Just as President Obama seems poised to sign an executive order preventing the deportation of up to 5 million illegal immigrants, we read in the Nov. 17 Asheville Citizen-Times that a newcomer center for immigrants in the city school system is so full it has a waiting list. I have no idea how many of those students in the newcomer center or waiting to get in are illegals, but the point is that we have a huge immigration problem in this country and policy to address it keeps being ignored by those in a position to change things.
Just a month ago, no one here would believe that the President and First Lady of the United States would one day be savoring smoked trout from Sunburst Farm in Canton while on vacation. Or munching on fresh lettuce directly delivered from Jolley Farms, also in Canton.
The small Western North Carolina town has officially connected with the White House, and in more ways than one.
Denny Trantham served Barack and Michelle Obama at The Grove Park Inn, where he works as executive chef. Trantham, too, hails from Canton. It’s where he grew up, and where he held his first job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant in the late ‘80s.
Trantham is the reason those local products showed up on the menu in the first place. As the visionary responsible for crafting Grove Park’s menus months in advance, he has always placed a special focus on utilizing local products no matter what changes are made to restaurant offerings.
It’s the relationships he’s built with farmers over the years that has made the resort’s local farm-to-table program a hit.
“I’ve known these people a long time,” said Trantham. “If I need trout, I know where to go. If I need peppers, I know where to go.”
Grove Park consistently incorporates farm offerings produced within a 100-mile radius in the menus of its multiple restaurants, using bacon from Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview or goat cheese from Three Graces Dairy in Madison County, for example.
When the program began three years ago, only a handful of farms participated. It was a trial-and-error process, and some were overwhelmed with the quantity Grove Park demanded every day.
Trantham must be selective about how much local produce is offered at each of the inn’s restaurants since it is not available on a large scale.
“If I’m feeding 1,200 and I gotta have salad greens, that’s a challenge,” said Trantham.
But local farms have adapted over the years, including Jolley Farms in Canton, which built its own greenhouse to use during winter months and continue supplying the resort with produce.
“It’s as close as you can get to year-round,” Trantham said.
Trantham’s enthusiasm for local produce existed long before it became a ubiquitous trend.
He learned all he knows from his mother and grandmother, who kept up gardens with green beans, corn, squash and zucchini. They also made their own jam, jellies, preserves, relishes, and pickled vegetables, making sure to never waste a thing.
“The funny part today is that everyone’s crazy about farm-to-table, but I think it’s something we did all along,” said Trantham, who believes the local food movement is more than a passing fad. “This isn’t a trend by definition. This is going to be a way of life.”
Southern Appalachian culinary traditions have been another mainstay at the Grove Park Inn since Trantham joined the staff nine years ago, and he intends to keep it that way.
That dedication in particular helped bring traditional Southern cooking to the Obamas.
Though President Obama stopped by at the historic inn while on the campaign trail, the latest visit was a whole different ballgame.
As Obama fans watched his every move, Trantham and fellow chefs were simultaneously subject to scrutiny from security each time they prepared the president’s meal.
A few changes to the Sunset Terrace restaurant menu were made, though Trantham is barred from discussing much about the meal, like what was exactly served or even who sat at the table with the Obamas.
Trantham said the hardworking kitchen staff was experiencing an “ounce” more of stress during Obama’s visit. They not only had to prepare an impeccable dinner for the president and first lady, but also a quality dining experience for 300 guests in the other dining room at the same time.
Ten chefs worked busily in the kitchen that night, while usually six suffice.
“We survived,” said Trantham. “I feel like we learned how to once again survive under pressure.”
Trantham introduced the menu to the Obamas, who tried a taste of ramps and were especially interested in learning more about Grove Park’s farm-to-table program.
“They enjoyed everything about their meal, and the president and first lady were gracious enough to meet each and every one of our chefs,” said Trantham, who characterized the Obamas as “down-to-earth” and “hospitable.”
Obama shook each chef’s hand, and announced that it was a perfect photo opportunity. “That was our moment in the spotlight,” said Trantham. “It was a great surprise for all of us, but it’s one that we’ll never forget.”
Since then, Trantham says the resort has received dozens of inquiries from those piqued by Obama’s stay there. Trantham by no means believes he’s reached a peak in his career by working as executive chef at the luxury resort, and now, serving the President.
“A lot of people say you’ve made it,” said Trantham. “In my mind, I’ve not made it. I’m just starting ...You gotta keep moving, you gotta keep growing, you gotta keep inventing, you gotta stay ahead of the curve, all the time.”
By Mark Singleton • Guest Columnist
Even in times of crisis, we’re called to take the long view to preserve our national heritage — because in doing so we fulfill one of the responsibilities that falls to all of us as Americans, and as inhabitants of this same small planet.
— President Barack Obama, April 16, 2010
Over the weekend President Obama took in the sights and tastes of Asheville. Sure is good to see a sitting President vacationing in our region, experiencing the great outdoors and hiking along the AT with the First Lady. They now know what all of us who live here know, that Western North Carolina is one of the last great places where the quality of life and access to the outdoors remain very high.
Aside from remarkable scenic vistas, the outdoors and public lands are an important component of our economy as well. The Outdoor Industry Association, an industry trade group, reports that outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion and 6.5 million jobs to the national economy. In North Carolina alone, outdoor recreation contributes $7.5 billion to the state’s economy and supports 95,000 jobs.
Our national parks, forest service lands, wild and scenic rivers and wilderness areas are all an essential part of our shared national heritage of treasured landscapes. These are the places where millions of Americans connect with nature. Those of us living in Western North Carolina are extremely fortunate to have such quick access to such areas in our backyard.
Ten days ago I had the good fortune to participate in the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors. Four administration officials — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and White House Council on Environmental Quality chair Nancy Sutley made statements at the event. Plus, the Commander and Chief himself, President Obama, addressed a mixed group of conservation interests, ranchers, farmers, timber and mining executives, agency staff and recreational users.
In his speech at the Interior Department, President Obama said he intends to build upon “a breathtaking legacy of conservation that still enhances our lives.” He said the tradition began with Theodore Roosevelt, whom he described as “one of my favorite presidents,” although he added “I will probably never shoot a bear.”
In more than 20 years of public policy work on tourism and outdoor recreation issues, I have never heard or seen a sitting President place conservation and stewardship as a priority in the national agenda and challenge such a diverse group to create a collective strategy for our public lands. To launch the initiative, President Obama signed a memorandum outlining policy goals the administration prioritizes over the next few years: forming coalitions with state and local governments as well as the private sector, encouraging outdoor recreation by Americans, and connecting wildlife migration corridors.
Sitting in the chair that I occupy as executive director of a national nonprofit that focuses on river conservation issues, I have a couple of comments on shaping the 21st Century Strategy for America’s Great Outdoors.
First, that conservation and outdoor recreation are mutually dependent. Whether it is catching tadpoles in streams as a child or kayaking rivers as an adult, time spent interacting with nature forms the basis of the American conservation ethic. Outdoor recreationists need natural landscapes, and those landscapes very much need outdoor recreationists to act as stewards of those resources.
Second, public land managers should not alienate visitors in meeting other goals. Recreation is often viewed by agencies as just one more impact to manage; something to be tolerated rather than encouraged. Rules are often inequitably applied in a manner that allows resource extraction but discourages recreational use. As a result, citizens are turned away and small businesses like kayak instructors find it easier to lead trips to other countries than to nearby public lands. Administrative direction in support of agencies encouraging human powered outdoor recreation could improve this problem.
And third, rivers should be universally recognized as valuable open space suitable for human powered recreation. Rivers and streams offer a free, existing and vast network of close-to-home, public, nature-based recreation opportunities. The federal government has authority to regulate and support public recreation on rivers and streams but does not do so.
Increasingly, private landowners are allowed to close rivers to public enjoyment. While a piecemeal approach is now delineating blueways or water trails, simple expression of existing federal rights could assure that every citizen, and every family, has a nearby venue for outdoor recreation.
It’s been exciting to see the President and First Lady in our neck of the woods. What’s even more encouraging is that the First Family seems to be practicing what they preach by taking in the great outdoors as part of an active vacation agenda. Our collective national heritage is too important an issue to get caught up in partisan politics. It’s not an issue based on red or blue. Rather, it’s a question of what you want to leave behind for your grandchildren.
By Kirkwood Callahan • Guest Columnist
Plunging public support for Obamacare accelerates presidential efforts to convince the nation that great health care savings are in our future. However, common sense leads most citizens to conclude that giving services to more people requires more dollars.
People’s common sense conclusions are reinforced by the words of Timothy Cahill, the state treasurer of Massachusetts. In a Wall Street Journal article he reminds us that Presidential adviser David Axelrod hailed Massachusetts’ universal health care as the “template” for Obamacare. This is not reassuring, as the state’s program was supposed to cost taxpayers $88 million a year. Since adoption in 2006, however, costs have exceeded $4 billion. Cahill explains that MassCare, as it is called, survived only because of Medicaid reimbursements and federal bailouts.
Cahill forecasts that Obamacare will cause health care inflation and grow federal deficits to “frightening” levels. This rebuts the Congressional Budget Office, which said the legislation would reduce the budget deficit over 10 years by $138 billion.
These conflicting forecasts are explained by the role of the CBO. The “scores,” or cost impact studies, provided by CBO for proposed legislation reflect only what Congress says it intends to do. The “scores” are not based on independent assessments of political and economic realities. For example, when Democrat lawmakers sought the CBO’s score for the proposed health care legislation, Congress said it would cut Medicare spending by a half trillion dollars. The CBO was required to assume this reduction would become a reality, but this spending cut is as likely as a snowstorm in Miami in July.
In spite of the CBO’s favorable “score” of Obamacare, its forecast for the future is disheartening. A $1.3 trillion deficit is expected this year after last year’s $1.4 trillion deficit. It assumes lower deficits thereafter but predicts a doubling of debt from 2009 to 2020 to a total of $15 billion, or 67 percent of GDP. Interest expense will triple in the decade ahead. Some analysts see even more debt unless political leadership changes.
The United States government is embarking on an extended term of indebtedness without equal in our history. Financial markets reacted in late March to this reality as sales of U.S. Treasury debt encountered wary buyers.
The status of financial affairs at the state level also portends future grief for taxpayers.
In its December 2009 “Review” of North Carolina’s budgeting affairs, the Civitas Institute of Raleigh reported that in the budget periods from 2004-05 through 2007-08 the state collected a $3.4 billion surplus. However, only $787 million was left in the “rainy day” fund by 2008. The budget years that followed increased taxes on citizens while legislators failed to make necessary spending cuts. As in Massachusetts, a federal government bailout made a great difference. In our present budget cycle, the state will spend a total of about $20.7 billion, but more than 8 percent will come from the federal government and over half of Washington’s dollars will be spent on Medicaid and childcare subsidies.
Spending attitudes at the local level also reflect a disconnect between taxpayers’ burdens and public officials’ wants. Readers of this paper recently learned that Haywood County Community College proposed to spend over $10 million for a new complex for teaching arts and crafts. Taxpayers and county commissioners coping with a deep recession and a 11.2 percent state unemployment rate are right to question this expenditure.
For decades, the big spenders of both parties skillfully manipulated the political system. Entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare offered great benefits to the elderly as a declining number of the young labored. Agricultural subsidies and increasing federal aid to states and cities concentrated the benefits of public largess on a few while the costs were dispersed upon the many. It could not last.
Public apathy has been replaced with citizen activism. Middle-class Americans have seen their future, and the futures of their children and grandchildren, erode before their eyes. Thousands of citizens have protested publicly. They will not shut up and go home. Last week in this paper, Bruce Gardner made a compelling case why Haywood’s 9/12 Project and the Tea Party Movement will change America.
But there is also another transformation. A new Republican Party has emerged. It is young, dynamic and will not compromise its fiscal integrity (full disclosure: I am a member of the Haywood Republican Executive Committee.)
On the national scene, articulate Republican Congressmen like Eric Cantor of Virginia, Mike Pence of Indiana, and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin are fighting for fiscal reform, as is former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, the primary frontrunner for a U.S. Senate seat.
On the local scene, the Republican primary offers a lineup of qualified conservatives. Our standard-bearers will bring real change.
Stay tuned. The best is yet to come.