We were introduced to Cassie Parsons when she was nominated for our first Citizen Entrepreneur Contest. She’s a chef/restauranteur at farm-to-table Harvest Moon Grille in Charlotte, NC — and a farmer who’s building a community farm in a low-income area. The community support she received during our public voting phase of the contest underlined her accomplishments — and promise. Below, she answers questions for our Global Green Room Interview.
How did you become environmentally conscious?
My father was a true environmentalist who taught me early on in my childhood about respecting Mother Nature. He was a fisherman and hunter — truly at home in the woods, and totally about conservation. He showed me how to survive in nature and gave me tips on foraging food. We went camping — REAL camping — every summer. I also used to have a landscaping business, doing lots of projects around Lake Norman. I hated how much fertilizers and pesticides were used on home lawns, especially so near the water. We became the first company in our area to offer organic lawn care. Farming is a natural expression of my dual love of nature and love of food.
What would surprise us about your work?
Our project is not a giveaway to an urban population that lives in a food desert. It is about offering an opportunity and some tools to folks to create a way to feed themselves and to also take on an entrepreneurial venture. The way to make community gardens like these sustainable is to have them created and maintained by people who have skin in the game. We are teaching these new gardeners/farmers/business people how to grow food and what to do with it. Our goal is to help them start food-related businesses and we are offering them a place to sell their wares at our restaurant.
How have you worked with Global Green?
I came to know Global Green by a woman named Rebecca Stoddard. She has an event planning company committed to green practices. Rebecca helped me do a farm dinner two years ago and we had almost ZERO waste. It was a blast to see 200 people come into one area, have a great party, and not leave a big fat mess. I was so impressed. She told my colleague, Sheldon, about Global Green and we have found it to be well aligned with our philosophy and practices.
Who is your hero?
My hero is a farmer named Natalie. Natalie is a woman who I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the last 10 years. She had recently left a big corporate job and was wanting to take her life in a new direction. She decided to take on the career of farming. I was immediately drawn in by her curiosity and resourcefulness. I’ve watched this woman grow into a determined farmer who keeps sustainably producing food despite all the frustrations and distractions that come with being a small-scale farmer with limited resources. Heroes are people I have utmost respect for and whose attributes I want to emulate. She is the most loving, generous, and level-headed individual I know. Natalie is a perfect example of integrity and makes me want to continually get better at whatever I do. Natalie has conviction about how her animals should be treated and about the quality of her food. She does not take shortcuts to save money. She continually cooperates with fellow farmers in our community to leverage resources and knowledge. She is a great teacher and has been a leader in our community, inspiring others — especially women — and showing that it is possible to farm for a living. I am honored to know Natalie. She has brought inspiration and creativity to my life in so many ways. Working with her and other farmers in the area has allowed me to have a prosperous restaurant and to help continue to spread the word about local food. Others that have inspired me include Alice Waters, Wendell Berry, and Wes Jackson. These folks have paved a way for farmers like Natalie to do amazing things and for chefs like me to enroll our community to produce great food so I can enjoy the passion of cooking.
What has been a recent work success or accomplishment?
My most recent work success has been taking our restaurant, Harvest Moon Grille, to a place that informs and inspires its guests as well as its staff. Everyone who works here has fun; we are making money and spreading the word about the virtues of using local food. I have been open for 17 months and we are sourcing all our ingredients from farms within 100 miles of this restaurant. Last year I spent $400,000 with local farmers, and this year I am on track to double the figures. I have seen and proven that it is possible to use locally grown produce, dairy, and proteins and turn a profit. That has been brilliant to me! I’m also proud of the impact I’m having on the future. It’s exciting to watch young Chefs get inspired working for me using these cool ingredients. True success will be having the next generation demanding to work with real food from real farmers. I have been greatly encouraged by the experience of having our community rallying behind me in these efforts, supporting our vision of having a restaurant that is authentic about its food and its impact on its neighbors.
If you had the power to make one global and green change, what would it be?
I would make farming a hip and slick profession. We would no longer think of farming as only happening in rural areas. We would urbanize it to fit into and suit fast-growing communities. This forgotten art would allow the next generation to be reenergized by a new model of farming, food distribution, and culinary artistry. We won’t need big ag equipment and its huge amounts of fossil fuels. We would not need huge tracts of land to grow on, nor would we need huge amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that create long-lasting pollution. We would save emissions, jobs, and communities. This new model would allow eco-mindful practices by creating a bigger team of small-scale farmers. The farming community would be about the welfare of the region and would have a positive economic and environmental impact. This model of farming would pave a new way to think about growing food and distribution. The culinary piece and the ag piece become one. People who know nothing of growing food would not be enrolled to cook. Cooking and growing would be the norm. Individuals who love food would love all aspects of food, not just the glamorous side. This model would help create local and stable jobs, and would encourage food communities to be more self-sufficient. First and foremost, I would set up a community processing facility that allows small producers to bring their animals, which would include value-added processing (such as smoking and curing meats). We would also create a community growing non-GMO grains to produce the amount of feed for the animals we are raising. In this community and all communities, there would be a creamery, a bakery, butcher, bulk foods store, and fresh prepared foods place. Everyone in the USA would be able to get access to real food from real people producing it because of the model we created right here in Charlotte, NC. We as a community would combat poverty and obesity by being more mindful and participative in producing our food. I would also eliminate poverty and over-processed food. I see a community of authentic food, hard work, and strong families.