By Hannah Lee | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Moya Hallstein stared at an escarole with one prevailing thought – “What is this?” She could tell from looking at Danielle McComas’ face that she wasn’t alone in her confusion. “I don’t even know how to eat this,” Moya remembers thinking.
Moya sells produce for In Good Heart Farm and became good friends with Danielle, who volunteers at Chatham Outreach Alliance (CORA), through the Pittsboro Farmers Market. They were unsure how to use the farm’s leafy greens, which typically ended up trashed or composted. Yet neither could shake the feeling that, in someone else’s hands, maybe something special could come from these garden-variety afterthoughts.
The epiphany was simple – soup.
“What do you do with weird vegetables … or ugly vegetables?” Moya says, thinking back to their conversation in early November 2020. “I hate to call them ugly, because I feel like they’re not that ugly; they’re just not unblemished. And then Danielle and I looked at each other at the same time like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you make soup.’”
They just needed someone – or multiple someones – to help transform the uncooked vegetables into unexpected delights.
Enter Angelina Koulizakis-Battiste and Sarah Sligh of Angelina’s Kitchen. The Pittsboro restaurant owner and her employee offered their commercial kitchen to legalize and legitimize the organization Moya and Danielle were calling Robin Hood’s Kitchen. That meant handling the cooking process, but also forging the steps to become a 501c3 nonprofit.
“It was the perfect fit,” Moya says of Angelina’s Kitchen, which sources produce from more than 30 local farms. Once the women teamed up, their process fell into place organically. Some 35 to 40 people have since volunteered their time to contribute to the cause, which aims to close the gap between food insecurity in Chatham and a surplus of locally grown vegetables.
Such a straightforward idea, and now months later, one that has grown from standard ol’ soup to salads, chili and quiche. As of late February, “The Hoods,” as they playfully call themselves, have cooked and delivered nearly 1,600 pounds of meals to nonprofits like CORA.
The soon-to-be nonprofit became a weekly endeavor as the women received more produce than they knew what to do with. Local farms – including Granite Springs Farm and In Good Heart, which are currently the primary donors, as well as Chatham Marketplace and many others – all stepped up to contribute.
News of the endeavor spread via word of mouth. It helps, of course, that Angelina’s doubles as an unofficial social hub for the town.
“It’s been a series of fortunate events,” Danielle says. “I feel like when you’re trying to get something good done, the stars sometimes just align. People want to help, and they just don’t know how. And so it’s really just been a waterfall of events: Once people found out, the whole community of Pittsboro jumped in.”
That’s been true beyond the volunteers. Camelback Brewing Company in Sanford also signed on in early March to make its kitchen available, with more distribution points to follow.
Chatham is the state’s geographical center and is home to 68,778 residents, 7,480 of whom are food insecure, according to data reported by the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina in 2019. That’s roughly one in nine people.
“What we’re doing is nothing new,” Danielle says. “We’re just jumping in on something that needs to happen. We’re trying to change the culture of food and eating back to something that’s more inclusive.
“Farm-to-table has been such a buzzword for the past 10 years,” she adds. “It’s something that you pay extra money for when you go to eat places; it used to just be farm-to-table was how people ate. And as an organization, we’d like to see a shift in culture back to where it’s not just a good buzz phrase on a menu. [Instead], it’s an inclusive, communal effort.”