What is the goal/mission of the Meadowview Farmers’ Guild?
The Guild was formed with a simple goal in mind: to try and create a local economy that provided benefit to as many people as possible. This is in contrast to the more typical goal of providing the maximum benefit to one or a few people.
How is this done?
The simple explanation is that we try to source as much of what we sell as close to here as we possibly can. In practice, it’s much more complicated. There isn’t any “local-goods-R-us” outlet, and we spend a lot of time trying to track down things for both the restaurant and for the general store.
What does the general store sell?
The general store is the result of an open invitation for anyone who makes anything they think is worth selling to consider selling it in the general store. As a result, much of the stock is along the line of arts and crafts. We also sell some convenience goods, some books on gardening and sustainable topics, and even some garden supplies, such as specialty tools, seeds, and even some organic gardening supplies.
How many people participate in the Guild?
It is hard to estimate, but simply put, we have over 15 people on the staff (including one full-time farmer), and purchase goods from farmers or crafters from well over 200 people. Since we opened, we estimate that sourcing goods locally has put over 600,000.00 dollars back into the region, compared to if we had sourced these goods conventionally.
Can someone buy shares in the corporation? Is it publicly traded?
There are still shares in the corporation available. If you are interested, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Is this a good investment? Are the investors making a big profit?
If dedicated local food restaurants and general stores featuring local-goods were hugely profitable, then they’d commonly start to show up on every other street corner, just like quick-marts.
Is it true that Barbara Kingsolver is the owner of the restaurant?
The Guild was created by her husband, Steven Hopp, who serves as the director. The guild is a corporation, and is co-owned by 16 investors.
If her husband is the director, can he arrange for us to have lunch with Barbara?
Barbara gets so many requests for her to do something for or with other people, that if she accepted all of the requests that came in during one week, she would be busy, full time, for the next two years. In other words, uh…sorry, but no.
Is everything sold in the restaurant from Meadowview?
No, not quite. We try to minimize the distance each of our items travels, but if we only served things from Meadowview, our menu would be pretty slim. The main goals are to provide a base for developing a local economy, and promote an appreciation for the diversity of products, both food and otherwise, that are grown, produced, or made in our immediate region. We start with Meadowview and Washington County, then look for things in progressively larger circles. If we re-locate an item closer, we’re always glad to move one step closer in sourcing.
What kind of food/preparation is the Harvest Table?
Hmmm…not too easy to put in a phrase. I suppose it would be something like modern Americana with Mediterranean influences? I think we’d say it is fine comfort dining, accessible and affordable with seasonal features leading the way. Because we track the best of each season, our menu changes often, and we always have daily specials to feature what is the very best of each day. You can get an idea if you take a look at our menu page.
What do you think are your best strengths, foodwise?
Gosh, that’s a tough one—it depends on what you’d consider to be the best foods! First, since we favor a whole-food, handmade, freshest ingredient approach, I think just about anything you’d find to be great. There’s really too much to pick any single item or category.
One strength is that we have lots of things you’ve likely never seen in a restaurant, either here or elsewhere. This includes things like morel and chanterelle mushrooms, collected locally, or unusual vegetables like cucuzzi squash, Pimientos de Padrón or kale florets. You’ll just have to come in and try them.
Do you have pizza?
Yes: We have a 5-ft diameter stone hearth oven that’s used not only for pizzas, but many other things. The oven can be controlled using either gas or wood, or a combination, We use gas to control the temperature, and burn wood for a touch of smoky flavor. We burn either fruitwoods (like apple) or often American chestnut. The pizzas are genuine Napoli-style, and (in my opinion) the very best in our region.
American Chestnut? I thought they were extinct?
The American Chestnut Foundation research farm is less than 1 mile from our restaurant, and the culled trees from their breeding program generate considerable wood piles.
I noticed there is Chocolate on the dessert menu, how can that be local?
The local-food commitment is at the core of our thinking, but this isn’t a parlor game. We are operating a modern fine restaurant, and we need to meet the dining expectations of our customers. The answer is complicated; every item we serve has its own story.
To put it simply, if we can find something locally, we prefer that. One category is of items that are available locally all year, and those form the backbone of our food supplies. For some items, such as onions and carrots, their availability changes with the season, so we have to draw increasingly larger circles to find a suitable supply, which then shrinks again when the local availability changes. Those items also become targets for local grower contracts. Some things we find regionally, or in neighboring states, and since those suppliers are more reliable, we depend on those. For example, we use peanuts from East-central Virginia, Pecans from Georgia, and rice grown in South Carolina. If we ever reliably find those closer to here, we’d have them the next day. This also includes select seafood from the Carolinas and Virginia. Finally, some items will never be grown here, but we have decided we need them for a modern restaurant. These include coffee and chocolate. For these, we try to find them organic and fair-trade (e.g., our coffee is roasted in SW Virginia, and is also fair-trade, shade-grown, and organic). As I said to begin, every food item has a story—if you want to hear a specific story, send an e-mail.
Finally, we make an effort to put up as much as possible to use out of season, including freezing (meats, berries, blanched veggies, purées), canning (sauces, beans, etc.), and drying (herbs, tomatoes).
How do you find local food supplies? Do the restaurant supply companies find local foods for you?
Finding sources of local foods is part of the ongoing challenge for us. The starting point is, of course, the local and regional farmers’ markets, and establishing a relationship with the growers. Some of these growers/farmers have taken on contracts or agreements to supply us directly with goods, extend their season beyond the farmer’s market season specifically for us, or grow various things that are not generally valued at the farmers markets.
Since the main goal of the farmers’ market growers is to, well, grow for the farmers market, our needs are not entirely met by these markets. To extend our food supplies, we have now hired a salaried full-time farmer, and are leasing a 4-acre plot to develop for our own needs. Our goal is not to replace the other growers, but to grow specifically to fill in their gaps.
The restaurant supply companies that serve our area have all learned our mission, and have actually begun to pay attention to whether foods are from this region. I think this has also been a benefit to other local restaurants, as the suppliers have found nearby growers, which helps the regional economy.
We discuss these issues elsewhere on our site, including pages on sourcing, supplies, and our own Harvest Table Farm.
Why is local food such a big deal?
Yikes! The answer to that is an entire book. Briefly, the main benefits have to do with health: Health of the local land and landowners because we help them to protect the land. Health of the community because we foster relationships among community members. Health of the local economy because we try to source as much of what we sell as close to home as possible. Health of our diners because local food is more nutritious (and flavorful) than food harvested far away and transported.
If you do want to read a book on it, I can recommend Animal, Vegetable Miracle as a source for information :-).
What do you consider to be local?
We don’t have any definitive rule for what we consider local. We just remain dedicated to the cause, and are always, always, always on the lookout for a closer source, or for new sources of things we already serve, and for new food items we might incorporate into our menu selections. That’s one of the main challenges of a local foods restaurant: we constantly try to refine and redefine what we’re doing.
Is all the food in the restaurant organic?
No, but most of it is. We prefer and favor organic, and most of our growers know this. However, the importance of pesticide use varies with different items, so we consider this carefully. It depends on what is being used, why, and how. Being familiar with farming and the specific crop challenges, and how to address them is helpful in making these decisions.
Which is more important, organic or local?
Both are. Ideally, we’d only serve foods that are both local and organic, but that isn’t always possible. For example, in some cases a grower that we trust might use a minimum amount of a conventional fungicide to help a crop, and we’ll take extra care to make sure it’s well washed. For example, in this region, the high rainfall and humidity make some of the fruit crops extremely difficult, if not impossible, unless non-organic methods are used. One example would be grapes, which are very susceptible to molds.
How long has the restaurant been open?
We opened in the autumn of 2007.
What local food items would you like to find more of?
That’s a very long list, but the main things (if you are interested in growing for us) fall into three categories: conventional items grown out of season (like peppers in December), root vegetables stored in the ground (like carrots, parsnips etc., heavily mulched and dug as needed), and very unusual items that we haven’t yet thought of (surprise us!). The categories we have the most trouble with are local grass-based dairy (we use dairy products from a small dairy down in Tennessee), wheat (a bit locally available, but no one in our rolling-hillside region can compete with the huge subsidized grain farms of the upper-Midwest), and charcuterie (my spell-checker got stumped on that one). We can find a good supply of meats, but lack a good supply of bacon, sausages and other prepared meats.
Are there Meadowview farms we can visit?
We are generally reluctant to send people to the farms in our region, because the farmers are generally busy. This year, however, we have started our own farm and have been hosting visitors and volunteer workers fairly often. So far, the best arrangements have been for groups of people, who have lunch then make a farm visit, or conversely, visit the farm then stop by the restaurant for dinner. The visits haven’t yet gotten too numerous, so for the time being, just ask and we’ll see if we can work in a visit. If you want to schedule a work day, that would be even better.
Why aren’t there any other businesses on Meadowview Square?
You’ll have to discuss that with the people who own those buildings. We are bringing an estimated 15,000-18,000 visitors to the square each year, so there is a good flow of people to make another business possible. We’d be glad to discuss pertnerships if anyone has any great ideas.
Is there any place to stay or camp in Meadowview?
Not that I know of! If you want recommendations for where to stay, we can certainly make some. There are many options for B&Bs, motels, hotels, and even campgrounds in our area. Let us know what you’re interested in and we can direct you to those we think are the best.
How can I participate in the guild?
The main way is to come in and have dinner in the restaurant, and buy a present for your best friend in the general store! Then, bring in your friends. If you want to help us produce the food or grow for us, check out the information on our sourcing page. If you want to volunteer on our farm, we’d be glad to host you, or barter work for meals.