ROCK CAVE, W.Va. — In Dale Hawkins’ eyes, TV dinners marked the decline of backyard gardens and local farms.
As a steady stream of packaged, processed foods filled grocery store shelves, the taste of each meal declined as well, in his point of view.
“That’s not how it worked 50 years ago,” he said. “We grew our own. Because we’ve got into such an industrial system, people forget that we can grow it. They forget about the flavor.”
Now Hawkins, the co-owner of Fish Hawk Acres, is part of a national movement to make local food the norm once again.
The business is made up of a family of farms, most in Upshur or surrounding counties, that sell fresh produce under the Fish Hawk Acres label at farmers markets and to restaurants throughout the state.
Hawkins, the former executive chef at Stonewall Resort, is passionate about buying food fresh.
“A lot of people, when they go to the grocery store, they see that, yeah, everything looks nice, it’s all uniform, it’s all even,” he said. “But they don’t think about how long it took to get there. Most of the products that we get in the grocery store were grown for the purposes of durability. Some of these multinational corporations — they literally have Frankenfood, where they’ve taken the genes from this food and inserted it into this food. They’re messing with Mother Nature.”
The best chef in the world can’t create a gourmet dish from food that’s been stripped of its flavor due to genetic modifications and improper storage, among other reasons, according to Hawkins.
Fish Hawk Acres has established relationships with restaurants throughout the state since it opened in 2005.
But some aspects of the processed food industry do make it hard to compete.
“You get a little pushback at first because the price is more than what they’re accustomed to paying,” Hawkins said. “But in the long run, you’re getting a better-quality product…