Drawn primarily to the notion of foraging the mountains of Appalachia for lavender, chamomile, various and sundry greens, and culinary ‘shrooms, I found myself welcomed into the inner-circle of Antoinette Goodrich, the soft-spoken and gracious, bespectacled and silver-haired owner of Laughing Water Farm in Marion, Virginia. I arrived to an unexpected but equally welcome and mouth-watering feast of straight-from-the-farm, classically-aged Angus beef meatballs, an assortment of handmade bread and rolls, a melt-in-your-mouth mix of black-eyed peas and herbs, 2% chocolate milk (a rare indulgence that hadn’t passed my lips since grade school) donated by neighboring Duchess Dairy Products in Rural Retreat, tapioca pudding (a delicacy as foreign to my taste buds as the milk), and tiny, caramelized, grooved cakes of French origin known as canele, which Antoinette had molded into train cars and mini-Bundts. The food was so incredibly honest it almost made me forget the real reason I had come to this place of all things wholesome and good.
And then, I foraged with Carrie who knew every plant that sprang from the earth like the back of her hand, having spent the better part of 40 years in these hills, and the young intern, Gregory, who recently graduated from Virginia Tech on a curriculum that took him from Engineering to Political Science and finally into his real calling of Farming the Land. Gregory looks like so many of the young men common in these parts: bearded and wise, unkempt and slightly gaunt, as comfortable here as on the Appalachian Trail. The only thing I supposed was different about his look today was the way the tomato sauce from the meatball sub he had just inhaled stained his face into a Joker-esque looking smile. He had been there since February with no real plans of going anywhere anytime soon as long as Antoinette could use some help. And as I stood there looking over acre after acre of arable land that a decade-long widow would surely need help tending since her own two children were away at college, I gathered that he might be there a while.
In addition to Angus, she also produces rose veal, free-range lamb, and Ossabaw Island pork in “beyond-organic”, grass-based practices that yield fat profiles to rival that of olive oil. All of which she sells direct from the freezer in the very humble room where we had just broken bread as well as the Markets of Abingdon and Marion. Her staples are also a mainstay on the menus of places like Harvest Table Restaurant and Abingdon’s House on Main.
I left with more than the kefir Carrie gave me from her starter batch. I also left with a new appreciation for life in its most basic and happiest form on what I hope is the first of many that seem to happen most every day of the year here at Laughing Water Farm.
Karen Quina-Doyle | Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation