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Dinner In The Gap, Dedicated To Recently Deceased State Ag Leaders, Raises Over $13,000 for F.A.R.M Café

By Sherrie Norris 

In its second year of “bridging the gap” between local agriculture and growers, consumers, top-notch chefs and the community, in general, Dinner in the Gap was a huge success on Sunday evening, July 30. 

Hosted by BFR Meats on a tract of the Blake Brown family farm on Hwy. 421, in Deep Gap, the celebration brought together approximately 300 farmers, friends, food industry leaders and supporters from the mountains to the coast.

The farm-to-table gala has become an annual statewide collaborative with special emphasis on the High Country; a live auction with proceeds topping $13,000 for F.A.R.M. Café in Boone exceeded last year’s total by about $5,000. 

Renee Boughman addresses patrons and sponsors during the second annual Dinner in the Gap, explaining the mission of  F.A.R.M. Café and expressing gratitude for the event’s support. Photo by Sherrie Norris 

The picturesque setting, with David Tucker’s Christmas Tree Farm in the nearby fields, provided a perfect backdrop for the event with well-known industry leaders in attendance.

This year’s gala was dedicated to the memory of two great leaders in agriculture, both of whom had just passed away the week prior. Tommy Bunn was a guiding force in the tobacco industry, having served as president of the U.S. Tobacco Cooperative after a 21-year career as executive vice president of the Leaf Tobacco Exporters Association and Tobacco Association of the U.S. He served as deputy director and acting director of the Agricultural Marketing Service Tobacco Division for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and served under Commissioner Jim Graham with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He was currently serving as a consultant to the tobacco industry. Jerome Vick, described as an “agricultural icon,” was a leader in both the tobacco and sweet potato industries worldwide; he and his wife, Diane, established Vick Family Farms in 1975, expanding a successful operation from 25 acres to over 9,000 in nearly 50 years. He was known for his giving nature and his quick-witted responses. Daniel Brown spoke of the men as “influential men, class acts” who will be greatly missed across North Carolina.

Blake Brown, who recently retired after a 30-plus year career as an economist with NC State University, worked closely with both men through the years and had this to say: “ Tommy and Jerome were great leaders in agriculture and terrific advocates for farmers. Jerome was a great farmer, too. One his many memorable quotes was, ‘You can’t plow it out in the sunshine if you can’t pencil it out in the shade.” Bunn, and his wife, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, were on the guest list and had been expected to attend Dinner in the Gap. 

A Culinary Journey With Lisa Prince

Lisa Prince, Executive Director of  NC Egg Association, narrated the five-course culinary journey during the event, with food donated by local growers and prepared by some of the area’s most notable chefs.

“Lisa is a true asset to North Carolina agriculture,” said Michelle Grainger, NC Sweetpotato Commission’s Executive Director, who was in attendance. “She breathes a fresh breath of air into everything she does.” And that, she did.

Prince’s dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment to promoting North Carolina agriculture have made her an invaluable asset to the community, and a true champion for farmers and consumers alike.

When asked to share a few words about Dinner in the Gap, Prince responded: “The North Carolina Egg Association was honored to participate in and be one of the many sponsors of Dinner in the Gap.  As Executive Director for the NC Egg Association and a former television host/producer for Flavor, NC, I was asked to help MC this evening about community, giving back, and the importance of NC agriculture. I experienced the NC mountain community giving of their time and resources to support F.A.R.M Café and its purpose; Feed All Regardless of Means as well as their support and love for the director and chef. I was delighted and proud to see so many from the NC Agriculture community from across the state there to show their support for the Brown family and what they are creating here. I am always honored to participate in any event that includes my colleagues.” 

Prince concluded by saying, “Farmers and the agricultural community want to give back to their communities with events like Dinner in the Gap, donating to food bank, schools, churches, civic and non-profit organizations financially and by helping with food. Farmers have a history of helping to build strong communities across North Carolina and this tradition continues today. Dinner in the Gap is just another example of that.”

Among other special guests, in addition to Grainger, representing the NC SweetPotato Commission, (the event’s major sponsor) were board members, Kim Kornegay LeQuire and Johnny Barnes. Also attending were Zane Hedgecock, Program Director NC Dept. Agriculture; Bryan Blinson, Executive Director NC Cattlemen’s Association, NC Senator Lisa Barnes and  former NC Senator and current contender for the NC Lt. Governor’s seat, Deanna Ballard. Representing NC Farm Bureau were Jay Boyette, Commodities Director, Linda Andrews, Federal Legislative Director, Debbie Hambrick, Specialty Crops Director, Kathy Bostrom, Public Relations Director, and Lee Rankin, Director Watauga County Farm Bureau. Watauga County’s Agriculture Extension Director, Jim Hamilton, was also present.

Parker Phillips, beloved auctioneer and poet, provided an impressive recitation once again of an original poem, and led a lively auction with generously donated items to benefit F.A.R.M. Café.

Daniel Brown, who with his family, hosts Dinner in the Gap, mingles with guests at the farm-to-table gala while enjoying a locally-produced Simple Water. Photo by Sherrie Norris

Meet the Chefs

The dinner showcased local chefs, including Kyle Martin, current executive chef at Cafe Violette in Blowing Rock, and  his wife, Sunshine Martin, who with their business partner, Catherine Thomas, own and operate Cafe Violette. Together, the dynamic husband and wife duo has established a well-respected reputation as great chefs and business owners in the area who go the extra mile. 

Michael Armes, general manager of the three restaurants in the High Country owned by Tina Houston, also brought his expertise to the table. With an invaluable work history alongside some of the nation’s top chefs, Armes has worked in some of the area’s most renowned eateries, including Hound Ears and The Inn at Little Pond.

Tina Houston, easily recognized in and around the High Country, has had a significant impact upon the success of Dinner in the Gap since its inception. In promoting the event, Daniel Brown was on the mark in saying, “It’s almost impossible to talk about any food scene in the Boone and Banner Elk  area without including Tina Houston.”

Houston has been at the forefront of  local cooking in the High Country since she began Reid’s Catering in 1999. It’s been said that her enthusiasm for beautiful product, trust of the diners to go on a culinary journey with her, and her love of place, have inspired a growing team that now encompasses Reids Catering, Reid’s Cafe, The Beacon Butcher Bar, and Betty’s Biscuits. Whatever she touches seems to prove that being socially conscious and committed to good food and good people can be delicious.

An extraordinary group of sous chefs and servers proved to be icing on the cake, with food prep and delivery carried out with utmost talent and skill.

The cocktail hour, featuring locally-brewed and distilled beverages, was enhanced with the first-course appetizers presented in unique charcuterie fashion by Matt and Paula Ferguson and staff from The Scarlet Hen Catering, using all locally-grown/NC food items, as were included in the successive offerings of hors d’oeuvres, the main course, sides and dessert.

Natives to the area, the husband and wife team founded Scarlett Hen Catering  six years ago and quickly became a huge success.  Focusing on real food cooked by real people, Scarlett Hen is one of the premier caterers of northwestern NC.

Among the special guests at the 2023 Dinner in the Gap are from left: 
Lisa Prince, Executive Director of  NC Egg Association, Deanna Ballard former NC Senator and current contender for the seat of NC Lt. Governor, Bryan Blinson,  Executive Director NC Cattlemen’s Association and Michelle Grainger, Executive Director NC Sweetpotato Commission. Photo by Sherrie Norris 

More About Bridging the Gap

Speaking on behalf of F.A.R.M. Café was its longtime director, Renee Boughman, who expressed gratitude for the café’s inclusion, once again, as recipient of the auction funds and for the continued support of local food purveyors. 

Boughman specifically mentioned Daniel Brown and his family’s ongoing support of F.A.R.M. Café, and others who have helped  provide nutritional meals to all who enter —regardless of their ability to pay. 

Boughman shared with her audience a brief history of F.A.R.M. Café, and how it started as a pay-what-you-can restaurant to serve the area’s unmet hunger needs, while strengthening High Country community relationships, as a whole. Providing  high quality and delicious meals produced from local sources, served in a restaurant where “everybody eats with dignity, regardless of means” is what F.A.R.M. Café is all about, she said.  “Anybody can be down on their luck in life, but they still have a right to have a decent meal and be surrounded by a community that cares.” Boughman shared how about 17,000 meals, averaging around $8.72 each, were served last year, alone. She elaborated on partnerships within the High Country and how the café collaborates with other nonprofits, businesses and individuals. 

She stressed that  it would not be possible without the continued support and contributions, both financially and in food supply, of the High Country community.” She noted that 95 percent of the food used at the café is purchased, with about $25,000 a year spent on locally grown food.

“We are thankful for this community and all you do for F.A.R.M. Café and helping us serve with dignity.”

In addressing his guests, Daniel Brown expressed his appreciation for everyone in attendance, recognizing the sponsors and their contributions to the event and agriculture, in general. 

 Live entertainment throughout the event was provided by Danny Whittington and Friends of Boone. 

Welcome bags containing small gifs, including sweetpotatoes, beef jerky, recipe cards, and other sponsor-related mementos were given to each attendee.

Sponsors and their products for the event included the following:

NC Sweetpotato Commission, NC Egg Association, Carolina Cooker Breeo, Wildlife Unlimited, The Festive Elk, Vincent Properties, Mast General Store, New River Corn Maze, Corbetts Produce, Mountaineer Dental, Sawtooth Farms, Watauga Co Farm Bureau, Boos Block NC Cattlemen’s Association.

Charcuterie Table Partners: Ashe County Cheese, BFR Meats,  Goodnight_Brothers, Toots and Branches Asheville, Lusty Monk Mustard, Hidden Happiness Bee Farm, Corbetts Produce, Shiners Stash Jerky, Cackalacky, Bertie County Peanuts 

Hors D’oeuvres Partners:

NC Sweetpotatoes, BFR Meats, Diamond Shoal Shrimp, Carolina Cooker ATG Farm, Café Violette, Sunhine Cove Farm,  Tide Water Grain Co. Southern Breeze Seafood, Cackalacky, Caroina Gold Oil, Between The Trees Bread 

Salad Partners:

BFR Meats, Barbee Farms, NC Sweetpotatoes, Ansonmills, Fishel Farm, Cheek Farmstead Creamery

 Main Course

BFE Meats, NC Sweetpotatoes, Laughing Springs Farm, Bluff_View_Farms, Sunshine Cove Farm

 Desert

Café Violette, Titan Farms, Cheek Farmstead Creamery, Little Creek Market NC, Sunshine Cove Farm 

Beverages:

 Simple Water, Linville Falls Winery, Parallel Brew Co, NC  Sweetpotato,  Fainting Goat Spirits, Blue Ridge Mule, Devils Foot Brew, Edmundson Gin & Tonics, Sutlers Spirit Co., Tiny Cat Vodka.

A Little More About The Brown Farm Family

Brown Farm Ridge/ BFR Meats, is part of the Brown family farm, committed to quality and integrity since 1942 when patriarch, RV Brown, began his mountain top farm. The family’s history and values continue today upon that firm foundation the elder Brown laid over eight decades ago. Meats at BFR are inspected by the USDA and processed by a certified butcher, using the “one animal at a time” method by hand. The farm’s custom ration of alternative grains develops layers of flavor within the meat to ensure consumers enjoy a satisfying dining experience every time. And the return customers, including fine-dining establishments across the High Country and beyond, prove that BFR delivers what they promise. 

In addition to their farm location east of Boone, BFR products are available at Corbett’s Produce in Deep Gap.

To learn more about BFR, Dinner in the Gap and how you and your food/agricultural-based business can support the 2024 event, visit  bfrmeats.com or call 828-406-2253.