Jason Fowler grew up going to covered-dish dinners after church, a familiar scene for a lot of us. Unfortunately, more often than not, these dishes were not very appetizing. They were too fried, too jello-y. The potlucks that Fowler now hosts in the Lynchburg area with fellow farmers, homesteaders, and local food-lovers are a stark contrast to those covered dish dinners of the past. 

These monthly potlucks aren’t held at a church but a farm. People who are excited about local food bring their dishes made with care and passion. There are meaningful connections being made over the enjoyment of natural, simple food. The reason for these potlucks stems all the way back to 2011, when the local food movement of Land & Table began. 

The idea for Land & Table was sparked when Fowler worked at the Region 2000 Tech Council, now the Central Virginia Planning District Commission. He noticed plenty of economic development but a lack in agricultural development. This inspired an in-depth report on the economic impacts of the local food movement, and a small group of local residents began meeting and laying the groundwork for Land & Table. 

Photos courtesy of Land & Table

 “At the beginning, we basically asked two questions. ‘What do we want from regional leaders to help grow and support the local food movement?’ And the other was, ‘What are we going to do to grow and support the local food movement?’” Fowler said. 

From those two questions, Land & Table grew and became a grassroots community focused on mobilizing a strong local food system in the Lynchburg area. 

At first glance, Lynchburg may not appear to be a prominent farming area, but the surrounding counties of Bedford, Appomattox, Amherst, and Campbell, with their rural landscapes and farmland, provide many opportunities to bring in locally grown food. 

“The reason we exist is because of this idea of thinking our area doesn’t have a lot of agriculture and local food—well actually it does. Land & Table exists because the local food movement is not very developed, and that’s what we hope to change,” Fowler said. 

Land & Table is striving to make this change through its resources and educational opportunities. They just started a book club in partnership with Bedford County Library to review books on homesteading and living off the land. Throughout the year, they host workshops on concepts like apple tree pruning and soil fertility. Their most recent project, currently in the works, is a local food guide called Local Food Lynchburg. 

Each Land & Table meet-up is different. One month, attendees could learn about beekeeping while the next they could be attending a seed swap with heirloom seeds their peers have carefully saved. The ultimate purpose? A deeper connection with the land around them. Photos courtesy of Land & Table.

Local Food Lynchburg will start off as a website and later be developed into a book and app. The guide will be a compilation of information on all things local food—where to pick apples, where to find local eggs, where the breweries are, where the farmers markets are. Most importantly, the guide will bring everyday consumers, local farmers, and food entrepreneurs into the same circles. 

Building a network is fundamental for the local food movement, whether it be consumer to farmer, farmer to farmer, or chef to farmer, but particularly among farmers. Fowler described how living off the land often results in a sense of “intense independence” and “rugged individualism,” which leads to a lack of community, but community is essential. 

“We’re looking to fill a gap and connect people that maybe often don’t have a way to connect with other people interested in the same kinds of things. Out of these connections, we feel that a lot of things can happen. This idea of community and the effects of community can become economic. It’s all intertwined in an ecological way,” he said. 

A consumer buys a cucumber from a farmer who gives their seeds to another farmer who then sells their cucumbers to a local chef. Everyone is connected to the land whether they realize it or not, a concept that has been lost. With grocery stores and supermarkets, getting produce has never been easier. Realizing those fruits and vegetables came from the ground usually doesn’t cross a shopper’s mind and building a relationship with the land doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go “off the grid.” 

“It’s not just for rural people, like everybody is dependent on the land, and you need to rekindle that relationship, whatever that means. It could mean you grow a garden, or you have chickens,
or at least you just have a relationship with farmers,” Fowler noted. 

What better way to build those relationships than over a plate of good food? The early meetings of Land & Table that started with a few local residents have grown into monthly potlucks where everyone is welcome, and they are unlike any other potluck. 

“If everyone knew how good the potlucks were, there’d be too many people showing up to taste it,” Fowler said. “It’s that kind of level. Like have you ever had chocolate hummus?” 

The goal of these potlucks is to experience delicious local food but also to bring everyone to one table: farmers, beginner homesteaders, business owners, chefs, everyday consumers. People convening to simply be together and enjoy food and where it comes from is something truly special. 

“Everyone is bringing something to the table,” Fowler continued. “The meal itself becomes the metaphor for community. We believe in the power of the potluck because it builds community and creates a space for people to connect.” 

For more information follow Land & Table on Instagram @land_and_table. Find them on Facebook at Land and Table.  

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