Living on a mountain with some wwoofers and a farmer named Donna Few in Glenville a few months ago, I got to help incorporate and raise money and awareness for The Gathering Table, a mostly vegetarian, all local, organic soup kitchen run by volunteers in Cashiers and farmers that are part of The Blue Ridge Farmer’s Co-op that Donna started. We worked around the clock. It was amazing. The way that many progressive nonprofits and communities nationwide are wanting to be when it comes to sustainability, food, community, local craftsmanship, health, etc. is already happening in Western North Carolina. Most Western North Carolinians don’t even know how special their communities are ….because it’s the way they’ve been living for years. But that’s not what this post is about—This post is about Donna Few. l only spent 2.5 weeks on the farm with Donna–but I’ll know her the rest of my life. We somehow simultaneously disagree and agree on everything from Jesus to politics to chemtrails and all the in-betweens.
Raised on farmland in Anderson, SC in a family where deb debuts, manners, and makeup were expected, Donna experienced the damage that the consistent pursuit of status and money often causes. Not that any of those things are necessarily wrong, but Donna totally bucks the trend and I LOVE her for it. She’s an outlier who took a vow of poverty in her late teens, planning to make an income but giving so much away that next month’s financial future would always be uncertain. She’s basically lived paycheck to paycheck ever since, giving and sharing everything she has with people who are struggling and hungry for squash.In her younger years, Donna restauranteured, catered, and local-as-could-be health store entrepreneaured (before it was cool) her former husband’s way through college while somehow managing to raise her kids, start Clemson’s first recycling center, and protest the nuclear plant.
When the husband didn’t work out, she put more time and energy into her restaurants, her kids, and providing seeds for families in Jamaica. In Jamaica people KNOW how to grow food, but many times there are financial and political barriers that make it hard for people to obtain seeds and farming materials. Donna used to load up suitcases with crayons, coloring books, and seeds every few years before hopping on a plane to spend a few months at a time with her “family” in Jamaica. She hasn’t been able to go down there in a while but hopes to go back soon. Donna’s put countless Jamaican kids through school and paid multiple hospital bills from afar. The pictures of Jamaica and her “second family” are beautiful!
These days Donna lives right outside of Cashiers, NC working her farm called Bearfoot Gardens, running the Gathering Table soup kitchen, and coordinating the Blue Ridge Farmer’s Co-op. When Donna moved back to the Cashiers area a few years ago, there was no organized cooperation between local farmers. She found a building to house a farmer’s co-op store, put down the first month’s rent herself, called up local farmers and said, “Hey y’all–we need to look out for each other. I’ve paid the first month’s rent for us to have a co-op store together. If just 5 of you chip in, we’re good to go for the rest of the year. If more jump in, it’ll be even cheaper.” It worked. The co-op has since transitioned from the storefront to instead having an outdoor farmers market where you can buy Bob’s Honey, veggies from Donna’s Bearfoot Gardens, cheese from the goat man, eggs from another Donna in town, and lots of other greatness from a bunch of other farm vendors. Donna’s helping the farm community up there realize their potential and see that they can be stronger together. The funny thing is, as Donna helps them realize their potential…she doesn’t even know how awesome she is. What she’s doing with local food and The Gathering Table soup kitchen could legit be featured in Fast Company magazine or something.
Yesterday Donna bought a foreclosed lot that she’ll soon turn into a mushroom farm. I can’t wait to see it! It’s hard to be so far away from Donna right now because I just want to give her a giant hug. She’s unexpectantly lost two children over the past four months. I’m like completely numb right now even thinking about it. She’s now looking out for herself, her farm, the co-op, the soup kitchen, and some of her family—grandkids who are now one parent short that she’ll now be a little more responsible for. She’s asked that people give money to The Gathering Table soup kitchen in honor of her children. If you have some extra cash this week, calling the United Community Bank of Cashiers (828-743-6600) to donate money into The Gathering Table’s account would be great.
Also, Donna could use some extra help on the farm next Spring and/or Summer. So… friends, family, and random google searchers who have stumbled upon this blog, if you have a few days to spare this Spring, feel free to head up to Glenville, NC and help with the Gathering Table soup kitchen, Bearfoot Gardens, and the mushroom farm. Donna would love to have you! Just email her at email@example.com and be prepared for some really good food and to put in some farm time.