According to the Boone Chamber of Commerce website, 1 in 6 people do not know where they will find their next meal.
Among them, 1 in 4 are children. Such alarming statistics are the reason behind why food insecurity is a critical issue in Boone.
Conveniently located on King Street is a community outreach in restaurant form, with its doors open to all who seek comfort, quality food or both.
Since 2009, F.A.R.M. Cafe has been Boone’s nonprofit restaurant for its local community.
Due to its nonprofit status, F.A.R.M. Cafe, or “Feed All Regardless of Means,” runs uniquely by comparison to its for-profit counterparts.
One characteristic that sets the cafe apart from others is that customers pay what they can for their food.
If the customer cannot pay for their food, then they are asked to volunteer their time in exchange for the meal.
If you cannot donate monetarily, you can simply donate your time. If one cannot volunteer for their meal, however, they are never turned away.
According to F.A.R.M. Cafe’s website, everyone is encouraged to participate how they can within the F.A.R.M. Cafe community.
This statement from the cafe’s website embodies exactly what they take pride in and strive for: an accepting, close knit community for anyone, from any walk of life, to feel a part of and contribute to in their own ways.
Melissa Holme, a former intern who is now a part-time employee with F.A.R.M. Cafe and president of App State’s F.A.R.M. Cafe Club, said her experience at F.A.R.M. has introduced her to new social opportunities since becoming a student at App.
“The people make F.A.R.M. Cafe shine,” Holme said. “I started out in college not knowing anyone, and it stayed that way for quite sometime. I don’t seek out social situations. But, at F.A.R.M., it’s like all of that doesn’t matter. Everyone at the cafe encourages engagement and conversation. I’ve met people outside of the cafe I never would have known.”
Aside from varying methods of paying for one’s food, the intimate community amongst volunteers, customers and employees is a prime factor in what sets the cafe apart from a typical restaurant.
Kyle Payne, a long-time volunteer with F.A.R.M. Cafe, embraces and takes part in the cafe’s community outreach and expansion.
“Being here, you see all segments of society,” Payne said. “What [F.A.R.M. Cafe] has really taught me, more than anything, is the value that a community like this can have on people who are in any kind of unstable situation. If you have any kind of instability within yourself, you can come to this place and expect to find other people who are more or less stable and are willing to talk to you. One of the most valuable things for someone in a position of hardship is just having someone that they can relate to. Being able to do it over food, on a counter space specifically, is what completes it.”
Alongside uniting a community regardless of any differing factors, F.A.R.M. is taking a stand in helping to solve the ubiquitous community issue of hunger and food insecurity.
Regarding the issue, Holme said, “I think people are afraid of the stigma that food assistance can bring. When my family was on food stamps, I know I was mortified to let other people know. F.A.R.M. removes that barrier and provides this amazing alternative. You can pay what you personally can afford for this high quality food, or simply earn it in a different way.”
F.A.R.M. Cafe is a safe place for all and its nonprofit status is what gives the cafe the level of closeness it has within its community
Renee Boughman, the executive chef at F.A.R.M. Cafe, as well as a part of the group of people who came up with the idea of the cafe in 2009, takes the reigns in several of the cafe’s daily operations.
Boughman is head of the cafe staff and helps in coordinating volunteers, food purchasing for the restaurant and menu creation.
Through being with F.A.R.M. Cafe for so long, Renee has had the opportunity of speaking with volunteers over the years who see F.A.R.M. Cafe as the safe environment it strives to uphold.
“This [volunteer] has some mental challenges and is a wonderful worker,” Boughman said. “She said to me one day, ‘You know, this place has saved my life.’ I said, ‘I don’t know if that’s the case.’ And she said, ‘No, it’s true because I feel safe here. I know that I can get a good meal here.’ I learn as much from her as she does from me, that’s for sure.”
The community rooted within F.A.R.M. Cafe is truly what attracts the volunteers, interns, customers and employees that it does. It is a community united for the same reason: everyone is human and regardless of stability in any realm, everyone has their own story.
It is simply a matter of listening to what someone else has to say. One may never know how relatable someone may be to them and vice versa.
Tommy Brown, the volunteer coordinator for F.A.R.M. Cafe, is in charge of managing volunteers, cooking, marketing and development management for the cafe.
According to Brown, what truly attracts the local community to F.A.R.M. is its combination of quality food, with a just as wholesome community atmosphere.
“I think that people are not only hungry for food, but are also hungry for community,” Brown said. “The cafe’s initial ‘catchphrase’ was “REAL.GOOD.FOOD.” and a few years ago we added “REAL.GOOD.COMMUNITY.” People come to eat great food, or to help serve for one reason or another. Many keep coming back to be a part of this authentic community.”
F.A.R.M. Cafe’s inclusive community is supportive of its customers, volunteers, staff and anyone else who contributes to it. If you would like to volunteer, donate or learn more about F.A.R.M. Cafe and their mission, please visit their website at farmcafe.org
Christina Beals is a sophomore broadcast journalism major from Cary, North Carolina. You can follow her on Twitter at @Christinalala_
Photo by: Halle Keighton, Photo Editor