Farm to table program at Cape Fear Community College

As restaurants shift their focus and develop new menus that reflect diner demands and the farm to table trend, they need members of the kitchen brigade to know not only how to work their station, but how to respond to new food trends.

For the last few years, the food buzzword has been “farm to table.” Here in North Carolina, a state with a rich agricultural and culinary history, we know this “trend” is not unlike how many of us were raised: you ate what you grew, you grew what was in season, and you pickled, canned, salted, smoked, and otherwise preserved what you couldn’t eat then.

Local heirloom tomatoes in Wilmington, N.C.

Heirloom tomatoes in Wilmington, N.C.

In Wilmington, Cape Fear Community College lead culinary instructor Val Mason is building a bridge between her culinary students and the farmers and food producers in southeastern North Carolina. Her first farm to table class will introduce around a dozen students to every aspect of the trend, from how to work with farmers and select food products, to preparing a dish that celebrates these locally procured ingredients and does them justice.

“I’m hopeful,” she said of the class. “We’re looking forward to getting our students out into the field visiting farms and farmers, fishermen, growers and farmers markets.”

In addition, Mason plans to take her students to visit local Cooperative Extension Agencies to explore educational and business opportunities. Many of the agents are horticulture experts that dispense invaluable plant knowledge on everything from ornamental to edible plants.

During some class sessions, Mason plans to have students cook using products they encounter while in the field. Her hope is that students become interested in growing even a small kitchen herb garden, if not a larger garden filled with tomatoes, squash and other vegetables.

Fresh shrimp caught off the coast of Brunswick County.

Fresh shrimp caught off the coast of Brunswick County.

“So many restaurants are looking to include local food products on their menus,” Mason says. But often, culinary programs, even at larger schools, fall short and students graduate from programs with little knowledge of where their food products come from and what it takes to grow and deliver that food.

In 2012, the state community college system approved the farm to table course. Mason is hopeful that the class is a success and will spread to other community colleges around the state.

Jason Frye lives in Wilmington and is a regular contributor to Our State Eats food blog. He has written for Our State Magazine, Haven, North Brunswick Magazine, and Wrightsville Beach Magazine.

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