Updated: Jan 19
My grandmother was an amazing person. If you had ever met Ellie, you would understand. She was four feet eight inches tall and she was a fireball. I was one of twenty-eight grandchildren and every summer growing up, she would take 10-15 of us, ranging in age from two to eighteen, for several weeks. We camped out on cots in every room of her big house on 6th St, walked two blocks to her craft store every morning to learn how to paint, operate a cash register, and stock the shelves, spent long days at the beach getting sunburned, and so many hours with our cousins learning to rollerblade up and down the Morehead City Waterfront. Big Rock and Seafood Festival weekends were always at Grandma’s. Dee Gee’s was my favorite store.
My grandmother’s kitchen always held a special place in my heart. Grandma Ellie cooked almost every meal we ate during those summers - breakfast and dinner especially. She grew up on a farm in Pasquotank County and was familiar with the challenges of stretching meats to make a filling dinner. Her chicken and pastry was my absolute favorite. It was simple - a whole chicken cut up and boiled to make the broth, chunks of chicken as she de-boned it, and a homemade pastry from just Crisco, flour, and water. Even though she showed me several times how to make it, mine just isn’t the same. She loved to talk and visit while she was cooking and often it was just more than me and my cousins at the table, it was our friends, significant others, and neighbors as well.
I used to joke that the only thing bigger than her heart was her kitchen table.
When Grandma Ellie passed away in June of 2015, my heart was broken. I remember walking outside and being angry that the sun still came up, birds still sang, the wind still blew. For some reason, I thought the whole world should stop and appreciate the loss of such a wonderful woman and I was completely dumbfounded that it hadn’t. I knew that Grandma would be with me always, but I couldn’t figure out how to gel that with my shattered heart.
I still look up at the sky for a breathtaking sunset and imagine her up there, painting the clouds. I still hear the roar of the ocean and the crash of the waves and smell her sunscreen and hear her laugh. She gave the best hugs. Then I realized how to start mending my broken heart - I needed to expand my kitchen table. The problem was that I had no idea how to do that.
When I found Carteret Local Food Network, I felt like a piece of the puzzle that had been missing finally clicked into place. I found a group of people who shared the values that my Grandmother had - supporting farmers, shopping local, sharing food, and making sure that everyone gets to eat. There was the added benefit that many in this group knew her, some even remember a younger me in the craft shop. It makes me smile to be a part of an organization that strives for food equality and access, nourishes the environment, builds community, supports our local economy, and produces nutritious foods.
As Carteret Local Food Network grows, I try to channel my grandmother’s energy and positivity into everything we do. When we host Culinary Classes, I remember what it was like to learn in the kitchen with her - she showed you how to make something and then let you learn why you didn’t do it a different way through trial, error, and lots of laughs (if you attended our 2019 Sushi class, you know exactly what I mean). When we host Farms, Food, & Friends Dinners and I see so many faces gathered around to share a meal, I know Grandma is somewhere smiling because she loved having so many friends, family members, and neighbors sharing a meal.
Our Veggie Van program to increase food access in Carteret county is another reminder of how Grandma Ellie couldn’t stand to not feed someone, even if you were insistent that you “just ate”. Our local multi-farm CSA boxes remind me of how she always sent you home with food, whether it was her own fresh-picked blueberries, a blueberry pie she made from them, produce from her garden or fruit from her trees. She couldn’t stand to let anyone leave empty-handed (especially if she suspected you might still be hungry).
I am proud to be a part of Carteret Local Food Network and I fully support each facet of our programming, from implementing the Veggie Van Mobile Market to being able to accept SNAP/EBT, from supporting our small local farmers to hosting large dinner gatherings, from shopping local to teaching others how to use our seasonal harvests.
I know Grandma would be proud of me for continuing to do the things she loved the most just the way she taught me. So from her table to yours, let’s get everyone to the table to eat.