Other Side of Foodtopia: Waste Not in Asheville

04/2013; 54(4):20-25.


ASHEVILLE, North Carolina, has gained a national reputation as a hub of local and artisanal foods. In fact, the local foods movement in this Southern Appalachian city has become so embedded in the community consciousness that the city has dubbed itself "the world's first Foodtopian Society." There are hundreds of unique restaurants, dozens of bakeries, breweries and cafés, and over a dozen tailgate farmers markets in this city of about 85,000 people. And according to Maggie Cramer, communications manager for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), there's been a five-fold increase in the number of restaurants sourcing local foods in the Asheville region over the last decade. "You can't open a restaurant in the Asheville area without making a commitment to support local farmers," says Cramer. "It's what consumers want and what chefs know they can get." ASAP, a nonprofit based in Asheville, supports farmers in western North Carolina in a variety of ways, including publishing a popular local foods guide that helps connect consumers to farmers. The number of farmers in that guide has increased by over 800 percent since it was first published 10 years ago. And those farmers are always trying to grow or raise new foods for this demanding market. What may not be as obvious is the care and innovation that's occurring with the stream of organic by-products, residuals and wastes that inevitably follow from the more celebrated farm-to-table segment of the food cycle. What happens to spent malting grains from the craft breweries, used coffee grounds from cafés, leftovers in the award-winning kitchens, and the old frying oils from food trucks and diners? It turns out that there's been just as much creativity in this less visible sector of the local food system. And the experiences of Asheville in capturing and using food wastes and by-products — the successes as well as ongoing challenges — can serve as useful examples to communities in the Appalachian region and beyond for what's possible.

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