A few weeks ago I had the very distinct pleasure of spending the day on Lorax Lane in Pittsboro, North Carolina, the home of Piedmont Biofuels , and a number of other green enterprises. They occupy an abandoned industrial park, which I was told is actually an old missile manufacturing facility. In any case, they’re not making warheads anymore, but they are manufacturing tangible social and technological change in the form of biodeisel, locally grown organic food, social action, and an array of sustainable goods and services.
The rest of Lyle’s tour was a whirlwind through the biodiesel process. One thing was clear: Lyle knows his stuff, and quality control is priority number one. He has saved samples from each lot number since day one. Education is also a top priority at Piedmont. He ensures that every member of the coop knows what they are getting into when they start running biodiesel in their vehicles. Here’s a few pictures of some their reactors and holding tanks. In the second one that’s the grease collection truck in the foreground.
Guilford’s Environmental Coordinator Jim Dees, and myself were down at the Eco-Industrial Park for a tour and also to do some investigating for a few different projects, one of which is getting our off road tractors and mowers running on off-road biodiesel, and others which we’ll talk about later. We also happened to be there on Friday which at Piedmont Biofuels is also Local Lunch Friday. Each Friday they trade off cooking responsibilities and gather around the table for a locally sourced, delicious, and nourishing meal. Now I’ve been to some pot lucks in my day, and this one was pretty exceptional. Fresh baked bread, beautiful local greens and hot house tomatoes, kale and white beans. It was quite the feast.
Before lunch we were lucky enough to catch Piedmont Biofuels founder and VP of Stuff Lyle Estill between breakfast with Governor Bev Purdue, and putting on his distribution garbs to go out on a delivery run. Needless to say Lyle is a busy guy, but he was gracious enough to make time to give Jim and I a quick but very informative tour of his facility. Lyle started by showing us their very own B-100 community trail location where their co-op members can fill their cars with locally processed Biodiesel. Their location is actually a straw bail structure that encases the tank, metering system, and pump. It is also powered by a small solar array and heated by the structure’s passive solar design. Very cool stuff. Pictured below is Lyle himself showing Jim the ins and outs of the system.
As I mentioned before, Piedmont Biofuels plays host to an array of different sustainable businesses, and one of the ones we were most interested in was Carolina Worm Castings. We met Ben of CWC and coincidently Brian Rosa of the NCDENR Composting Division. We were very interested to see his operation as we’re in the process of expanding our compost system and are considering vermiculture as a sort of a final finishing stage, to help speed up the curing process. Carolina Worm Castings is a new addition and occupies some hallway space in the main building. While we were there his worms were not too happy, but it was still a cool operation to see. We also received some leads from Brian Rosa on some used Earthtubs, and also got some tips from him on how to improve our system.
The next stop on our tour was the home of HOMS which is a manufacturer of all natural insect repellents and pest controls. They have a great selection of locally produced pest repellents for your home, pets, and garden.
We were also able to meet the good people at Eastern Carolina Organics, which is also housed on Lorax Lane. Eastern Carolina Organics is a farmer-owned produce distributer that deals only in locally grown organic produce. Born out of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association in 2004, ECO has grown into a private, farmer and manager owned LLC, working with over 40 growers and over 100 customers. They are an invaluable source for North Carolina food service operators like myself that serve local produce.
After Lunch, as Jim and I were hitting road back to Greensboro, we couldn’t help but feel like we were leaving an alternate universe. Piedmont Biofuel’s little corner of the world, nestled deep in the pines of Pittsoboro, NC is a bustling think tank of sustainable thought and design. It truly was an honor to spend a day in their world. We can only hope that one day Greensboro, and cities all across America will have their very own Eco-Industrial Parks.
Last week I had the great pleasure of meeting with North Carolina based environmental artist Bryant Holsenbeck. In the fall of this year she will be visiting Guilford and doing an installation in the Gallery sponsored by Guilford’s Theme Year in Sustainability: Green and Beyond using only used, recyclable materials. I am in the process collecting a huge amount of number ten cans and any oddly shaped glass bottles for the project. We think it’s going to be something similar to what is pictured above, but with more height and some different mediums.
She was really an inspiration to talk with. Currently she’s embarking on a year without disposable plastics. She’s blogging about it here, and her most recent entry actually features myself and a picture of Jim Dees and our Earthtub. She’s also got some really great works for sale on her site. I might have to pick up a few of her handmade journals. Very cool stuff.
Meatless Mondays gains ground. Mario Batali to implement Meatless Mondays in all 14 of his restaurants nation wide. From Huffington Post:
No stranger to boar sausage, or to a finely braised veal shank, Mario Batali however isn’t the first name that pops to mind when you think about vegetables. And that’s what’s so interesting about his decision to embrace Meatless Monday in all of his 14 restaurants across the country.
“The fact is, most people in the U.S. eat way more meat than is good for them or the planet,” maintains Batali. “Asking everyone to go vegetarian or vegan isn’t a realistic or attainable goal. But we can focus on a more plant-based diet, and support the farmers who raise their animals humanely and sustainably. That’s why I’m such a big believer in the Meatless Monday movement.”
Meatless Monday is all about incorporating more vegetables into our diet. It’s about moderation, just one day a week, trying new plant-based recipes and sampling delicious ways to bring more veggies into our lives.
And it’s catching on. Batali is joining early adopters, political leaders and celebrities such as Michael Pollan, Al Gore, Sir Paul McCartney, Simon Cowell and Gwyneth Paltrow; the entire Baltimore Public School System, nearly 30 college campuses and 100 blogs; and 8 international programs spanning Brazil to Taiwan.
“We’re delighted that Maestro Mario is helping to move the movement,” declares Sid Lerner, founder and chairman of Meatless Monday, an initiative of The Monday Campaigns. “If anybody can entice meat lovers to enjoy their veggies as well, it’s Batali!”
So how’s Mario going to do it? Every Monday every one of his 14 restaurants will serve at least two vegetarian options, whether entrees or pastas or pizzas. In addition, many of the restaurants will designate these dishes as Meatless Monday options, using Mario’s new MM logo (below). With this simple gesture, Mario will send a powerful message to other chefs and restauranteurs that we can all start the week right by eating our veggies.
Stay tuned to Huffington Post Food because later this week Elizabeth Meltz, Mario’s sustainability director, will post descriptions and photos of the actual Meatless Monday dishes created by his chefs for today’s launch…
NC Strawberries are here! Lots of other great produce rolling in from Gann Farms and Friends.
Cabbage Gann Farms
Broccoli Gann Farms
Caulilflower Gann Farms
Sweet Potatoes Gann Farms
Strawberries Gann Farms
Parsnips Gann Farms
Arugula Gann Farms
Spinach Gann Farms
Beets Gann Farms
Turnips Gann Farms
Red Speckled Leaf Lettuce Flora Ridge Farm
Green Leaf and Red Bibb Lettuce Flora Ridge Farm
Half and Half, Whole Milk, and Butter Milk Homeland Creamery
Flour, Cormeal and Grits Booneville Flour and Feed
Ground Beef Tomahawk Farms
Chicken Hopkins Poultry, Brown Summit, NC (Locally Processed, All NC grown)
Ground Beef Frank Massey’s Tomahawk Farm
Sausage and Bacon Neese’s Country Sausage
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Our friends over at Cane Creek Farm were featured in a recent New York Times article about Durham’s thriving local food movement. Come by for our outdoor meal tomorrow where we’ll be serving Cane Creek’s Grass Fed Hamburgers!
Durham, a Tobacco Town, Turns to Local Food
“We couldn’t even buy anything like that around here,” said Mr. Beason, who went on to open Six Plates Wine Bar, now one of many ambitious restaurants around Durham. “Now, virtually every place in town makes its own.”
Of the rivalrous cities that make up the so-called Research Triangle — Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham — Durham 10 years ago was the unkempt sibling: scruffy and aging.
“There was no one on the street at night, just the smell of tobacco drying in the warehouses,” Mr. Beason said.
Now, a drive around town might yield the smell of clams from the coastal town of Snead’s Ferry, steaming in white wine, mustard and shallots at Piedmont restaurant; pungent spice and sweet fennel from the “lamby joe” sandwich at Six Plates; and seared mushrooms and fresh asparagus turned in a pan with spring garlic at Watts Grocery.
The vast brick buildings still roll through the city center, emblazoned with ads for Lucky Strike and Bull Durham cigarettes. They are being repurposed as art studios, biotechnology laboratories and radio stations.
More important for food lovers, hundreds of outlying acres of rich Piedmont soil have “transitioned” from tobacco, and now sprout peas, strawberries, fennel, artichokes and lettuce. Animals also thrive in the gentle climate, giving chefs access to local milk, cheese, eggs, pigs, chickens, quail, lambs and rabbits.
“You can see the change, just driving from here to the coast,” two hours away, said Amy Tornquist, the chef and an owner of Watts Grocery, a restaurant near the Duke campus. Ms. Tornquist, 44, has lived in the area all her life. “You never saw sheep when I was young, you never saw cattle in the fields — it was all tobacco all the time,” she said. Ms. Tornquist’s restaurant isn’t blatantly farm to fork: it’s simply a given in Durham these days.
“One of our farmers said that at this point, it would make more sense for us to list the things on the menu that aren’t local,” said Drew Brown, a chef-owner of Piedmont, a restaurant a few steps from Durham’s farmer’s market and right next door to the city’s public herb garden.
Spring is just blowing into the Triangle, bringing strawberries, mushrooms and the first Sugar Snack carrots and small white turnips. “We’re raising things I never would have dreamed of,” said Michael Brinkley, a farmer whose family farm in nearby Creedmoor produced up to 60 acres of tobacco until about five years ago, when the Brinkleys shifted entirely to produce.
There are still plenty of good places for a barbecue plate, excellent French bistros like Vin Rouge and Rue Cler, and some white-tablecloth dining rooms, both traditional and modern.
But the most intriguing cooks here have a few things in common: an understanding of how to give a menu a sense of place; a true love of pork and greens in all their forms; and a lack of interest in linens and glassware. Watts Grocery, for example, looks like an upscale sports bar, but it tastes like a Southern-artisanal Union Square Cafe.
“In the old days, people would have to get out of here to really learn about food,” said Matt Neal, the owner of Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, near Chapel Hill, where he grew up.
These days, a chef here is made by learning all the ways to cook cornmeal and butcher hogs, not by taking a Grand Tour of Europe followed by hotel school in Switzerland.
Tanya Catolos, the pastry chef at the formal Washington Duke Inn in Durham, moonlights at the city’s farmer’s market, selling handmade “Pop’t-Arts” filled with Nutella or jam from a vintage Airstream trailer. “You can be very playful with food around here” she said. “People really get it now.” (She’ll be making local-rhubarb ones soon.)
The food at Neal’s Deli is resolutely everyday and American — like breakfast biscuits stuffed with egg and sausage — but the eggs are steamed tender with a touch of pepper and parsley, and the wide, crisp biscuits are mixed from high-fat local buttermilk and organic flour from a nearby mill that’s been held by the same family for nine generations. The sausage patty is from Cane Creek Farm in Alamance County, where Eliza MacLean, an owner of the farm and a former veterinarian, advises farmers across the state on the transition from tobacco to pork. Every bit of that care comes through in the flavor of the finished product, a stunning bargain at $3.25.
Mr. Neal prides himself on high-quality, low-brow food, like a house-made porchetta sandwich with spinach and pickled peppers, served with a bag of Zapp’s potato chips from Louisiana. “I honestly do not know how to make a soufflé,” said Mr. Neal, whose father, Bill Neal, was the founding chef of Crook’s Corner and La Residence in Chapel Hill and one of the most famous chefs in the South until his death in 1991.
Bill Neal, his son added hastily, certainly did know how to make a soufflé. “But soufflés are not what I want to cook,” he said.
What Mr. Neal and others like him do want to cook are full-flavored versions of the food they learned at their parents’ elbows, and in influential local kitchens like Crook’s Corner, Nana’s and Magnolia Grill, where many of them polished their craft. The tender cornmeal butter cakes at Watts Grocery are like a combination of a French financier and Southern spoon bread; at Six Plates, the slick-sounding sautéed crawfish on red pepper polenta with tomato broth is a take on shrimp and grits, the Carolina coastal classic.
Mr. Brinkley, the farmer, says that his family’s farm, and many others, might not have made it through the loss of the tobacco cash crop without the lucky coincidence of the rise in the local food movement. Now, chefs compete over his lady peas, pink-eyed peas and butternut squash — a relatively exotic vegetable here, he said, where the sweet potato was once the king of the winter table.
Then again, “We’re also working hours I never would have dreamed of,” he said, adding that raising such diverse crops and marketing them has more than doubled his workload. He makes weekly appearances at the Durham farmer’s market. Mr. Brown, of Piedmont, said that the farmers there are treated like rock stars, that dogs and babies abound and that hipsters mingle with hippies.
As Mr. Brinkley said, “It’s a lot different from dropping off your tobacco at the station and picking up your check.”