Years living in Boston and Florida made journalist Diane Daniel get serious about N.C. dirt. When the Raleigh native moved to Durham eight years ago, she noticed how much more urban her home state had become.
"But I found that if I just went a little farther into the country, there's still a lot there," she says. "And I wanted to tap into that."
Between 2008 and 2010, Daniel took two- to four-day trips, driving 23,000 miles to gather information for "Farm Fresh North Carolina," which was published last month by UNC Press.
Its subtitle explains what all she assembled in 304 pages: "The Go-To Guide to Great Farmers' Markets, Farm Stands, Farms, Apple Orchards, U-Picks, Kids' Activities, Lodging, Dining, Choose-and-Cut Christmas Trees, Vineyards and Wineries, and More."
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These are noncorporate entities; many if not most follow organic or natural growing methods, using minimal chemicals.
"Farm Fresh North Carolina" includes 427 listings, many with mini-portraits of interesting people she met doing research. There are 35 ag-related mini-essays, plus 20 recipes donated by farmers, chefs and innkeepers.
We asked Daniel to pick a few counties where you can get a fine, farm-fresh experience on a weekend jaunt.
These are busy folks, and entertaining visitors isn't their main line of work. Many farms have call-ahead policies and charge a nominal fee for tours, so check their websites.
"One of the places you'd really want to see would be Fickle Creek Farm, in Efland, which has regular farm tours the first and third Sunday of the month. It's one of the few full-time working farms you can stay on. There are chickens - hundreds of them - pigs, usually cows, and produce. It's a lovely 70-acre farm. You can do an overnight stay at their B&B, which is nice and basic. It's not their main business, but you can get an all-local farm breakfast with their own sausage and eggs. Fickle Creek is completely sustainable and chemical-free. ( www.ficklecreekfarm.com)
"You'd need to make appointments, but there are two bison ranches - Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm ( www.sunsetridgebuffalo.com) in Roxboro, and Vista Wood Bison Ranch ( www.vista woodbisonranch.com ) in Hillsborough, that both give tours.
"I'd have dinner in Hillsborough at Panciuto, an Italian-themed restaurant that features almost all local ingredients, including a lot of Fickle Creek products." ( www.panciuto.com)
"Go to Venezia Dream Farm: They have one of my favorite things...alpacas! It also offers overnight stays - it's not a B&B but an overnight farm house next to the alpaca field. It's very exciting. ( www.veneziadream.com)
"Warren Wilson College has a farm with a sustainable agriculture program. You can go to the campus, see the farm and try local foods in their dining areas. ( www.warren- wilson.edu/farm )
"Imlandris Farm is pretty famous for jams, which you can buy all over the state.... Imlandris also grows rabbits that are sold to restaurants. It's in a very rural area, in Fairview, but has an exciting tour that ends with a jam tasting. ( www.imlandrisfarm.com)
"Asheville is loaded with farm-to-table restaurants. Tupelo Honey Cafe, which now has two locations in Asheville and is coming out with a cookbook. They have their own farm, and also buy from other farmers." ( www.tupelo honeycafe.com )
Guilford and Yadkin counties
"The Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market is the oldest of its type in the state. It began in 1874. It's liveliest on Saturday morning.
"There's also The Edible Schoolyard at the Greensboro Children's Museum - a food garden with wonderful exhibits for the family, and programs as well. Even if you don't have kids, it's a great place to go. ( www.gcmuseum.com)
"For a restaurant, the Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen offers local stuff with a Southern flair. ( www.lucky32.com)
"And there are wineries with good restaurants: Sanders Ridge Winery & Restaurant ( www.sandersridge.com) and Flint Hill Vineyards ( www.flinthyillvineyards.com). Another - Divine Llama Vineyards - has llamas; you get to watch them while sipping wine." ( www.divine llamavineyards.com )
"This is a great trip during harvest time because this is where the apples are.
"There are lots of great orchards, but Sky Top Orchard, near Flat Rock, rises to the top. It has a beautiful hilltop setting, and also they have things for the kids to do. ( www.skytop orchard.com )
"I can also recommend Connemara, the Carl Sandburg Home, which has goats. Some are direct descendants of Mrs. Sandburg's herd. It's beautiful. ( www.nps.gov/carl)
"For dinner, I'd go into downtown Hendersonville and eat at the Square One Bistro, which has a little motto about their trying to get things within a certain number of miles." ( www.square1bistro .com )
"At strawberry time, go to Lewis Nursery and Farms, in New Hanover County, where you can have your pick. (910-452-9659)
"Shelton Herb Farm in Brunswick County has hundreds of varieties and is a pretty cool farm. In Wilmington, the Riverfront Farmers' Market is also kind of cool. ( www.wilmington farmersmarket.com )
"For a meal, try Catch, in Wilmington, which has local seafood - which is unusual - and some other local sourcing. Its chef was recently a semifinalist for a James Beard Award." ( www.catch wilmingtonnc.com )
"The Watauga County farmers market is a good one, held on Saturdays. ( www.watauga countyfarmersmarket.org )
"A place that amuses me is a Christmas tree farm - Swinging Bridge Farm - that also has blueberry plants. The guy who owns it built a little suspension bridge there, which is kind of a little marvel. This is a really fun place that also has an orangery - a little citrus greenhouse. ( www.swingingbridgefarm .com )
"Stay at the Mast Farm Inn, in Banner Elk, which has historic farm buildings. A French family bought it a few years ago. There's a restaurant there called Simplicity, which is amazing. ( www.mastfarm inn.com )
"One of my favorite places in the state is Apple Hill Farm, near Banner Elk, which has alpacas, llamas and donkeys. It's up on a ridge and is very scenic... a wonderful spread that is really done well." ( www.apple hillfarmnc.com )