Local farmers talk fresh food

BUCKHANNON – Chef Dale Hawkins briefed Buckhannon Rotary Club members Tuesday on the many initiatives in which he’s engaged, including helping an organization provide fresh food to state schools.

Hawkins- the owner and operation of Fish Hawk Acres in Rock Cave – said that in addition to his business, he is also focused on the New Appalachian Farm and Research Center the Farm Hand Collaborative. The NAFRC and FHC are both nonprofit organizations.

Building local food systems in West Virginia is the primary goal of NAFRC. The organization has taught farmers techniques that have enabled them to grow more fresh food with the same amount of labor. Hawkins said that there are 14 growers in the network and most of them are in Upshur County.

NAFRC also works with the Office of Child Nutrition to provide farm-fresh foods for school programs in West Virginia.

“Schools in West Virginia spend about $8 million a year on food,” Hawkins said. “Most of that food comes from commodities or multi-national corporations, places where you get some really good GMO Franken-food.

“There’s been a big push from the federal level to get more fresh foods in schools. Part of the program is fresh fruits and vegetables,” he continued. “The Office of Child Nutrition has put money up to challenge schools to use local foods.”

Working with the NAFRC is one of Hawkins’ many food-related tasks. Hawkins said the focus of Farm Hand Collaborative is on culinary, cultural and heritage tourism. In focusing on culinary tourism, Hawkins said the FHC has created a couple of dining guides focused on West Virginia’s culinary options. Destination Dining, a brochure focused on white-cloth or high-end dining, will be released this spring.

Hawkins said that some Buckhannon restaurants – including CJ Maggie’s – is featured in another brochure, 101 Unique Places to Dine. He said the full list of the state’s dining options can be found on www.wvfarm2u.org under the dining in West Virginia subcategory.

Hawkins said that the Cast Iron Cook-off, which will host its 10th event at the Greenbrier Resort in January, is a signature piece of the cultural tourism for the FHC. The event may have been inspired by Food Network’s “Iron Chef.”

“It’s an idea that we took about 10 years ago when we were with the Department of Tourism in Canada,” Hawkins said. “We were at a conference, and this was the time that ‘Iron Chef’ was pretty popular. (We thought) ‘wouldn’t it be cool to have a hillbilly version of that?'”

The Cast Iron Cook-Off got its start almost 10 years ago at the Stonewall Resort in Lewis County. The event has been hosted in different locations throughout the decade, but the previous two years were hosted at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs.

“It’s a really neat pro/amateur competition in which cast iron is involved in the cooking process,” Hawkins said, adding that anyone interested in cooking on a team with two professional chefs can sign up to be one of eight laypeople on a team for $300. Hawkins said the funds support the FHC and are refocused on tourism in West Virginia.

In an attempt to boost heritage tourism, the FHC organized the Country Roads Cook-Off, an event that is hosted in various places throughout the state where local recipes are the main focus. The winner of each Country Roads Cook-Off then competes in a statewide version of the competition in February at the Small Farm Conference at West Virginia State University.

Create Buckhannon organized and hosted Buckhannon’s first Country Roads Cook-Off during the Festival Friday events this summer at Jawbone Park.

Contact Melissa Toothman by email at mtoothman@theintermountain.com.