Down on the farm sure looks like Up to me.

Doreen Jankowski didn’t start out to be a local food impresario. 18 years ago, she and her husband Pete moved from Massachusetts to Florida, then back up to her granddaddy’s land in Appalachia (making them “halfbacks” in the local parlance) where she started a big garden on her two acres. Pete was always complaining that he couldn’t find any hot sauce he liked, so Doreen started fooling around with applewood-smoked recipes packed with serranos and habanero peppers. She produced such good hot sauce, her friends started asking her for bottles of it, then their friends started asking for it, then Early Girl restaurant in Asheville fell in love with it, and Doreen figured she might have a business on her hands.

Now Fire from the Mountain is selling from between 500 to 2,000 bottles of hot sauce and salsa a month, and Doreen is up to her elbows in habaneros and cash.

Goat milk mama, Carol Coulter.

Carol & Lon Coulter got lured into local food production a bit differently. 18 years ago they fell in love with a big piece of land in Watauga County that was covered in prickly multiflora roses. Naturally, they bought 3 goats that love to eat those pesky bushes (accidentally, one turned out to be male), and before you could say reproduction, Lon & Carol had baby goats on their hands. So they started making goat ice cream, then goat yogurt, then goat cheese–and that turned out to be so damn good, they created a whole line of Heritage Homestead products. Today, they’re selling 150 pounds of gorgeous chevre, camenbert, blue and gouda cheeses a week –not to mention some phenomenally delicious dark chocolate goat cheese fudge.

Heritage Homestead’s beautiful blue.

Charles Church, one of the most influential farmers in the five-county area, began organic farming after the tobacco farm subsidies flamed out in 2004. He saw the potential for organic produce: “…where for the first time I could grow whatever I wanted, name my price, and get it.” He began to grow all kinds of vegetables on his farm and started a cooperative called East Coast Organics, and last  year, that group made $2.75 million in gorgeous organic sales. Despite the difficulties of farming – and as Charles can tell you, farming is a 100-hour a week, physically tough, demanding job that will teach you something new every day – Church and his wife Betty are skilled and successful; and as a true Farmer of Farmers, he spends hours reaching out to all the farmers around him to help them succeed, too.

Charles’s organic greenhouse where he raises seedlings to share with other farmers.

It’s these kind of folks that Heifer is investing in – and hoping to replicate – in its Seeds of Change initiative, concentrating on the agricultural part of producing local food as well as the enterprise side, helping local entrepreneurs with business plans and loans, production, marketing and distribution.

It starts with people like Doreen, Charles and Carol and continues with young kids in the Future Farmers of America at Johnson County High School who are raising 25,000 tilapia in their school science lab — and envisioning a future when they can make a living on their land. The local food movement in Appalachia is a beauty to behold (and eat!) but to Jeffrey Scott of Heifer, it also has the potential to save the health and jump-start the economy of this traditional farming area.

One sign of the times…

As Jeffrey would say, “Good food is good work.”

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Farming, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “Down on the farm sure looks like Up to me.

  1. Earth Ocean Sky Redux

    In my humble opinion, this post is what America is all about. People creating home spun businesses with their own two hands and hard work, bringing their passion for things natural, and their dedication to make it successful. It’s no easy task today so I salute these residents.

    PS: Can someone send me some of those gorgeous beets? My favorite!! mmmm.

    • Aren’t those beets incredible?? btw, saw some ORANGE beauties in the Green Market in Union Square last week — so it’s that time of year. I loved seeing all these beautiful small farm businesses in Appalachia and hope that the local food movement there (and everywhere) will give a lot more opportunity to small farmers … it’s such a win/win!!

  2. Kudos to these people and to you (of course) for bring their stories to us.

  3. Now I love goat cheese even more! 🙂 Great story!

  4. Looks like Heifer is doing great stuff in Appalachia! Imagine making goat milk ice cream. Bet that tastes yummy. Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Betty!

    • Kathryn, Know you have a special place in your heart for Appalachia … and yeah, ALL the cheese and fudge and chevre I tasted was DELISH!!!! (oink, oink!) xoxoxo b

  5. Anonymous

    So many organizations are doing great things for the poor and hungry in other “underdeveloped” countries – but it is exactly right here in our US that agricultural local activism is needed – not just with financial donations, but especially with the educational part Heifer works on. I am so glad to have found this Blog and the human stories in Heifer. Because of these stories and photos – making the Heifer efforts so real – my granddaughter of 9 plus her friends are now making money with lemonade so they can give a goat or a cow. They hope to donate it to some family in… the US.

    • That is such a great response… I’m totally forwarding it to the folks at Heifer!! I don’t really see any difference between responding to and trying to end poverty and hunger in developing countries and in America. People who are really struggling and want to work to feed their families and build community should get a hand, in my opinion. And Heifer’s programs promote independence and self reliance… which is the only way sustainable change happens!

      • Betty – Yes! No matter where on Earth is the need, it has to be taken care of….

        Small children, like my granddaughter and her friends, though, like to see the result of their activism right in front of them. For example – when these kids wanted to donate their lemonade money, they were looking around their own neighborhood. They see suffering – homelessness, hunger – right around them. They wanted to help, but realized that just giving money could be endless. They love (and have) small animals at home and see how wonderful it is to take care of them get eggs and milk from the animals right in their yard.

        What they like about Heifer is that they can actually give a sustainable gift, that may be thriving. They like to donate an animal because of the fact that indeed, this helps people become self-reliant. That’s why they are more attracted to giving a living gift. What they really were hoping for is, after they donate their animal(s), that they then could follow the animal and its caretaker; what the real use, growth, and benefits are of their donation – just like how you are going all over to see what is really happening with the donations.

        I realize that this would involve an enormous additional administrative workload for Heifer. However – if the children could just get the address of where their donated animal were going? They could write and share then with the owners of the animal, then perhaps even visit their place – if that were even desirable to the owners. That way the children would get way more involved by taking part of this whole process. Imagine how exited they would feel, taking a real part of helping solve the problem of hunger and being included in building community. How much more motivated they would be to inspire other kids to donate to Heifer (like their buddies at school).

        This would be perhaps something like what you are doing, except by and for children. Just as your Blog with actual images of the animals, vegetables, and the people has made my granddaughter and me so much more understanding of the problem than the Heifer website, approaching the children with some kind of Pen Pal possibility after they give their animal, would make their donation very real.

  6. Susan Bolick

    Woohoo! Thanks for mentioning Early Girl Eatery in Asheville. It’s right next to one of my favorite independent yarn shops, Purl’s Yarn Emporium, where they also showcase artists (spinners and dyers) and locally made products (yarn and fiber). It looks like I need to get back in to Early Girl to try some of that hot sauce. When you order To Go before you sit down to knit at Purl’s, those nice folks will even walk your food over.

    I’m enjoying your blog so much, Betty, and all the stories about the people you’ve met and the difference they’re making. Thank you for what you do!

    • Susan — I LOVE Early Girl, too — and even have a super cool t-shirt from there, courtesy of my friend Craig Silverman!! I didn’t realize the habanero sauce was Doreen’s but now I clearly have to go back and pour some over a whole plate of something delicious!! LOVE your local color…. xoxxo b

  7. I love that part of the world. Asheville is a very special place. Great food, artsy, good college bookstore, plus the scenary. I know the woman who runs the barn quilt project in the area you’ve covered. What an amazing journey you’ve been on!

  8. Meg, you are a linchpin connecting so many people in the quilting/fiber world!! Hope your book tour is going brilliantly… and yeah, I love Asheville, too. Limon … another super great restauarant!!

  9. Anonymous

    Again, inspired by your blog. Teaching organic farming is so important for the world also. We have so many areas, even in inter cities, where a block of land could produce so much food during the season. Our country especially needs to get back into the small owner business!! And Asheville is so inspiring for the arts. I will have to look for the Early Girl next time I am in the area.

  10. Martha Radatz

    Beautiful stories full of hope, thank you. A few years back, Heifer volunteers in our area partnered with 4-H. A farm animal was purchased for a young person to raise (who couldn’t afford to buy their own), and when it was auctioned at the county fair, the proceeds went to Heifer. This article has spurred me to contact local 4-H and FFA chapters and see how we can partner once again.

  11. I must say I didn’t think you were going to show us anything positive from Appalachia. I am so encouraged and heartened to read this post and learn that there are people like “Goat milk mama” Carol Coulter, Doreen Jankowski’s “Fire from the Mountain”, and that Charles Church would be so successful as an organic farmer!
    I’m with EOS in saluting these hard-working people!

    My favorite photos from the post are the portraits of the three farmers 🙂

  12. These are great stories and I love how you shared them (great pics too!). We need more of this here. Heifer does such fantastic work. Dark chocolate goat cheese fudge- I’ve got to try that!

  13. I’m with Rosie. This is a lovely positive post.

  14. Pingback: Suburban Homesteading – Raising and Preserving Sustainable Food | The Garden Diaries

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