FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A graduate grows as a gardener and entrepreneur

By BESSIE DIETRICH GOGGINS ’06 MA ’09

As creator and developer of Avant Garden Organic Farm, Curt Collins ’09 had been getting his hands dirty long before he crossed the stage in his cap and gown. Located in Cullowhee, Avant Garden began in 2008 with a mission to provide a safe, secure food source for the community and act as an educational tool about food production. “Our vision is to create a sustainable, low-impact organic farm with an events venue and a picnic area to build the local community through culture, art and knowledge,” said Collins, who earned his degree in nutrition and dietetics.

Curt Collins ’09 shows how his garden grows.

Entering its third year, Avant Garden already is moving in the vision’s direction. “So far, broad spectrums of customers and visitors have come to the garden,” said Collins. “We participate in the annual Jackson County farmer’s market farm tour, class tours from the local schools and service learning at WCU. Our produce is used in local eateries, such as Rolling Stone Burrito, El Torito Grill, The Mad Batter and Cat’s Nip Café in Cullowhee, and Spring Street Cafe, Guadalupe Cafe and The Underground in Sylva.”

Community members visit the farm and buy its organic products, too. Wes Stone, associate professor of engineering and technology, purchases peppers from the farm while learning new techniques about gardening. “I used one of my visits to Avant Garden for educational purposes, since I have a keen interest in organic gardening,” said Stone, whose wife, Suzanne, owns Rolling Stone Burrito. “I took my sons with me, and we learned some of the important tips to gardening in general, as well as organic gardening. I consult with Curt on a frequent basis when I have gardening or nutrition questions. He is a wealth of knowledge.”

In addition, Collins sells his produce at the Jackson County farmer’s market in Sylva on Saturday mornings, collaborating with other farmers in the local area while diversifying his crops to include 10 tomato strains and seven garlic types. “Curt has developed his garden into community-supported agriculture,” said Baldwin Sanders, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics. “Avant Garden offers fresh, healthy, local food. Supporting local farmers keeps money in the community. Sustainable agriculture helps preserve the values of rural communities and protects the farmland.”

Avant Garden offers education, healthy and holistic nutrition, relaxation, and a greater connection with nature and self, said Collins. “Ultimately, I hope for a stronger, closer, healthier, more self-sufficient community,” he said. Others hope for the same. “Avant Garden is key to our university and surrounding community for several reasons,” said Stone. “Most importantly, it is a locally owned, locally operated business. We are a small community, and we need examples of successful small businesses in all sectors of economy. Additionally, Avant Garden provides an educational opportunity with regard to organic gardening and healthy nutrition.”