Don’t panic. Spritzing an overdose of Bach flower essences onto your tongue, you ask yourself, “Is there a respite from this mess? Somewhere I can go and pretend not to have a preference between the French Broad Food Co-op, Earth Fare and Greenlife? A place where I can take a vacation without abandoning an addiction to good food and good scenery?”
The answer is yes. Relief awaits just outside of town, with open pastures, cozy accommodations and a wealth of farm-raised goods — the perfect tonic for Ashevillean-affliction. Just point your Subaru Outback toward Mars Hill and don’t stop until you reach the gates of Eden, otherwise known as East Fork Farm.
A chorus of contented baa-ing ushers you up the gravel road to a cedar shake A-frame, tucked among the trees. The view is ridiculously perfect. Taking in the sight of the flock moving like a lazy white river across acres of hilly pasture makes an hour and a half roll by in a blink, before you even realize you’re still holding your suitcase. The details of your accommodations slowly begin to unfold. The gas fireplace flickers. The oak table is set with homemade pottery and wine glasses waiting to be filled. The loft bedroom hovers, beckoning, and the steaming cedar hot tub makes its own case. First things first: kill your cell phone. The rest of this story is a blur of sunny walks, early happy-hours, excellent meals and a love affair with that hot tub (how can I bring this thing home with me)?
The best meals to grace my town-dwelling table were literally born here. Stephen and Dawn Robertson have been offering meat from the pastured lamb, chicken, rabbit and duck they raise through the North Asheville Tailgate and Asheville City markets (both Charlotte Street and south Asheville locations) for more than four years. They recently helped pioneer the first winter market, now held each Saturday at the Woodfin YMCA, helping to make good, local food more accessible year-round. They’ve got a bit of a cult following, which comes as no surprise once you’ve sampled their food. Their home-cooked roasted whole chicken or slow-braised lamb are classic, simple dishes that please more than most. As far as carnivorous pleasures are concerned, East Fork sets the bar high. Our favorite dishes include barbecued rabbit; herb-smothered chicken; pepper-crusted lamb chops; and a very memorable and complex roasted Peking duck with apples and lemon verbena.
Keeping animals on well-tended pasture yields a special product. The food industry seems to have caught on to the superiority of these methods, and sometimes exploits catch phrases such as “pastured” and “grass-fed.” Rest assured, here dwells the real thing. The Robertsons have no tolerance for gimmicks. They are too honest, and so is their product.
In some ways, the Robertsons seem almost superhuman. Though meals are up to the guests to fix on their own at the cottage, the couple usually provides a bit of meat and freshly gathered eggs from the farm. One evening, they invited us as guests to their own dinner table. Over supper, Dawn mentioned that she not only raised the lamb she braised and served alongside homemade yeast rolls, local kale and roasted squash, she also threw the pottery on which it was served, not to mention the two scratch-made pies ready to be pulled from the oven as we cleared our plates.
I can’t figure out how they run their farm so smoothly and still have room for such genuine Southern hospitality. Granted, sleep is perhaps scarce for these guys, but you wouldn’t know it. Laughter and good humor finds them easily. Their guest cottages are a natural fit. Nestled into the farm’s sprawling landscape, guests can enjoy true privacy without forfeiting supreme views and a casual rapport with the resident creatures.
We were lucky enough to visit during peak lambing, catching fresh moments with the snow-white fluff balls on their wobbly little legs. The experience of hanging out with day-old lambs while getting a chance to really get to know the people behind one’s food is a rare luxury. Frankly, a hotel stay cannot deliver this level of rejuvenation.
We left the farm completely refreshed and noticeably cured of our previous desire to escape. Crossing back into city limits after two exquisite nights on the farm, a Prius sporting a solitary bumper sticker passed our car. Squinting, I barely made out the text: “Life is Good.” Ha! If they only knew.
— For more information http://www.eastforkfarm.net. Contact Stephen or Dawn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-3276. Shop for East Fork Farm meats and eggs this winter season at the Woodfin YMCA Saturdays from 10 a.m. until noon. Arrive early for the best selection.