Jamie Dove, owner of River Creek Farm and Main Street Pizza Co, at the intersection of the Nolichucky River and Little Limestone Creek that is located on the downriver side of River Creek Farm.Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press
As the rain-swollen Nolichucky River played a droning swish in the background last week, Jamie Dove laid out his ambitious plans to overhaul local food production.
“People are waking up to how screwed up we’ve made our food system,” Dove said, standing at the tip of his newly purchased property and looking out over the confluence of the rushing Nolichucky and the Little Limestone Creek. “We eat so much processed foods, wheat flour and sugar. I think they’ve said that we’re going to be the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than our parents.”
On his 4.25 acres of river bottom, Dove, the owner of Johnson City’s popular Main Street Pizza Company, hopes to begin making inroads into the learned eating habits that have bloated the U.S. population for decades. Or at least offer healthier options.
He will soon plant a host of vegetables, herbs, berries and other edibles and grow them using organic methods to both use in his restaurant and to sell to residents.
Heading into his fifth year as owner of the downtown eatery, he said he already knew the benefits of locally and organically produced ingredients, but said he couldn’t find a farmer offering the specialized array he was seeking.
That led him to shop around for suitable farmland near the restaurant and his home city, but most of what he found was too large for someone with his level of experience and resources to manage. Until he found the aptly named River Creek Farm.
“The deal we got on the land was great, which was my first criteria,” he said. “But this place also fit our needs so well, it was just really fortunate for us that we were able to find it.”
The smallish plot was formerly a recreational retreat for the couple who owned it — the riverside cabin still sits overlooking a stretch of shoals in the water.
Dove admitted the secluded spot would likely afford him some opportunities for R&R in the coming years, but said the purchase was mostly a business transaction.
He expects the restaurant to use only about half the food grown at the farm, so he plans to start a community supported agriculture project, where up-front investors will reap the benefits after the crops start to produce.
On the farm’s website, startthefarm.com, investors can buy packages ranging from $100 to $1,000.
Dove said upon purchasing one of the share packages, the buyer will get back half the cost of the package in gift certificates to Main Street Pizza.
Once the plants start to fruit, customers can pick up a box of produce each week for 25 weeks at the restaurant until they have collected the original value of the package they purchased, based on the USDA’s posted prices.
Because of stringent regulations, the food won’t be certified organic, but it will be grown according to organic practices, Dove said.
Although he’s not a farmer by trade, Dove said he’s “grown a little for a lot of years” in backyard gardens.
In addition to River Creek Farm, he also plans to start a hydroponic growing operation in the vacant upper floor of the downtown building he owns at 216 E. Main St.
There, he will grow spring plants, like lettuce and other non-fruiting plants, again using organic methods.
If the ventures are successful and manageable, Dove said he could gradually expand operations, buying vacant farms nearby with much more acreage.
“It’s going to be a fun time,” Dove said. “We’re going to find out if we like it or not, and see where it takes us from there.”