By Jason Frye
There’s an exciting moment each Spring when farmers markets and roadside stands open. When the last of winter’s greens – collards and turnip and mustard – give way to the first greenhouse tomatoes, to peas, to spring onions and tender lettuce perfect for a fresh salad to celebrate the warm weather to come. It’s a moment when eating local means produce packed with flavor, eggs still warm from the coop, oysters fresh from the Sounds and shrimp bought off the boat. All this is divine if you know when and where to find it.
Well, it just got easier to fill your shopping basket and stock your pantry with local goods. Thanks to the new app, Visit NC Farms, just a few taps and swipes on your smartphone or tablet will show you what’s grown, raised, caught, and made right here in North Carolina.
Need a farmer’s market for tonight’s dinner? Open the app, supply your location, and there you go: farmers markets and produce stands.
You-pick berry patches that’ll make a spring or summer afternoon that much sweeter are at your fingertips. Apple orchards and pumpkin patches – perfect for setting a harvest holiday mood – are there too. And those Frasier Firs and other Christmas trees from the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll find them right there in the app.
As the farm to table movement has spread beyond restaurants and found its way back to our own kitchen tables it’s changing the way we think about food and the way we travel. More folks are seeking out what the Italians call agriturismo – agrotourism – as part of their travels, finding vineyards to visit and farms where they can spend a night – or a weekend – and get a true taste of what it takes to deliver fresh food from the field to the fork.
Visit NC Farms was born as a response to that, built as a way to connect curious consumers with places where the first thing visitors hear might just be, “Welcome to our farm, y’all make yourselves at home.”
The app has grown beyond that initial vision, thanks to the hearts and brains at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the folks behind Visit NC Farms. Seeing that locals and visitors might want more than just a farm where they can spend some time, the vision for the app blossomed into a tool to connect consumers with the bounty of North Carolina’s lands and waters. And with more than 46,000 farms statewide – most of them small farms and family-owned agribusinesses – there’s plenty in season any season.
Search and filter functions with Visit NC Farms lets you look for produce at the peak of freshness and find the freshest of the fresh catch. This means when it’s time to make that family recipe for tomato pie, you can find a farmer, farm stand, or market near you that has fresh tomatoes for your filling and even locally-grown and ground flour for your crust. It also makes throwing a shrimp boil, oyster roast, or pig pickin’ that much easier because you can dial up that fish market, that oysterman, or that swineherd on the app, and map the quickest route there and back. Those search tools also make it easy to shop in a way that supports causes you hold dear by allowing you to pinpoint farms and agri-businesses that are female-, minority-, or veteran-owned.
You can also find farms and markets offering curbside pickup, online shops, delivery, and even CSA options. Optional notifications will send a banner across your smartphone’s screen alerting you to what’s fresh and fine nearby. Messages like, “Cancel your plans. Ran-Lew Dairy has peach gelato TODAY, 10am-2pm.” and “Follow the Berry Brick Road to these five Guilford Farms bursting with blueberries!” are a refreshing break from one more head-scratching headline scrolling across your screen.
That Berry Brick Road in Guilford County? There are more itineraries like that waiting in Visit NC Farms. By county and region, itineraries and trips are popping up. They’ll lead you on mornings full of berry-picking; send you out searching Sampson County for Barn Quilts; have you discovering just how good North Carolina cheese can be on the Western NC Cheese Trail; even put you face to face with goats, alpacas, and llamas as you call on farms where these four-legged friends are known for the fiber we spin from their wool.
Imagine discovering North Carolina oysters and eating them fresh from the water. How about seeing what it takes to haul in nets of shrimp, a day capped off with some of the freshest seafood the Outer Bans has to offer? Or seeing how our brewers, distillers, and winemakers put a little North Carolina in your glass? It’s on the way, and as more of our growers, ranchers, anglers, and producers sign on, experiences like these will be the tip of the iceberg.
Users can build their own itineraries within the app, assembling their farm-fresh food experiences by adding farms and agri-businesses to the trips tabs (just hit that heart button in the top corner and you’re off), so if you’re headed to the mountains for the weekend and want to eat like the locals, you’ll be able to with ease.