Taking Our Local Food on the Road
By Jonnah Mellenthin Perkins | Photos By Jonnah Mellenthin Perkins 0
When I started farming 8 years ago, I knew my life would never be the same. I would be challenged physically and mentally in ways that I had not experienced in my 25 years. One challenge that I was unprepared for was the staggering commitment of the growing season. A vegetable farmer’s life is rich in many ways: an unlimited supply of fresh produce, a deep connection with the seasons and the earth, and most of all, the satisfaction of doing something meaningful. But we are bound to the land and the rigorous schedule that is vegetable production from early spring through fall with no more than a long weekend to breathe.
I started working for my husband’s family farm knowing perfectly well that I was buying into the full lifestyle that came with the farm. Staying close to our home base for most of the year is a reality that is not always easy to accept, yet the tradeoff is an enviable flexibility during the coldest months. Our winter work involves catching up on projects, managing our seed potato business, and planning for the next CSA season. This leaves time for getting off the farm for extended periods of time in the winter months.
In third week of November I woke up in the second story loft of a log cabin in northwest North Carolina. I felt the full weight of the farming off-season embrace me like the heavy wool blanket I was nestled under. As I lie there looking at the autumn foliage out of the small bedroom window, my first thought was what should we eat today? In preparing for our trip to the Appalachian Mountains a great deal of thought was put into our food packing list. When you grow all of your own vegetables and produce your own beef and pork, it’s absurd not to bring it with you on vacation.
This is the beauty of driving to your destinations. You can pack heavy with not only with the food you love, but also the pans and knives you use in your own kitchen. On our list: T-bone steaks from our pastured steers, pork chops from our Red Wattle hogs, beets, potatoes, onions, celeriac, leek, sweet potatoes, winter radish, pumpkin, carrots, and collard greens. The day before we hit the road, I stopped into Conscious Carnivore to pick up some pork sausage from StoneHaus Farm, and pay a visit to my old friend Dave, the gregarious lead butcher. He sent me home with 4 styles of sausage and a fresh lamb heart to add to our road trip food bounty.
I walked down the creaky wooden steps on that first morning in our mountain cabin and started a fire in the fireplace. My husband, Jesse, and our two little ones were still asleep upstairs so I decided to start planning out our day. Explore the Appalachian Trail, make lamb heart for lunch, go fishing, grill steaks and roast root vegetables for dinner. That was the extent of my list. I felt an uncanny void where the usual preoccupation with farm business and concerns of daily life reside within me.
Once the rest of my family woke up, our little home filled with buzzing energy. The big farm style table in the middle of the one room cabin was strewn with hot coffee, trail maps, and our favorite breakfast. Jesse made his richly spiced Pumpkin Pancakes from the pie pumpkins we had harvested in late September (get the recipe here!). The air hung heavy with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. It became clear that our day would not move forward in any hurry and that was just what we had driven all this way to achieve.
We travel all over the country with our farmerly winter freedom, and this being our third stay at this cabin in Hot Springs, North Carolina, puts us in a state of utter repose and engages us solely on being together as a family. It’s a half mile from the banks of the French Broad River, the third oldest river in the world, even older than the Appalachian Mountains through which it flows. Jesse and I take turns having long, solo trail running adventures on the steep, craggy Appalachian Trail and get back in time to help prepare our next meal.
On our last night in our quaint cabin, we made a feast from our curation of Wisconsin vegetables and meats: sweet potato fries, grilled pork sausages, and a root vegetable salad of Ruby Heart radish, carrot, and celeriac in a vinaigrette. We ate slowly and deliberately as we watched the sun go down over the hills that rose steeply outside of our cabin windows.
Our time away from home and from the farm gave me permission to indulge in the vastness of the off-season and the clarity to put singular focus on the food on our plates. We needed to get away, but not from our food.