Spotlight: Growing up

photo by Robert Willett

by Jessie Ammons

You can literally put your money where your mouth is to support our local farmers this month. From a formal dinner to a casual seafood broil or a family-friendly picnic, all three take place the weekend of June 5 – 7, part of the Farm to Fork event to benefit The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS).

While the notion of “farm to fork” is now a familiar one, when CEFS first sought a unique fundraiser concept eight years ago, that wasn’t the case. “This event is really about young farmers,” says Colleen Minton, who’s working to put it all together. “Back when this event started, it was unique to round up so many chefs that sourced locally.” At the beginning, the event was limited to a picnic on a Sunday afternoon at Breeze Farm in Hurdle Mills. This is the first year that two dinners will precede the picnic. Vivian Howard of The Chef and the Farmer and Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery are two of the boldfaced names cooking at the Duke Gardens dinner June 5; Saltbox Seafood’s Ricky Moore and The Carolina Inn’s James Clark will put on a fish fry June 6.

For the picnic on June 7, area farmers are paired with area chefs – usually about a third from Raleigh, a third from Durham, and the rest from Chapel Hill, Cary, Hillsborough, and other spots around the Triangle – to prepare bite-sized dishes.

“It’s a lot to bring in to one weekend,” Minton says. But the goal makes it worthwhile. “It’s all about awareness for CEFS.” The center is a partnership between N.C. State, N.C. A&T University, and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that works to promote just and equitable food and farming systems, including support and education for new and young farmers. The group prides itself on being one of the first of its kind to go beyond “preaching” about the benefits of sustainable agriculture to showing what it’s all about.

So if you go, bring your appetite, but get ready to talk the walk, as well. Farmers are eager to spread the word. “We’re going to have a crazy informational set of folks there.”

James Beard-winning author Paul Greenberg will speak before a dinner from five acclaimed North Carolina chefs, including Vivian Howard of Chef + the Farmer and Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery, at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Friday, June 5. Greenberg will also speak about sustainable seafood at The Rickhouse in Durham on Saturday, June 6, with a fish fry from Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint and James Clark of The Carolina Inn. Sunday’s picnic will be from 4 – 7 p.m. and feature almost three dozen local chefs and farmers. Weekend passes are $275. For more information and individual event ticket prices, visit