Sunday, October 4, 2009

Foodtopian Society

Asheville, North Carolina > Land of Sky > Foodtopian Society . . . the name may change but it is all the same great spot. Yes, this is a great locale for many many reasons, but this particular time let’s talk about the local slow food movement. I’m not even taking the time to discuss the region’s cuisine or even its incredible local restaurants at this point – way too much to cover for now. But to look at why Asheville has become known as the world’s first Foodtopian Society.

I know what you’re thinking! What the heck is a Foodtopian Society? Its Asheville – is the shortest answer that I can give you. A little more detail to fill in the blank looks that I would be getting if we were talking in person is what you want at this point. Asheville, North Carolina – the world’s first Foodtopian Society is a community that has come together with all aspects of the food chain to create a synergized kinship. This kinship is the model for phrases like: Farm to Table, Slow Food Movement, etc. We not only embody this approach to life and food but we love to talk about it as well! To share this concept is like sharing a bond with someone you just met – the excitement of a great new friend who loves to hear what you have to say and vice versa.

And that is exactly what I want to do, share this bond with you. First of all, no one truly planned this; it came about because of like-minded people from different back grounds all fell in love with Asheville. Asheville itself draws something out of people – call it creativity, joy of life or inspiration – it stimulates us. So you take Peter Marks who runs the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) or Mark Rosenstein who opened The Market Place restaurant or Jamie Ager who owns and operates Hickory Nut Gap Farm or Jeff Piccirillo who is the Executive Director of Food & Beverage at The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa or Michel Baudouin, owner of Bouchon bistro, who is one of the founders of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association (AIR). Each of these individuals approached his life / job / career from different backgrounds and mindsets – yet each one contributed to developing Asheville as a Foodtopian Society. It wasn’t their goal, but because they were willing to work together and promote each other, they made it happen.

Because so many men and women have been willing to work together and to support each other, we have an incredible organism for sustainable agriculture in our region. Restaurants and individuals willing to buy products from local farmers; local farmers willing to not just work their farm but to nourish local farmer’s markets; local volunteers and non-profits willing to generate the backbone of this system and local government willing to endorse and advocate for it.

We have dedicated farmers in this area that insist on a standard for their products that make them sought after in the food industry. Building on that ASAP works to promote the farmers’ products, bring farmers and restaurants together and assist farmers in being better business people. There are 17 active farmer’s markets in the area giving an outlet for individuals to purchase local products. Also, we have several committed grocery stores that insist on offering local products making access that much easier for all of us. Many of our local restaurants and Chefs insist on using local products and building relationships with the local farmers to ensure they maintain these products on the menus. Organizations like AIR encourage and foster the affiliation with local farmers and goods, promoting them and working with them. Bring all this together with collaboration from the City of Asheville, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau to advocate and publicize all of it. The most recent alliance with social media has taken the message and given it a platform on the web.

Yes, this is my part in it and merely a brief introduction into our Foodtopian Society. The sad ingredient is that you can’t taste it from this screen. You can however, get off your duff and visit Asheville or check out some of the embedded websites so you can learn more about us. It is worth the time.


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