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Is the dining room inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” a national-scale oasis?
About 10 years ago, acclaimed novelist and author Barbara Kingsolver and her hubby, Emory and Henry College professor of environmental studies Steven Hopp, committed themselves to a somewhat radical experiment. Grown loathsome of the human engineered, city-in-the-heart-of-a-desert environment of Tucson, Arizona, and determined to rekindle their connection to the land, Kingsolver and family (daughters Camille and Lily) packed their things and cut out for Hopp’s southwest Virginia homestead.
Nestled into the Blue Ridge mountains and inspired by the seasons, the family made a pact: “… to abandon the industrial-food pipeline and live a rural life – vowing that, for one year, they’d buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it.”
The resulting experience was root-shakingly powerful. So much so it compelled Kingsolver and Hopp to co-author a book, 2007’s cultishly popular, New York Times Bestseller, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.”
Within a year of “Miracle”’s release, enlisting the help of his long-time friend, regional/seasonal cuisine expert, chef Phillip Newton, Hopp opened Harvest Table Restaurant, determined to create “[t]he most dedicated farm to table restaurant in the region, state, and, eventually, the nation.”
Over the course of the next two years, Hopp and Newton built a network of over 50 local farms from which to purchase top-notch seasonal produce. Bent on taking their locavorialist operation a giant’s leap further, in early 2010, they purchased a 4.5-acre tract of property adjacent to Hopp’s own homestead, hired a full-time, degree-holding farm manager, and founded Harvest Table Farm.
Catching wind of these goings-on, in late 2011, The New York Times sent a reporter to have a gander at the “house that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle built.” Amidst a mostly glowing write-up, Newton’s menu of year-round seasonal/regional cuisine was described as being so good it would “make [the place] an instant hit in a progressive, urban enclave like Brooklyn or Berkeley, California.”
Newton says the relationship between farm manager and chef is key.
“First thing you have to understand is that Sam [Eubanks (the farm manager)] and I are like this,” Newton says, tomahawking his crossed forefingers. “We’re always going back and forth over the phone. She’s telling me what’s happening on the front lines – who’s got what coming in, when it’ll be available, what to expect next week, and so on.”
Farm manager Eubanks reinforces the tomahawked fingers perspective.
“Prior to each season’s planting, Phillip and I make a plan. We determine the varieties and quantities of each crop we’ll grow at the farm. Then, based on those projections, touch base with our other farmers, finding out who in the network would like to fill the gaps in demand, as well as who’s growing that special-something Phillip might like to feature.”
She sees the relationship as long-term.
“Steven and I, and Phillip too – we want to serve as an example for the present, but also create a model for the future,” she says. “I guess you could say we’re looking ahead to a time when the system of transporting vast quantities of produce thousands and thousands of miles isn’t possible anymore.”
13180 Meadowview Square
(Just off Exit 24 of I-81)