Within the rainforest oasis that is Highlands, gardening is an integral part of the local tapestry. The roots run deeper than some may realize, even as they sample the fares at local restaurants, purchase goodies from Highlands Farmers Market vendors, or sit beside a member of the Highlands Community Garden during church. The community has cultivated a haven for foodies and nature enthusiasts alike. Here, the earth and its bountiful harvests are celebrated with open arms, weaving together the stories of those who sow, grow, and savor the farm-to-table delights of Highlands.
Matthew Clayton, “Farmer Matt,” has been working as Director of Farms for Old Edwards Inn (OEI) since 2019. With a dedicated team of nine in tow, he orchestrates the magic at OEI's GlenCove, Cherrywood, and Lake Sequoyah farms and has cultivated something truly special.
GlenCove, an adventure wellness community, hosts a thriving Community-Supported Agriculture program (CSA) that captures the essence of the local food movement. Every Saturday, members of the GlenCove community eagerly pick up their boxes brimming with seasonal treasures. From maple syrup, honey, kale, and chard to cherry tomatoes and beets, the box overflows with 12 to 15 items harvested straight from the garden. This member-exclusive offering has become one of OEI's most beloved programs, with forty-five families eagerly participating. Registration opens, and slots are claimed within minutes – it's a testament to the community's passion for fresh, locally grown food.
OEI's commitment to organic farming means no synthetic pesticides or herbicides are used. Weeds are carefully plucked by hand, and an active composting program nourishes the soil. The result is top-quality produce that is delivered every Tuesday and Friday to grace the tables of OEI's restaurants including Madison’s, 465, the Wine Garden, the Grill Room at Old Edwards Club, GlenCove’s new entertainment barn and food truck, and Half-Mie Farm. This means that when you dine at these establishments, you're savoring the freshest ingredients. Cherrywood's greenhouses ensure a year-round supply of produce, making farm-to-table dining an all-season affair, and GlenCove even boasts eight honeybee hives and sixty laying hens, adding variety to the mix.
While OEI brings the farm-to-table experience to a grand scale, the Highlands Community Garden, owned by Sara and Jack Mayer, offers an intimate connection with the land for the everyday Highlander. This garden, which used to be a horse pasture, now features twenty-one plots, each 9 sq. ft. Members pay a small fee to use a plot and the funds cover grass mowing and garden tilling.
Leslie Manning, a community garden member since 2020, says it’s a small price to pay for fostering a genuine sense of community. She cherishes the garden’s full sun setting and says it’s perfect for growing flowers and vegetables. She finds the experience invaluable, noting, "It's intergenerational and not cost-prohibitive. I can bring my kids along, and we strike up conversations and friendships that are truly valuable." At the end of each season, garden members come together for a grand harvest dinner, sharing dishes and stories, celebrating the growth of their plots, and connecting with each other.
In addition to these community-driven initiatives, the Highlands Farmers Market provides a bustling hub for local growers and artisans to showcase their wares. It's the ideal place to access fresh, locally sourced ingredients and artisanal products that enhance the farm-to-table experience.
In Highlands, NC, farm-to-table isn't just a culinary trend; it's a way of life that celebrates nature, community, and sustainability, nurturing a unique bond among residents and visitors alike. It’s hard not to fall in love with the flavors and friendships that define this little mountain town.