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F.A.R.M. Café Looking for More Ways to Help Deal With Hunger Problems in the High Country

By Nathan Ham

The F.A.R.M. Café on King Street continues to do everything they can to eliminate hunger in the High Country.

The non-profit café has made an impact in the area from the first day the doors opened in 2012. The F.A.R.M. Café offers delicious lunches that include using several local sources for the meals and operates almost entirely with volunteers. The abbreviation stands for Feed All Regardless of Means.

Patrons get a quality lunch and pay what they can, or volunteer for an hour each day to cover the cost of their meal.

Now the F.A.R.M. Café is working on taking that next step to be able to feed even more people in the High Country by partnering with area farmers and food providers to reduce food waste and provide access to fruits and vegetables year-round.

That’s where food recovery coordinator Elena Dalton comes in. Through a Resourceful Communities Grant, she has been picked to lead the efforts in saving food and helping provide better food selections to people in the High Country regardless of income.

“The way we’re going to do that is by recovering any excess produce from our network of local farmers, community gardens, small grocers, anybody that might have food that is in danger of going to waste,” Dalton said. “Any excess produce can come to us, we’ll bring it in to the F.A.R.M. Café, prepare it here in our kitchen and then redistribute that out.”

Dalton said there are numerous ways to be able to keep these foods from going to waste and to be able to repurpose it back into the community.

“Some things we have in mind are dehydrated goods, canned goods and we can also do frozen meals. We have this amazing kitchen that is only utilized during lunch service Monday through Friday so anytime outside of that, in the evenings or on the weekends, we have this space at our disposal that is fully federally and state certified so we’re going to be able to do our production here at the café,” Dalton said.

According to Dalton, one out of every five people in Watauga County is food insecure, meaning that they are not sure where they’re going to get their meals from. This program will hopefully help change that.

“This community is the perfect place to do this because you have so many generous people that live here and we have this amazing network of local farmers and gardeners, people who are really interested in food security and food security issues,” said Dalton. “There are a lot of moving parts to this program, it’s going to take a lot of collaboration and partnerships with all kinds of different community organizations and we’re establishing those right now.”

Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture is offering storage space for the F.A.R.M. Café at the Food Hub located at the Watauga County Cooperative Extension Agriculture Center to store the fruits and vegetables that the café does not have room for. The café is also working on grants to able to have more refrigerator and freezer units to store the food without having to take up more resources of other generous organizations.

In the future, Dalton said that they would like to see the program grow be able to partner with Appalachian State University and Caldwell Community College to make the program even stronger.

“We want to start this program small and strong and then expand as we are able and as our capacity allows,” Dalton said. “We’re shooting to start accepting donations in April and anticipate we will start producing in some bulk later on in the growing season. It’s all going to be dependent on who wants to partner with us and what produce we receive each week.”

There will be a meeting on Thursday with area food providers and agencies to get an idea of who will be interested in partnering with the F.A.R.M. Café in this venture.

“We really do want to develop this program so that it’s mutually beneficial for our agency and the agencies that we work with,” Dalton said.

Since the F.A.R.M. Café is a 501 c 3 non-profit, almost all of the operating costs are funded by donations of those that come in for lunch. The rest of the costs are covered by fundraising campaigns and events as well as local sponsorships from businesses, private contributions and grants.

One of those events coming up is F.A.R.M. Café’ Fifth Annual Real Good Party on Thursday, March 29 at Boone Saloon from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. Tickets are $25 per person and $15 for students. There will be a cash bar, food, raffles, games and dance music by Soul Benefactor. Tickets can be purchased at the F.A.R.M. Café or at eventbrite.farmcafe.org.

The F.A.R.M. Café serves lunch from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. each day, Monday through Friday. For more information, visit their website at www.farmcafe.org.