Even though the semester is over for Dr. Wendy Winn’s Seminar in Professional Writing, it is no less important to acknowledge the hard work that each of them put in to writing feature articles about local nonprofit organizations in the High Country. With the help of High Country Press, the student in Dr. Winn’s class learned not only how to interview someone, but also how to use that interview and information gathered to create a wonderful article that benefits multiple audiences. The sixth out of the seven in the series is written by Taylor Hawkins, and it centers around the F.A.R.M. Café that everyone in the community knows and loves.
F.A.R.M. Café Asks: What Difference Will You Make in Your Community?
By Taylor Hawkins
Would it matter if you no longer existed? Would it make a difference if you weren’t here?
Who would miss you?
In a town booming with nonprofits, small businesses and local restaurants, these are the key questions Tommy Brown, F.A.R.M Cafe’s volunteer coordinator, feels nonprofits should be asking themselves. With 120 nonprofits in Boone, Brown feels the restaurant is not only functioning, but has integrated with the other agencies and the community.
“F.A.R.M Café would be missed in this community now if it didn’t exist,” said Brown. “It would leave a significant hole, not only on King Street but generally in the community, and that’s one indication that we’re doing one what we say we’re going to do, especially in regards to being an inclusive community that welcomes all regardless of means. Plus, we serve really good food.”
F.A.R.M Café is a nonprofit restaurant that aims to ‘Feed All Regardless of Means,” as its acronym states. You can find it nestled between Boone Belle’s and Artwalk on King Street. Its major difference between other local restaurants is that the price you pay for your meal is not set. Patrons are able to pay for their meals in the following ways: with more or less than the suggested donation depending on their ability, exchanging tokens that are used as meal currency or working for an hour. The café aims to be able to provide a meal for anyone who wants or needs one.
Opening its doors in 2012 after a three-year planning phrase, F.A.R.M Café is now in its fifth year of business. During those years, the restaurant has built a consistent base of more than 600 ready-to-work volunteers, secured grants and held many different fundraisers to keep the restaurant a running success. The organization operates with two full-time employees and a handful of part-time employees, and relies heavily on the 15-20 daily volunteers that make up most the work force as well as walk-ins who come to work for their meals.
Brown, one of the two full time employees, began his work with the café in the early part of its operation. After working with campus ministry and starting Third Place in the same year that F.A.R.M cafe opened, Brown began eating lunch at the café regularly. He fell in love with the concept and was invited to be on the board for the organization. Soon after, he saw an opportunity to begin working with the organization and asked to become the volunteer coordinator, as well as working with development, marketing and cooking.
“I really believe in and am passionate about what we do here,” he said. “I think my whole career and everything I’ve been involved in, all of the things I’ve tried to do, is to create and facilitate community; and this place does it as well, if not better, than any place I’ve ever worked and been a part of. We do community really well here.”
The key to this sense of community is its overall mission and its genuine desire to have people leave better off than when they first walked in. F.A.R.M Cafe was extremely intentional in finding its own gap and purpose as a nonprofit. It not only strives to satisfy that purpose, but to avoid straying from it by truly focusing on its goals. Brown said that even though there are other aspects that the café could address and other needs it could try to meet, Boone already has nonprofits that cover most of them. He feels that it is more effective for the organization to stick to its core mission, rather than trying to spread itself too thin and miss the mark.
“It’s pretty effective in what we seek to do in serving real good food, creating real good community and welcoming everybody.” he said. “It feels like home.”
One of F.A.R.M Café’s other missions is to break down the barriers that often stand between people in the community and to dismantle the soup kitchen stereotype. “A lot of what perpetuates poverty and food insecurity is the isolation of it. It’s that people who are homeless tend to be grouped and segmented in our community” Through F.A.R.M Cafe’s efforts and community kitchen model, “people are able to see themselves different and therefore make different choices and feel they have more opportunities,” Brown said. “It happens slow, but it happens. Inclusive community is an important part of the mission, not only feeding people but making people feel welcome.”
The people behind F.A.R.M. Café are able to witness it working firsthand in the restaurant through different communities being brought together and sharing one space.
“We see people talking to one another, we see people connecting with groups of people that they wouldn’t normally be,” said Brown.
F.A.R.M café extends its belief in community through its partnership with other nonprofits within townand its token exchange program. The café raises money to compensate for tokens that can be exchanged for meals, and then distributes the meal voucher symbols to organizations such as Hospitality House, the Hunger and Health Coalition and OASIS. It also hosts a few popup programs in which it goes out and to feed people with Western Watauga Food Outreach and various other organizations within Boone.
The café’s work wouldn’t be possible without the support of the people within the community. Brown says the best way to contribute is to ‘Come eat and be a part of it, to participate.’
Beyond that, people can contribute by volunteering at F.A.R.M Café, donating “above and beyond” and coming to fundraising events.
Students have a unique way to get involved in the organization, too, by joining the F.A.R.M Café Student club on Appalachian State’s campus. The club works on promotion for the organization, as well as informing people about food insecurity.
Within Boone’s relatively large community, Brown explained that 31 percent of those people are under poverty line, that 25 percent of primary school students receive free lunches and 25 percent of college students experience some food insecurity. F.A.R.M Café works not only to reveal these problems, but also show a way in which it can be address through the cafe’s model.
Brown and his team at F.A.R.M. Café look forward to the organization’s growth and have been able to contribute to the establishment of similar restaurants in other parts of the region, like One Acre Café in Johnson City, Tennessee and A Plate at the Table in Raleigh. Other locations on the radar for similar places are Asheville, Charlotte, Durham and Winston-Salem.
If you would like to show your support or be a part of F.A.R.M café, you can stop in for lunch during business hours between 11 a.m and 2 p.m. You can also visit its website at farmcafe.org in order to sign up to volunteer and help serve the people (80 per day on average) who come by to eat.
Whether you’re there to eat, to help feed or a combination of the two, F.A.R.M café will appreciate having you.
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