On the way to somewhere else

Joe Newberry, a public information officer with the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, will speak in Charlotte on Thursday about “Homegrown Handmade: Arts Roads and Farm Trails,” a book just published by John F. Blair ($19.95). In a phone interview last week, Newberry explained why the 390-page guidebook seems to have no author … and why you shouldn't miss Tabor City's annual N.C.Yam festival.

Q. You didn't write “Homegrown Handmade” – but you're touring with it. How does that work?

I was an editor who helped get the book into shape. I'd have to say that hundreds were involved in creating this book about agri-cultural tourism.

We were trying to get folks to visit rural communities – to see stuff they might not have thought about: working farms, galleries, great B&Bs and so on. An interesting mix of things. We inventoried communities to find out what they wanted to showcase – what made them unique; what made their local restaurant such a favorite; what made local artists open studios.

We started in Eastern North Carolina, worked into the Piedmont and did one of the book's 16 trails in the foothills.

We'd hold community meetings because we wanted input from farmers, businesspeople, people who ran festivals. …

We had this process where they'd fill out a form for our Web site, and the form had a set of criteria. Like for restaurants: Did they have local art on the wall? Did they serve a local food – like regionally famous barbecue? Was some restaurant's blueberry pie simply too good to be believed?

For businesses, we had to make sure they were open enough during the week so folks stopping by could actually be able to see what they wanted to see. And the businesses had to be visitor-friendly.

Q. How does a Web site factor into this?

The book is an extension of a site we started, We can make changes quickly on the site. And if we reprint the book, we'd make revisions like you'd do with any guidebook.

Q. What's the most surprising place visited?

There's something unique about every one of the trails. I'm personally impressed that folks share what they do.

My most recent “coolest story” is at a kickoff event for the book, outside Snow Hill, where a woman stood up who raises produce and prawns. She said how proud she is to let people see how their food is raised. This woman grew up on a farm and didn't want to leave. Raising prawns is a way for her to stay where she and her husband live.

Q. Snow Hill is near Goldsboro and Farmville. Yet that's where she's raising freshwater shrimp. Does the book capitalize on people who are “playing out of position”?

When you go around North Carolina, you'll notice that if something is grown, there'll be a festival about it – watermelons, pickles, blueberries, yams, animals and so on.

Q. But things get stranger, right?

There's a celebrity goat farm in Siler City: All the goats there are named after famous people. It's also a B&B where they serve gourmet dinners – and their goat cheese is about the best ever.

Or consider the Carnivore Preservation Trust in Chatham County. It's a home for big cats – like lions or tigers – in need of rescue. It's a sanctuary that also educates the public.

Q. And what does this add up to?

Cool stuff you can see on the way to somewhere else. Many times, people will be driving along and think, “This place is beautiful; I would like to stay here or eat here.”

This book can fit into a glove compartment. When you're driving through an area, check out the places to eat that pass the “pickup test” – places where the pickup trucks are.

The book offers choices for couples. Maybe I wanted to go somewhere I could kayak around. Well, maybe there's somewhere nearby where my wife can take an art class.

Beyond that, it appeals to cultural tourists – people who want to know as much about an area as they can. They like authenticity, the real deal. They want to know where food comes from, and where they can find N.C. music, real N.C. barbecue and festivals honoring the yam, sorghum and watermelons.

These people are important to the state. Consider this: The general traveler spends $59 per day per person; the cultural travel spends about $102.