Lake Norman & Mooresville

From farm to plate

In an age of Cheez Whiz and chicken nuggets, it might be easy to forget exactly where our food comes from.

But one bite of a juicy tomato that's just been plucked from the vine and we remember what real food should taste like.

Christy Shi knew the importance of this, so she started an organization called Know Your Farms to help increase understanding of local food and our connection to farms.

To say Shi has "roots" in the Davidson community would be a bad, albeit true, pun.

A 1996 graduate of Davidson College, she moved away after graduation, only to return to town four years later. Shi, who grew up moving from place to place with her military family, was eager to settle down with her new husband, Robert Lee, who works at the college and whom she married in 2002. "I married someone rooted to a place, and I wanted to put down some roots of my own," she said. So she began gardening.

The interest led her to help out at the Bradford Store, an organic produce market on N.C. 73 in Huntersville. She noticed customers asking questions about their purchases: How did you grow this? Where? Their questions piqued her own curiosity. The store couldn't carry meat or dairy, so she decided to start a local food club. She partnered with local farms, then distributed these items to the 20 families who had signed up.

When her brother, Wes Shi, moved to the area a short time later, he helped her take the experience and use it to start the Know Your Farms organization. They now act as joint partners in the venture.

The siblings began with a community supported agriculture program, where members could buy "shares" of locally and seasonally grown food directly from the farmers. "We're trying to help people connect with their farms, and make a commitment to them," said Shi. The CSA runs year-round, and those interested can sign up at any time.

Know Your Farms also participates in on-farm projects, which include preparing new fields, planting seedlings and shelling pecans. "These projects are a great opportunity to aid the farmers, who are grateful for the help," said Shi.

After executing a successful farm tour last year, Know Your Farms is planning another for Sept. 18-19. "It's a great opportunity to bring your kids out to see what happens. There's education happening at every farm," said Shi. Participating farms will offer hay rides, chances to see the animals, and they will be partnering with local cooking schools to offer culinary demonstrations.

Shi believes the local food experience can start young. The venture is offering several camps throughout the summer for children aged 8-12 with a three-fold focus - growing, preparing and preserving food. "We're aiming toward building commitment and having fun," she said. Campers will tend and harvest the garden at the Ada Jenkins Center, participate in "Iron Chef" competitions, and learn what it takes to produce food. "We want to take kids beyond their yards," said Shi.