High Country Food Hub: Community through local produce

Kara Haselton, Photojournalist

The High Country Food Hub is an online farmer’s market established in 2016 connecting local farmers and the surrounding community year-round. It doubles as a storage facility for the farmers, enabling local producers to sustain a higher yield and continue benefiting from sales even during the cold months. When the pandemic hit in 2020, the food hub saw a spike in customers when grocery stores lacked food and online markets became appealing. Serving as a branch of non-profit Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, the food hub is housed at the Watauga County Agricultural Conference Center located between King Street and Rivers Street in downtown Boone.

The food hub is run by volunteers and staff from local non-profit BRWIA. On Tuesdays, the team receives goods from the producers to be stored and sold. The food hub partners with 90 producers within 100 miles and covers Watauga and Ashe counties, said BRWIA operations director Liz Whiteman.
On Wednesdays, food hub workers like BRWIA distribution coordinator, Sam Springs, carry out individual orders of produce that socially distanced customers picked up. The food hub’s fully outdoor process was developed after the start of the pandemic; however, food hub manager, Taylor Campbell, says it’s a system they’ll be keeping.
Local producer Jana Jones has partnered with the food hub for three years, where her 16-year-old business, Handmaid Creations by Jana, sells natural body care products. When talking about the food hub, she said it is “really helpful for the vendors to basically sell your stuff for you.”
The High Country Food Hub reached a new level of business in the spring of 2020. “When the grocery stores were struggling during COVID-19, people started using the food hub more,” manager Taylor Campbell said. “The pandemic showed the importance of having sustainable agriculture and having a local food system.”
Boone locals and App State alumni Debora Macey (right) and Jill Smith (left) shop at the food hub at least every other week. “You can’t find food like this anywhere,” Macey said while unpacking the day’s pick-up order.
Volunteer Keith Tindall sanitizes bins that are used when delivering orders to customers. Tindall started as a customer from Ashe County but became a volunteer after the beginning of the pandemic.
Outside the High Country Food Hub, various vendors sell their goods while customers pick up their orders every Wednesday. Vendors like Mae Startari, pictured selling hand-drawn coloring prints, are present for the food hub’s weekly pickup day year-round.