Farm to Fork to Farm

Dylan Holbert, Carol Jean Thomas, Jacob Johnson, and Kelli Campbell of Johnson Family Farms. Photo by Karin Strickland

This spring’s record rainfall, floods, and mudslides couldn’t have come at a worse time for Henderson County’s agriculture and the family farms whose business depends on supplying local markets and restaurants.

Among the hard-hit just at the beginning of the growing season is Johnson Family Farms on Kanuga Road. In the same family for seven generations, the Johnson farm has been a favorite source of fresh produce for restaurateur Jamie Guay of the popular barbecue destination Flat Rock Wood Room. “I’ve been using their produce for two years now,” Guay says — almost as long as he’s been running the restaurant. “I buy almost all my produce from them and love [the] farm-to-fork [concept].”

So connected is he to a locally sourced menu that he’s planning a free dinner at the restaurant for the Johnson family and other farmers affected by the storms to help them through hard times.

More than a foot of rain fell on Henderson County in a two-week period in late May, with some areas reporting 17 inches. The subtropical moisture dealt a severe blow to the $650 million that the agricultural sector contributes to the area’s economy each year. The county’s Extension Service Director Terry Kelley points out that even a small-percentage crop loss could mean a much bigger loss when translated into dollar value.

In a recent analysis of the storm’s effect, the Extension Service estimates that at least 50 percent of the county’s corn, squash, and cucumber crops were destroyed, and that 30 percent of the season’s first cut of hay, which farmers depend on for silage, has been lost.

Veterans Healing Farm, whose owners and volunteers donate thousands of pounds of produce to the VA Hospital each year, is retrenching after severe crop loss.

A week after the rains, the Johnson family’s patriarch Kirby Johnson reported that his family had lost everything around their popular produce stand at the corner of Kanuga Road and Erkwood Drive. The family’s ancestry in Western North Carolina goes deep into the mountain soil, all the way back to the late 19th century, when James Johnson emigrated from Ireland and began farming in the Shaw’s Creek area of what would later become Buncombe County. Kirby was born at the family’s homestead in 1960 and was schooled in agriculture by his father; he once claimed he spent more time while growing up on top of a tractor than in a classroom.

Kirby’s three daughters and their families now oversee the day-to-day operations of the family’s home acreage, from operating the farmstand to negotiating with local markets and supplying restaurants like Jamie’s that emphasize locally-sourced ingredients.
“They’ve really supported the restaurant and now I want to do something to support them during a tough time,” Guay says.

The Flat Rock Wood Room hosts a free, private dinner for local farm families on Thursday, July 26, at 6pm. The restaurant will be open to the public during that time; diners are encouraged to introduce themselves to the guests of honor. 1501 Greenville Hwy., Hendersonville. 828-435-1391. For more information, see flatrockwoodroom.com.

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