Farm to Table and Back: Agricultural Lessons in Cabarrus County, NC

Hickory Ridge High School Cafe 805 Cabarrus County, NC

While there’s plenty of reasons to visit Cabarrus County, NC (hello, Charlotte Motor Speedway!), the reason for my last visit was out of my comfort zone. A confessed indoor girl, I wanted to get down and dirty on the farm – literally. With a farm to table renaissance all over the country, I also was ready to find out more about the new-age farmers popping up and why they’re changing professions.

So, curiosity got the best of me at Travel Media Showcase 2017. That curiosity turned into a deeper love of farming and what it means for future growers. Here’s how Cabarrus County is reaping the benefits for its residents.

Hickory Ridge High School Cafe 805 Grilled Summer Vegetables Cabarrus County, NC
Grilled summer veggies at Hickory Ridge High School’s Cafe 805.

It Starts in the Schools

I was very pleased to find that Cabarrus County offers culinary classes in select high schools. For example, Hickory Ridge High School cultivates the love of cooking by offering a true culinary class to its students. Each day, the young adults are given lessons in plating, table service, and kitchen management. There’s also several chances throughout the year for them to show off their new skills. Did I mention the school has its own in-house restaurant? It’s called Cafe 805.

Hickory Ridge High School Cafe 805 Students Cabarrus County, NC
Students in Hickory Ridge High School’s culinary program.

The students enrolled in the culinary classes are able to find exactly which part of the culinary profession is for them and are able to specialize in that area, too. For example, some of the students want to be fully hands-on in the kitchen by preparing and cooking the food. Others have chosen management and feel their ability to multitask is a definite plus. Still others aren’t certain and are still exploring which area to specialize. They work in a hands-on style with an executive chef who shows them the ropes and gives insight to a professional kitchen setting.

Hickory Ridge High School Cafe 805 Meatloaf Cabarrus County, NC
Bite-size meatloaf at Hickory Ridge High School in Cabarrus County, NC.

Taste Testing Cafe 805

Luckily, I, along with other curious writers, had the chance to taste test dishes that the students were working on. Each student had their own set of tasks to sign up for including preparation and serving. The meal had a lovely flow and, with squash the food of the day, we dined on delicious dishes. and the menu wasn’t a plain Jane one, either: Roasted Lemonade, Meatloaf, and Squash Casserole, as well as a beautiful Summer Squash Lemon Cake, seriously made for the perfect summer lunch.

Hickory Ridge High School Cafe 805 squash cake
Summer Squash Cake at Hickory Ridge High School’s Cafe 805.

What I adored most was seeing the passion for food prevalent in both the students and instructors. I had a chance to chat with a couple of the students and the running theme was that they began cooking at home and fell in love with it.

For our visit, Hickory Ridge HS used vegetables straight from the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm. Never heard of an incubator farm? You’ll definitely want to read on.

antique tractor at Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm
Antique farm equipment at Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm in Cabarrus County, NC.

Incubating for the Love of Farming

Truth? I had never heard of an incubator farm until reading up on FAM tours for Cabarrus County at TMS. When given the opportunity to learn about why millennials are moving from a brick and mortar job to farming, I just had to learn more. So, exactly what is an incubator farm?

First, I had to think of the definition of an incubator: “a place, especially with support staff and equipment, made available at low rent to new, small businesses”. New farmers start off small and gradually increase their plot sizes. They’re able to sell their crops and make a small profit. After each has completed the program, it’s then they can decide if the farming life is the new way of life. The incubator farm helps them locate available land to continue with their farming dream, too.

Why an Incubator Farm?

Next, applying it to the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm was easy. The farm provides a way for potential farmers to learn the ropes. Learning the ropes includes sessions with expert growers, what to farm and how to farm it. More importantly, how to farm it ORGANICALLY. They learn about how and where to place crops to avoid using harmful pesticides (who knew that the same crop a few rows apart will stop pests from overtaking an entire crop?) to keep the plants healthy.

Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm succulents
Succulents at Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm in Cabarrus County, NC

Each newbie farmer must come up with a growing and selling plan, but what I loved about the experience was talking with the new growers. There was a young woman that’s a nurse and wants to help people in a new way. There was a young man with health issues who learned the benefits of organic farming. Each of the half-dozen that I spoke to had their own reasons for transitioning to farming, but they all had a common goal: to help themselves and others.

Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm land
Cultivating the land at Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm in Cabarrus County, NC

Touring the incubator farm was a true delight. There’s both produce and flowers that are grown on the Lomax Farm, too. I was delighted to learn that you don’t have to want to become a full-time farmer to reap the farm’s benefits. There are several flower growers that simply want to get their hands dirty.

Hickory Ridge High School Cafe 805
Hickory Ridge High School Cafe 805’s outdoor lunch.

Thanks to the gang at Travel Media Showcase and Visit Cabarrus for the delicious hospitality and hosted visit. All opinions are my own!



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