few years as consumers turn to local food as a reliable and delicious source that supports our local economy. Local farmers are able to connect with consumers that couldn’t make it to a farmers’ market in the past and consumers are able to shop thousands of different kinds of locally-grown vegetables and meat products, eggs, cheese, mushrooms, bread, jams and more,” Ferrell said. “The producers and farmers we source from are spread throughout the area, ranging from Boone, Deep Gap, Fleetwood, Crumpler, and West Jefferson to Zionville, Happy Valley, Burnsville and beyond.”
Ferrell said that in 2020 and 2021, there were over 1,500 new customers that joined the FOod Hub, which helped lead to a total economic impact of the program locally to more than $1.7 million since 2017. Part of that economic boost comes from SNAP/EBT customers receiving a discount to shop locally.
“We think local food should be more accessible and affordable. The Food Hub is unique in that it offers a 50% discount for SNAP/EBT customers on qualifying products. Thanks to individual donors, churches, community foundations, and the Town of Boone, the Double Up Food Bucks Program has made local food more affordable for over 250 families in 2021, generating over $65,000 for area farmers this year alone,” Ferrell said.
The Food Hub is thankful for the many workers and volunteers that use their time to help unload trucks and put together food orders, as well as support from many local businesses and organizations that make everything they do possible.
“This work could not occur without the support of our community of farmers and producers, dedicated local food consumers, and strong partnerships including Watauga County, the Town of Boone, Watauga County Cooperative Extension, Carolina Farm Credit, the surrounding Chambers of Commerce (Boone Area, Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, and Ashe County Chambers), and funding organizations like the GoldenLEAF Foundation and Conservation Fund. Each week we are working together to support a resilient and healthy community. We hope more people, producers, and restaurants join us and spread the love of local in the High Country,” Ferrell said.
As a reminder, BRWIA also offers an in-person farmers’ market year-round. During the winter months, a Saturday morning market is open at the Food Hub in Boone inside the Agricultural Extension Conference Center, and in the spring, summer and fall months, a farmers’ market takes place on King Street in downtown Boone on Tuesday afternoons.
For additional information on the High Country Food Hub and how to order food, contact Katie Cavert Ferrell, BRWIA’s Satellite Program Coordinator, at [email protected].
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