Cabarrus

Check out the farms that grow your food

Elizabeth Anne Dover worked in the late summer heat last week, snipping off rogue branches of her grape vines.

"You want slow, controlled growth," she explained. "It gives you better flavor and balance in the wine."

Dover will be showing off her four-acre vineyard on Concord Parkway and explaining grape production to visitors when she participates in the second annual Charlotte Area Farm Tour, a two-day event hosted by Know Your Farms, a Davidson-based organization that promotes local agriculture.

About 500 people toured the nine local farms that participated in last year's tour. This year, 27 farms across the Charlotte area will participate Sept. 18-19.

"Charlotte is ringed by great farms that need everybody's support," said Wes Shi, co-owner of Know Your Farms.

Most of the farms on the tour are within 40 minutes of Charlotte's center, he said. The tour includes stops at four Cabarrus County farms: Dover Vineyards, Barbee Farms, the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm and Lucky Leaf Gardens.

The family-friendly tours will feature hay rides or walking tours of the farms, which range in specialty from ostriches to mushrooms.

Farmers will have their products available for sale, and cooking demonstrations will be offered at some of the farms.

Tour tickets can be purchased in advance for $25 each vehicle. Vehicle passes can also be purchased on tour days at each participating farm for $30. Tour passes allow groups to visit any of the farms from 1:30-6:30 p.m. on both tour days.

Shi and his sister, Christy Shi, run Know Your Farms, which aims to establish a closer connection between farmers and consumers.

People who go on the tour can see how local food is grown, and they can get up close and personal with their food, said Wes Shi.

"You get closer than you can ever get in the grocery store," he said.

And that's important, he said, particularly in a state that is quickly losing farmland.

North Carolina lost more than 604,000 acres of farmland between 2002 and 2007, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The census numbers show Cabarrus County was part of that trend. In 2002, the county had 73,346 acres of farmland. In 2007, the amount of farmland was down to 66,780 acres.

Local food isn't always cheaper, but it's better quality and healthier, said Shi.

"We feel a pressure here to help the farms stay in business," he said. "These guys need you to spend an extra couple bucks."

The tour is a first for Dover Vineyards, where Dover, 25, tends to her grapes on family-owned land that was once a dairy farm.

Wine made from her grapes will be ready in 2012, said Dover, who attended N.C. State University, studied wine-making in New Zealand and has been taking online classes from the University of California - Davis to perfect her craft.

Another stop on the tour will be at Kate Brun's home in the Stallings Glen neighborhood in Harrisburg, where she has recently established her own miniature farm, Lucky Leaf Gardens.

Brun grows microgreens, vegetables and herbs grown only for a week or so and harvested just after they've sprouted.

Once a storage room and later a toy room, the solarium at the back of her home has been converted to a greenhouse where several shelves hold trays of green sprigs.

She's been growing the microgreens for about a year but launched her business about four months ago. Since then, Lucky Leaf Gardens has taken off, she said.

Now the 35-year-old former real estate agent and mother of two produces more than 20 organically grown varieties and takes orders from about a dozen local chefs.

As part of the tour, Brun will teach visitors about her microgreens and give samples. She'll also have microgreens for sale, including the popular Lucky Mix, a combination of radish, broccoli, red cabbage and cauliflower that sells out at the farmer's market in Harrisburg every week.

There will also be lemonade for sale, courtesy of her 4-year-old son, Jack.

Brun attributes the interest in her specialty garden to the growing "where-does-my-food-come-from movement," she said.

"My chefs were getting this product all along, but it was coming off a truck," said Brun.

She delivers the same day she harvests.

But it's not just about fresh produce. It's about connecting with the people growing your food, she said.

"People are really realizing we're losing that piece of culture."

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