Category Archives: Mill Spring Ag Center

Restoring the Family Table 1.2

Lunch consisted of a Brined Turkey, scalloped potatoes, corn on the cob, grilled zucchini, purple beans stir-fried with garlic and onions, Homemade Peach Salsa and local bakery bread.  Dessert- Honey sweetened homemade yogurt with blueberries and blackberries and ginger mint.

It was nice to share lunch with family- 2 aunts, my mother, daughter and husband.

Brined Turkey- I had put a Restoration Farm Non-GMO fed heritage turkey in the brine Saturday about noon. The brine consisted of a Naked Apple Hard Cider, local peaches diced up, salt and peppercorns, rosemary and sage from the herb garden and an Italian herb mix from Meanwhile Back in Saluda, which is where I got the cider and salt.  The salt has been my most exciting find so far. It is from a company called Dickinson Salt Works in Malden, W Va.  Apparently in the early 1800’s an ancient sea ( Iapetus Ocena) was discovered deep below the Appalachian Mountains.  Today, two 7th generation descendants of William Dickinson are capturing this seawater, evaporating and hand harvesting a finishing salt. Very exciting to have an Appalachian Mountain salt.   I also found a wonderful condiment at Manna Cabanna in Saluda. It is a Caramelized Onion and Garlic jam from a local business- Happy Wife, Happy Life. Don’t you just love the name???   Just a touch really gave a pop to the brined turkey.

All vegetables and fruits were found at local farmers markets.- Tryon, Saluda and Columbus or Manna Cabanna in Saluda ( I got onions here), or my garden.  Butter and Milk for the potatoes from the Mill Spring Farm Store.  The Non-GMO wheat Bread came from Cool Mamas Bakery in Green Creek. Since I started making my own yogurt several years ago I have cut the cost of this purchase by at least 75%. It is easy to do and makes me feel very accomplished. We have bees on our farm and the honey, well…’s awesome too.   You can find local honey at most farmers markets, Meanwhile Back in Saluda, Manna Cabanna in Saluda and the Mill Spring Farm Store.

Relocalizing Food for Resiliency (Pt. 3)

“If you’re going to change a community, start with food, it transcends all ideologies” -Chuck Marsh

Above is a picture of Geneva, Switzerland.  The country began a program of “foodscaping”  to provide families with low-cost healthy produce from their own back yards.  Growing food provides not only food, but it is therapy, and there is a lot of research to back that up.

When a garden is brought into a home it increases fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and overall health.

Home garden promotion is just one step in a multidimensional process of relocalizing our food system.

This blog is the final post of a 3-part series covering our December Friends of Agriculture Breakfast, and will conclude with a discussion on the actual process and steps needed to relocalize the food system in Polk County.


 The first step is to begin in the garden.

As you can see above, a food system has multiple scales, and each will require tweaking as the process continues.  Once home gardens become established you can move to neighborhoods, the town, the county, the region, the state, etc.

Some ideas could be:  Establishing small orchards in neighborhoods, planting fruit trees in town centers, or planting 1/4 acre plots at schools, hospitals, retirement homes, etc.  for in-house use and education.  The list can go on and on.

The trick is to model the food system after ecosystems by designing for:

  • Adaptability
  • Interdependence
  • Cooperation and mutual support
  • Diversity
  • Redundancy
  • Stability
  • Energy Conservation

Neighborhoods and homes could establish small-scale vineyards, orchards, herb gardens, vegetable gardens, small livestock shelters, and maybe even aquaculture.

It is very exciting to think the changes that could occur within our community if our food-system were to be rebuilt.  This of course will require re-skilling residents on growing food as well as cooking.  Thirty-five percent of Americans don’t even own a frying pan!

The trick is to understand that relocalizing food will not occur overnight and will require trial-and-error.  Failure is to be expected, but should not be a hindrance to progress.  Polk County will be working towards this in the upcoming years, so keep an eye out, exciting things to come.

As Chuck said:

“Have fun.  Savor the journey toward an abundant future.”

Relocalizing Food for Resiliency (Pt. 2)

The last blog emphasized that despite grocery stores shelves being packed full of products, and millions of dollars being distributed for food assistance programs, our world is actually quite food insecure.   Limited access to nutritious, affordable food is leading to rampant health problems and decreasing our societal knowledge of where food comes from.   The first step is acknowledging the fact that food insecurity is a real problem for Polk County, as discussed in part one.  This blog is part two of our series, and will discuss how we assess what we need in order to “relocalize” our food system.

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”
Joel Salatin

Just as Joel Salatin emphasizes above, it is clear that we must begin to address food system issues from the ground-up, rather than depending on outside agencies to be the fix-all solution.  In order to begin building a resilient local food system, we must first understand what our nutritional needs as humans are.  Then we must address the nutritional gaps in our local food supply and how to fill these at various scales within the community.

As humans we need: about 2,300 calories a day in the form of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; additionally we need vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and medicinal plants for healing.  All of these nutritional needs come from vegetables, herbs and spices, root crops, grains, animals and animal products, oils, nuts, fruits, berries, mushrooms, and products made from the above.  In order to build a resilient system, we must grow all of the above, and also produce value-added products.  That seems like a lot to tackle!  But if addressed at various production scales, it is actually quite feasible if the community is willing.

The first step is to identify regional staples that can be reliably produced in large quantities each year.

One example in Polk County would be sweet potatoes, or apples.  Next you ask:

  • “How many pounds of apples, sweet potatoes, ________, do Polk County residents consume in a year?”
  • “How many pounds do we currently produce…How many pounds are imported?”
  • “How can we increase local production to meet demand?”
  •  “How can we make these local products accessible in all markets?”

Other regional staples for Western NC include: potatoes, onions, beans, corn, pumpkin and squash, cabbage and greens, eggs, fruit, nuts, berries, wild plants and game, and small and large livestock.  Establishing a steady supply of products that are easily grown in your region is a first step towards stabilizing the food system.

 After we establish regional staples, we must look at growing the most nutrient dense foods.

The trick is to grow things that provide the most nutrition per square foot of production.  Some examples include: Cranberries, which are high in nutrient content and used to be native to NC, muscadines and paw paw which both provide cancer fighting potential and grow wild in our region.

We must also consider growing grains such as millet, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.  Additionally nuts have lots of potential to provide economic support to farmers, since now a large percentage of nuts produced in California are being shipped to Asia (70% of almonds are being shipped!).  Locally we can produce almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and pecans.  Seeds are also nutrient powerhouses and flax, sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds could all be produced locally.

In terms of fats we must be able to produce oil and also obtain some from animal products.  Grapeseed oil has great potential in our region where viticulture provides grape skin waste that could be processed into oil.  Oil presses are not a high-cost equipment, and could be used on a co-op scale.  Other important nutrient powerhouses we can produce locally are mushrooms, herbs, goat’s milk and cheeses, as well poultry and eggs.

It is also important to grow Antioxidant Super Foods

Elderberry is a great example of a product that is native to this region and also possesses many medicinal properties.  Muscadine grapes, as mentioned above, are also a great source of antioxidants, boasting a higher antioxidant content that blueberries!  Vegetables such as kale, asparagus, red peppers, red cabbage, beets, etc. are also so called “super foods.”

 Muscadines Black


One we establish what we need to grow, it is important to understand how  we can grow enough food to support our community.  To do this we must:

Identify and plug local nutritional food gaps.

Chuck Marsh stated that the two hardest nutrients to provide at a local scale will be oils and minerals.  Mountain soils are old and typically lack many minerals, but can be re-mineralized with proper soil management techniques.  Oils on the other hand will require large scale supply of products, as well as the machinery to process and package.  Typically grain is grown in the cereal belt, but in order to address food security, we must promote grain farming for human consumption.  Finally non-grain staples and value-added products will be needed, which opens up the opportunity for local economic development and diversification.

The whole goal is to cut out the intermediaries who, by shipping the food 1000’s of miles, and spending large amounts of money on advertising, distort the true cost of food while also depleting the health of citizens.  By cutting out the middle-man we can provide great nutrients per dollar and rebuild our local economies.

This will not be an overnight change, nor will it come without its challenges  One insight I gained from the discussion is that we cannot learn or grow without challenges.  Challenge builds character and inner strength.  Working as a community to address food security will not only improve the physical health of citizens, but may also promote emotional and spiritual well being.  The final blog will discuss how we can begin to work towards filling the gaps in our system.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time…

Cooking Local and Seasonal for Thanksgiving

This week marks the last Columbus tailgate market until the spring.  It is also the weekend before Thanksgiving, and a great time to stock up on necessities for your Thanksgiving feast.  The market accepts EBT and Debit, and even doubles your EBT dollars (spend $10.00 on your EBT card, you recieve $20.00 in tokens).

Often there is a perception that purchasing from the farmers market is more expensive than your local grocery, but in actuality, when things have had a good season, they can be much more affordable when purchased from a local farmer.  Additionally, local produce often boasts greater flavor and nutrition since it has not spent a week on a truck, and is often harvested the day before.  Once produce has been harvested, it begins to lose nutrients, so the sooner it is eaten after harvest, the greater the vitamin and mineral content.

At the Columbus market you will find kale, turnips, sweet potatoes, apples, artisan breads, honey, cider, butternut squash….and the list goes on an on.  Many of these items can be purchased ahead of time and will keep until Thanksgiving.  Local breads can be frozen and defrosted the night before the meal, and there are so many great ones to try!  So, for your Thanksgiving gathering how about trying a local, seasonal recipe that will impress your family with your magnificent cooking skills.

Below I have posted a few recipe ideas I found that seemed simple, tasty, and had a majority of their ingredients in season now.  Local meats and eggs can be found at the market or at the Mill Spring Farm Store.  Feel free to post your favorite recipe in the comments below!

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are good on their own, but if you’re looking for a unique way to utilize them in your meal, here are a few ideas.

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes: Here is a twist on a twice baked potato that is usually made with russets (typically a late spring/summer crop)

Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup:  This soup would be a good hearty addition to your meal, and could utilize local sausage and sweet potatoes.

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash can be used for sweet or savory dishes.  It is great roasted with a little honey and cinnamon, or made into a pie or soup.  Here are a couple recipes I thought would be good for Thanksgiving.

Spicy Butternut Squash Meatloaf:

Traditional Butternut Squash Soup:  this is always a favorite, and is pretty simple.  It’s sweet and savory and gives you a lot of soup for very little money.


Of course you have apple pies, apple cobbler, apple crumble, etc.  I decided I would post another option for utilizing apples which would add a healthy, light side to your meal.

Apple Grape and Celery Salad:


Kale is so nutritious and versatile.  You can make really any kind of variation of a kale salad you would like.  I wanted to post my recipe, but I realized I play it by ear and have no idea how much of any ingredient I use.  Below is a recipe that is similar to mine.  The cinnamon is surprisingly delicious.  (I usually roast my pecans in the oven with coconut oil, honey, cinnamon, and cayenne)  They’re tasty on their own, but really make the salad complete.


Turnips are one of those forgotten vegetables, that are actually amazing!  They are great simply roasted with other root vegetables, or added to soups, roasted meats, etc.  Here is a simple recipe to give a try.

Cider Glazed Roots with Cinnamon and Walnuts:

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are a personal favorite of mine.  The bitterness that is associated with the vegetable can be taken out by quickly blanching the heads before cooking them.  This recipe looks so good, and is another semi-healthy option.

Brussels Sprout Apple and Bacon Hash:|/275510/brussels-sprout-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide|953631

Acorn Squash

Acorn squash is as versatile as butternut, and I personally like them cut in half and roasted with brown sugar or maple syrup.  You can also make an acorn squash pie!  Here are some recipes I thought looked tasty.

Acorn Squash and Kale Soup:|/275063/acorn-squash-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide|257064

Baked Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar|/275063/acorn-squash-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide|261881


I hope these recipes have inspired you to include at least one seasonal recipe to your Thanksgiving meal!  Don’t forget about the final Columbus Tailgate Market this Saturday, November 22nd from 9 am-12 pm in front of the the Courthouse.  See you there!




Ag Center Collects Used Cooking Oil for Blue Ridge BioFuels

The Ag Center has been proud to host a used cooking oil collection unit for almost a year now. Please remember to bring any used cooking oils that you can over to the Ag Center to the lower parking lot.

Here are some reminders of what cannot go in the bin from Blue Ridge BioFuels:

  • Grease trap waste
  • Water
  • Hydrogenated Oils (lard or shortening)
  • Large volumes of animal fat (small volumes ok)
  • Food Solids
  • Motor Oil, Chemicals, Paints
  • Trash

Find out more about Blue Ridge Biofuels.

Tilling the Ag Center Garden

AmeriCorps alum Laura Brookshire came by the Ag Center today and spent some volunteer time tilling up the garden today. Our garden this year will be twice the size of our previous gardens. Thanks Laura!

Tilling March 2014 Tilling March 2014 2Tilling March 2014 3

Solar Dehydrator Class was Great

We couldn’t have asked for better weather on Saturday for the class, sun was shining and weather was pretty warm. We were able to get pretty far with each of the dehydrators and they are looking fantastic. The instructor, Christopher Chemsak of Yielding Branch Farm did a great job taking people through the paces of the build and teaching them building techniques and more. Our class started out with some instructional time in the classroom going over the different types of food preservation and the different type of solar dehydrators. Our build utilizes a design created at Appalachian State University designed for our latitude and to work highly efficiently. We had a great time and invite anyone and everyone to come see our solar dehydrator once finished!

photo 2