Tailgating, Lavender & Goats

Leona Palmer

Leona Palmer › Leona Palmer was a native of rural Wisconsin before becoming a time-tested New Yorker. After having ...

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(Above: the French Broad Tailgate Market)

Farming on the Road: Asheville’s Tailgate Market and Moutain Farm

There’s plenty of talk about Asheville, NC these days. A mix of artists, anarchists, hippies, musicians, primitive-skills enthusiasts, environmentalists and farmers—as well as just good ole North Carolinians—Asheville can offer someone the benefit of fitting into a niche while constantly meeting new folks.

Our first afternoon, my partner and I headed downtown hungry and thirsty. We found relief, stumbling upon a celebrated “tailgate market“. Coined by their weekly appearance in parking lots where vendors set up tables at the back of their trucks, often under pop-up tents, the term delineates them from more formal farmers’ markets which take place daily and often at permanent indoor venues. Located next to and named for the French Broad Food Coop on Biltmore Avenue, this market touts that it is the original all-organic tailgate market in town.

A wood-fired, domed clay oven stands at the entrance. A man meticulously sprinkles sea salt and rosemary on a round piece of dough. Next to him delicious samples of focaccia sit in a basket. There are no available loaves sitting out  and we immediately call dibs on the one in the oven. At Old Ground Farm I pick up basil, heirloom tomatoes, a yellow squash and a small eggplant. The bearded owner graciously donates a small serrated knife to our cause when we realize I have zero utensils in my car.

Dwain Swing of OakMoon Farm & Creamery speaks fondly of his goats. A lively kid named for race-car driver Danica Patrick runs so fast in circles around the pen that she rides up the wall. The licensed creamery is not certified-organic, which—depending on the state—can be prohibitive in cost and bureaucracy for small producers. (Certification can be a hot-button topic situated between consumer quality guarantee, at a time when markets are becoming full-time businesses, and arbitrary government co-option of a movement that pre-dates its involvement. All agree that the most important thing is to ask a lot of questions and to know and trust your farmer). But Dwain speaks freely of his pristine infrastructure and ethical commitment, inviting us out to take a look. Sadly, we don’t have time, but choose a container of  herbed goat cheese in olive oil, after sampling every cheese on the table at his request.

We claim our focaccia from the bread baker Pat Battle, master gardener and horticulturist. He hosts the WCQS radio show “In the Garden” (available online) and teaches a wide-variety of classes (posted on their YouTube page) in sustainable agriculture and artisan bread-making through Living Web Farms, his educational and productive community project. At the end of the parking lot sits French Broad Food Coop, a small but incredibly thorough store where we passed samples of local wine before choosing some local organic bratwurst.

Now: to eat. Back at the camp site my partner starts a wood fire in the pit and I thinly slice the eggplant and squash, which goes on the grill with the bratwurst. The tomato and basil serve as a salad with the goat cheese and focaccia. By meal’s end we sighed with contentment.

Leaving Asheville the next morning we detour northward, intent on visiting Mountain Farm since it combines my absolute favorite things: lavender, goats and blueberries. Up in the mountains and just on the edge of Pisgah National Forest, I cannot imagine a more idyllic location. We first enter the gift shop where I find (all of it lavender-infused): goat-milk soap; honey, marinade salt, tea and lemonade mix; beauty, bath and home products; goat cheese and ice cream. Lavender-free are the fresh eggs as well as an incredibly soft wool yarn—a blend of llama, goat, sheep and angora rabbit fur popular with the local knitting and craft scene. Everything in the shop is hand-processed on-site and you can find many of the goods online.

Marilyn Cade and her family moved here in 1974 with an admittedly romantic notion about farming, learning though trial and error and building one leg at a time until ten years ago when it became fully operational. The 24-acre farm is the smallest licensed dairy in North Carolina. Everything is grown and processed naturally, sustainably and seasonally. With the recent addition of honey, which they infuse with lavender, this incredibly diverse operation combines livestock, perennials, craftsmanship and education.

The planet offers 200 varieties of lavender (including white and pink). Mountain Farm grows three of the purple: Grosso (the most productive); Provence (the most well-known and fragrant); and Hidcote (a shorter plant that retains a deep indigo color after drying). The plants thrive in at least 6 hours of direct sun, good air circulation and well-draining sandy soil with some lime. They prune in late winter and harvest by hand-sickle in summer when the first buds have opened, cutting as long a stem as possible. The seeds do not reproduce true to form, so the plants are propagated by early spring cuttings from an organic nursery in Durham.

The year-round operation employs five people. They help care for the llamas, chickens, miniature donkeys, Jacob sheep (a biblical heritage breed kept as pets and for wool), and three types of goat: Saanen (high-producing in lower-fat milk), Nubian (highly popular breed producing creamy milk), and my favorite, the Nigerian Dwarf (a high-producing, gentle and playful breed). Goats usually give birth to twins, though Marilyn told me of a rare instance when six survived, the last two coming out “flat as balloons that needed inflating”.  They pop up and start bouncing around almost immediately. The kids are fed mother’s milk from a bottle, helping domestication. Contrary to belief, a “dam” (mother) can lactate for years after giving birth if milked consistently. These goats are milked twice daily until Christmas, when everyone takes a holiday, before giving birth in late February after a  five-month pregnancy. The milk and cheese reflect the subtle flavor of the local pastures, not unlike honey or wine. In North Carolina, processing raw goat’s milk into cheese is legal if aged 60 days—by which time it would spoil if unsafe.

We buy some biscuits for the goats and look around. The animal pens nestle into the levered mountainside, while the plateau of the property gives way to the lavender garden and labyrinth, main barns, house and gift shop. Rows of blueberry plants cover a gently sloping hill on the opposite side that leads down to a scenic pond in the valley below.

The farm offers self-harvest blueberries and lavender, guided weekend tours, and workshops in lavender cultivation (annual), soap-making (monthly) and “Introduction to Backyard Farming” which gives the basics of milking, feeding and animal health (bi-monthly). They host an annual lavender festival Father’s Day weekend, “lavender weddings” and vacation cottage rentals.

If they rented out apartments, I might still be there.

Have you ever visited Asheville? Tell us about your favorite Asheville food or farm experience in the comments!

Photo Credit: Leona Palmer