An unseen cultural exchange takes place every day in the cafeteria where Folkmoot performers take their meals.
Before, during and after a grueling day of performances, Folkmoot dancers fuel up on North Carolina fare. Whether it’s squash casserole or a juicy slice of watermelon, Folkmoot dancers have a wide-ranging choice of fresh produce grown locally at each of their four daily meals.
“They love anything that’s fresh,” said Sue Shoemaker, food service manager at Folkmoot. “I don’t buy any frozen vegetables.”
A group of performers from Netherlands, who happened to be vegetarian, raved about the squash, zucchini and tomatoes during last year’s Folkmoot when a shift was made to food grown in Western North Carolina.
The benefits of featuring locally grown produce are clear-cut for Sybil Mann, Folkmoot’s food committee coordinator.
Other than supporting the local economy and minimizing the carbon footprint, buying from Western North Carolina producers is also more cost-effective, Mann said. Folkmoot saved $9,000 from buying locally last year alone.
Moreover, it shows off the fresh fruits and vegetables grown in Western North Carolina to performers coming to the U.S. — many for the first time.
Fresh produce is also more nutritious than what’s usually found in cans, a fact that dancers do not overlook at meals. “These folks are expending huge amounts of calories,” said Mann. “It’s important to provide them with top-notch nutrition while they’re here.”
Though much of the produce is bought from local farmers, others are also in the mix.
The Historic Haywood Farmer’s Market is collecting extra fruits and vegetables from its vendors, while grocery chains like Ingles and Bi-Lo are donating bread and bakery items at the end of each day. Wal-Mart has donated a $250 gift card to Folkmoot for food as well.
Meanwhile, small-scale gardeners are also chipping in. Whether they have a surplus of cucumbers, extra basil or a bushel of zucchini, locals are donating their own homegrown food to the Folkmoot cafeteria.
One man recently delivered a beautiful bouquet of fresh-cut flowers from his garden. Shoemaker said that generosity adds intimacy to the process.
“It’s like family,” said Shoemaker. “It gets you closer into Folkmoot.
Sam Queen, a former Folkmoot board member, would regularly drive to the farmer’s market in Asheville and to nearby farms and bring back truckloads of fresh produce for the Folkmoot cafeteria. But after Queen passed away, Folkmoot began to shift back to canned and frozen foods, Mann said.
Last year, George Ivey —a local advocate for farm to table initiatives — convinced Folkmoot to begin buying local fruits and vegetables once more.
Unfortunately, a cool growing season translated to decreased availability, but this summer has been especially good to the region’s farmers, bringing a bounty of fresh produce to Folkmoot’s doorstep.
Skipper Russell, a farmer in Bethel, is supplying much of the fruits and vegetables, including zucchini, squash, beans, cucumbers, romaine lettuce and tomatoes. Whatever he isn’t growing, he gets from other local farmers.
Russell considers himself a dedicated advocate for eating locally rather than purchasing food grown outside the country.
“You might be getting a better deal on it, but you don’t know what kind of quality you’re getting,” said Russell, adding that much of the food that enters the country is uninspected.
While Western North Carolina is impressing Folkmoot dancers with its locally grown produce, the performers are also sharing their own culinary traditions. Starting last year, the dancers have taken turns cooking typical meals from their country during late night meals at the cafeteria — their fourth and final meal for the day after all performances are through.
The exchange became an instant hit and will continue again this year.
“Food is a really important part of the sharing that we can do and the sharing they can do with each other,” Mann said. “As we highlight our regional food here, we just see benefits across the board.