The Rural Seed is uniquely situated to serve fresh fare
Not long after John and Adrienne Wilson moved to Polk County, John started pointing out the window of the car to a small farm, and to a little building on the side of the road, dreaming up the things he would do with it. At the time, he worked as a chef in hospitals, which is what brought him to the area in 2013. But the corporate environment wasn’t for him, and that scenic foothills farmland looked so enticing. “I enjoyed gardening and wanted to do farm-to-table food at some point in my life,” he says.
That opportunity came quicker than expected, when Adrienne came home and said, “You won’t believe who I met at work,” introducing him to Carl Pleasants, whose family farmed the property that had piqued John’s interest.
The Isothermal Connection
Thanks to the rich agricultural heritage in the region, the owners/managers of The Rural Seed can buy produce, meat, seasonings, and other natural fare from more than 20 area farms, including Colfax Creek Farm in Bostic (ethically pasture-raised meat, colfaxcreekfarm.com); Hardscrabble Hollow Farm in Rutherfordton (free-range poultry, eggs, and berries, info on Facebook); TK Family Farm in Green Creek (apple orchard, tkfamilyfarm.com); Go Garlic (near Columbus, gogarlicnc.com), Sandy Bee Mine in Saluda (honey, sandybeemine.com); and many more. For the full list, see theruralseed.com.
“We’ve always had a big farming tradition here in Polk County,” says Pleasants, a native of the agricultural region. (Located in the Isothermal Belt, where the growing season is long and fertile, Polk County and portions of neighboring Rutherford County are shadowed by the Blue Ridge Plateau, protected from the harsher winters of areas further north in the mountains.)
“We just have an amazing availability of resources around here that have always actually been here,” says Pleasants,. “Most of it has just been for personal farms and personal use or going to specific places, since there [used to be] no real farmer’s market or market for it. We were lucky to have all of this available, but a lot of people just didn’t access it for so long.”
So when Adrienne and John partnered with Pleasants to open the Rural Seed in 2018, with Pleasants growing food and working with an abundance of area farms, they took unique advantage of the region’s many crops.
“[The Wilsons] have been very good about tailoring our menu so that it’s accessible to a large demographic — which, if you look into Polk County, we have a very interesting demographic,” says Pleasants with a laugh. [Among the mix are farmers, artists, hunters, birders, kayakers, mountain bikers, seasonal vacationers, and the high-end horse crowd. The multimillion-dollar Tryon International Equestrian Center, located in the countryside of Mill Spring, hosts equestrian events of global renown. Annual Coon Dog Day in Saluda recognizes the county’s long rural heritage.]
The Rural Seed’s partnerships with local farms don’t just result in great dinner specials and memorable brunch offerings. In a lot of ways, the dynamic reshapes what some farms decide to start growing or continue to grow, and guarantees them a buyer for what they plant. In turn, that transforms what the restaurant can and plans to serve.
“The farmers enjoy us just saying, ‘What do you have?’” says John. “They enjoy talking about what next season is bringing us. We try to work with the farmer to find out what’s going to help them be profitable, but at the same time, what we need to be looking for as chefs to create the food and to showcase the product.”
Examples from a recent menu are Maple Pumpkin Pancakes, Roasted Rosemary Chicken with apple-ginger-cornbread dressing, Mill Street Pasta, Cornmeal Dusted Rainbow Trout with root-vegetable mash, and a Cinnamon Chili Pork Chop with shaved Brussels sprouts. The list of sandwiches and burgers is especially lengthy, and includes a Chicken Apple Grilled Cheese and a Reuben with house-braised corned beef.
“We really showcase our bounty through our specials, because that’s when we are able to get really creative and utilize large amounts of things,” says John. “I’ve known nothing else but cooking food and being hospitable to people. I mean, that’s been my life.”
The Rural Seed, 322 East Mills St., Columbus. The restaurant is now open for socially distanced indoor dining (50% capacity) and for takeout. Hours are Wednesdays through Fridays, 11am-4pm for lunch and 4-9pm for dinner; Saturdays, 9am-3pm for breakfast, 11am-4pm for lunch, and 4-9pm for dinner; and Sunday Brunch from 10am-2pm. Please call ahead with groups of five or more: 828-802-1097. For online ordering during business hours and for more information, see theruralseed.com.