By Savannah R. Watts
“I wish there were about a thousand more of these restaurants,” says 11-year-old Sarrah Kitchell while finishing her lunch at F.A.R.M. Café on King Street. Daughter of Megan Hayes and Michael Kitchell and fifth grader at Valle Crucis Elementary School, Sarrah did a math fair project titled “What Causes Hunger in My State? Effects of different variables on food insecurity” and was able to compete at the state level. For the month of June, Sarrah’s project will be on display at F.A.R.M. Café to demonstrate her findings for all visitors.
When asked what lead Sarrah to choosing this topic, she responded, “I like to think of myself as a conservationist.” This past year, she also created a science fair project about alternative energy processes. “I want to see what I can do to help people and the environment. I’m interested in world problems.” Sarrah believes there’s plenty of food to go around—the same mindset that F.A.R.M. Café has.
F.A.R.M. Café (Feed All Regardless of Means) is a non-profit restaurant in its seventh year of service in the High Country. Renee Boughman, Executive Chef, was introduced to the idea of this type of restaurant in 2009, where she then left her job as a fine-dining chef to come work at F.A.R.M. Café. The restaurant operates mostly on the help of volunteers and provides food to visitors based upon a suggested donation. The restaurant also has a token system that can act as a gift certificate that many people pay with as well.
“Our first thought was that this was kind of a ridiculous model. That you would have a place where people could pay what they wanted to, and that you would have volunteer labor, and that you would serve high quality food that was local seemed pretty crazy to me,” says Renee Boughman. Renee says they spent three years doing the same kind of research that Sarrah did for her project. “[This model] invites everyone to eat a good meal with dignity.”
When Bruce Steinberg, member of F.A.R.M. Café’s Board of Directors, was looking to relocate his life a few years ago he chose to move to Boone because of F.A.R.M. Café and the community supporting it. “When I was looking at areas for my next phase of life, this came on my radar. I came in here and my thinking was, ‘I want to live in a community that this concept can exist.’ And, that’s why I moved here.” He blames it on his “60s generation” mindset, but clearly children like Sarrah are seeing the need for concepts like this as well.
Sarrah’s original idea was to learn more about food waste and falls in line with F.A.R.M. Café’s “Full Circle Full Recovery Program.” Sarrah’s mom Megan says, “She got involved by trying to figure out where all the food was.” F.A.R.M. Café recovers food that restaurants, farmers, or grocery stores don’t find “good enough” to sell but are still usable and in good quality.
The Full Circle Food Recovery Program puts together a “food box” for people at a suggest donation that harvests produce that was going to be wasted. Elena Dalton, F.A.R.M. Full Circle Food Recovery Program Coordinator, explains the program saying, “There’s about 40% of food that grown or produced for human consumption in the United States gets wasted every year, and about 1 in 5 people that experience food insecurity every day.” She says Full Circle is about finding innovative ways to find the food before it gets thrown away for being “the wrong size, the wrong thing, or having too much ordered.”
They also just started preparing meal kits that utilize this food and provide recipes alongside them. These kits help victims of food insecurity while cutting out preparation time, but still allowing people to feel empowered by cooking the meal for themselves. “It’s like the old saying, ‘teaching someone to fish’ rather than just giving them one,” says Elena of the Full Circle Food Recovery Program. Sarrah responds excitedly about the Food Circle program will a mouthful of cookie saying, “That’s brilliant.”
Sarrah’s project evaluates sixteen different variables and compares them to the relative populations of different regions. A piece of her project states, “Though they often do go hand-in-hand, poverty is just one of the several issues tied to hunger, unemployment, household assets, and even demographics also make it difficult to access nutritious foods.” Sarrah hopes to come volunteer with F.A.R.M. Café in the near future and the restaurant hopes to be able to use her data for grants or to demonstrate the needs of the area. Sarrah hopes to be a librarian, but wants to continue to make a difference in the world by addressing needs of the “world problems” she cares about.
Sarrah’s project will be on display at F.A.R.M Café for the remainder of the month of June. F.A.R.M. Café is located at 617 W. King Street, Boone, NC 28607 and is open for lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday-Friday.