By Jessica Isaacs and Emily Willis
Photos by Jessica Isaacs
Whatever your thoughts on the power of social media, this story proves that beautiful things can happen when we’re connected to our family, to our friends and to our community. It’s the story of one person’s Facebook post, one family’s heart for service and one awesome day at F.A.R.M. Café.
Established in 2012, F.A.R.M. Café is a nonprofit, volunteer operated restaurant that exists to “Feed All Regardless of Means.” Diners are invited to pay what they can for their food, whether it’s all, less than or none of the suggested price per plate.
The majority of restaurant goers pay full price, and many pay more to help cover the costs of those who cannot pay. Those who can’t afford the full price are also given the opportunity to volunteer one hour of their time in exchange for a meal.
Last year, local resident Susie Long, a frequent flier at the café, shared information about the restaurant and its concept online with her out-of-state relatives.
“One day, I shared an article on F.A.R.M. Café on my Facebook,” she explained. “Immediately, my family started saying, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ ‘Oh, I love that.’ ‘Oh, I want to come help F.A.R.M. Café.’”
Inspired by what they have been hearing since then, the clan pulled together two months ago and planned a special trip to Boone. Long’s cousin, Steve Pariso from Boca Raton, Florida, organized the trip and planned for the group to volunteer at the café on Friday.
“Steven decided to get friends and family together. He and his family and a couple other people flew in last night,” said Long. “Others drove in from Nashville, Flat Rock — from all over the place — just to volunteer here today at F.A.R.M. Café.”
Making a Difference
Other members of the volunteer group included Noyes Capehart, Connie McSwain, Ron Rogers, Daniel Connor Brock, Barbara Bakich, Steve Bakich, Trevor Bakich, Tiffany Bakich, Rachel Durchslag and Vanessa Costillo, as well as Pariso’s wife, Shauna, and their to children.
McSwain traveled from Flat Rock, North Carolina to participate.
“It’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing here and it’s bringing folks from all different backgrounds together,” she said. “Our hope is that folks will see that we came to volunteer and that others will want to do the same, just to give back to the community.”
Durchslag rode her Harley in from Asheville this morning to join the team.
“I used to live in Chicago and I worked at a restaurant that served homeless people, and it helped me realize how important it is to have the community and that food and community can be a journey into healing for many people,” she said. “So, when I learned that there was a similar program here, I was really excited to help. I love that there is a blending of people who are living unstably and stably, because I think it’s important to bring all these people together.”
Brock, a Boca Raton resident, said his goal in life is to start something similar to F.A.R.M. Café in another community.
“I’ve always had a passion for food and helping people. Everyone deserves to eat,” he said. “Last year, I went out and helped people down in our area that aren’t able to feed themselves. I don’t care what their situations are, everyone deserves to eat.”
A Lasting Impact
The group of 15 spent the day preparing for and serving the restaurant’s customers, then sat down for lunch after several hours in the kitchen. Following their work, the family had a surprise for the café and its executive chef, Renee Boughman.
As the crowd gathered around Boughman and the Rev. Tommy Brown, F.A.R.M. Café’s volunteer coordinator, Pariso shared about what motivated the family to be there:
“We know that 22 percent of this county’s residents live at or below poverty. We know that 35 percent of those below the poverty line don’t qualify for government assistance, and that one in six people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. One in four kids don’t know if they’re going to get dinner tonight or tomorrow. We’re super honored to be here with you guys — incredibly. We were so excited when we heard about you and we’ve been watching you. We all came from Tennessee, Alabama, from Florida and from right here in North Carolina.”
Pariso’s five-year-old twins, Andrew and Sophia, brought their piggy banks along and donated their savings to the café.
“I want to give them money so everyone can have healthy meals. Everyone in the world, actually,” Andrew said. “Meals are a lot more important than buying toys.”
Soon after, Pariso handed a card to Boughman with another special gift: a $30,000 donation to F.A.R.M. Café.
“You have no idea how much that means to us and how many people this will feed and how many people this will take care of,” Boughman said. “This is absolutely amazing.”
The Parisos and company have also decided to contribute to the café’s renovation project by sponsoring 15 chairs, as well as eight tables in honor or memory of the following family members:
- L.B. “Dick” and Inez Connor
- Bud McSwain
- Nannette Tribble & Zelma Bakich
- Robert B Mayer & Robert N Mayer
- Jack Pariso
- Carl “Marvin” and Delores Connor
- Stephen A Vineberg
- Ken Zacharias
“It’s rare for me to say this, but I’m kind of speechless,” Boughman responded. “I just want y’all to know, this means so much to the café and to our community. You have no idea … that amount of money, the support, just having you here is phenomenal.”
Long and her family members hope that their story will encourage groups, organizations and families in the High Country and beyond to spend some time lending a hand at F.A.R.M. Café.
“If your family comes up to visit the mountains and they want to know what you’re going to do, just put this on your itinerary,” she said. “Every family and all their friends can make a difference, not only with money, but with time and commitment.
“There are people who just can’t afford to eat. It’s very important that we all look at everybody as our friends and acquaintances and not make any difference between those who pay and those who can’t, and that’s the whole concept.”
The donated funds will be transferred to the café through a private charitable fund based in Florida that’s dedicated to improving lives of people in various communities.
“I have to tell everyone who has a group or organization, we have had the greatest time and you need to come out here,” Pariso said. “The food is delicious and the people are fantastic. Just pick up your phone and call Rev. Tommy. It’s fantastic volunteering and we’ve had the greatest time ever.”
Visit farmcafe.org to learn more about the restaurant and its mission and watch for an in-depth feature story in the next edition of High Country Magazine, which will hit the streets in early October.