A while back I spoke about the great work Jean-Pierre Marechal was doing from the Charlotte Marriott City Center with a network of North Carolina farmers. Soon, Jean-Pierre will be featured on the CBS World News Tonight with Katie Couric at the end of the broadcast as part of the "American Hero" segment showcasing the success of their simple idea of connecting farmers and chefs.
Begun as an idea to enable transformation of the textile towns and tobacco farms into sustainable communities, the Foothills Connect project was the brainchild of Tim Will, a retired telecom exec who had relocated to the Appalachians. Initially, the goal was to provide broadband service to the over 6,000 small farms, each with 5-20 arable acres. Most of these plots were no longer farmed, having given way to the textile industry until the 90's bust. The area needed a new industry.
Through divine luck, Tim met Jean-Pierre and discovered that what Charlotte's restaurants needed was access to fresh, local produce. "If farmers will grow what I need at a reasonable price, I'll buy theirs instead of having it trucked from California or Florida...and, I'll tell my chef friends to do the same" said JP, which was all Tim needed to hear.
With JP championing the chefs, Tim built an online ordering and communication network that has grown to 87 farmers in just two years. Jim Searcy is the most active farmer in the co-op, now growing 70 different crops that two years ago had not even been considered. His produce can be found now on many Charlotte restaurant menus, including of course the first to offer local Rutherford County produce, Chef Marechel's Savannah Red at the Charlotte Marriott.
These accomplishments are garnering national attention, including the recent Purpose Prize award and $100,000 grant won by Foothills Connect. Providing viable sustainability through a dedicated chef's passion and network, Jean-Pierre Marechel has proven that by working with his community, a chef can make a real difference.
Read more about the Purpose Prize and Tim Will.
What's on YOUR plate today?