Taste of Place: Meals Link Dinner Table to Local Farms
WELLSBURG — “What do West Virginians call farm to table? Breakfast, lunch and dinner. It wasn’t invented in Napa.”
Chatman Neely wasn’t just talking the local-food talk. As a native of Princeton – with a family farm so long lived it has straddled the West Virginia/Virginia border since the Civil War – knowing how to put a sense of place on a plate is pretty much in his DNA.
And, after a long stint as a Bethany College professor, he and partner Dr. Harry Sanford, a veterinarian, are now doing this in an entrepreneurial way at two locations in Brooke County.
At Barn With Inn — a sprawling bed and breakfast and an event venue between Wellsburg and Bethany — the morning menu might feature eggs from the cheekily named hens that roam for bugs and like to be petted.
Or, fresh produce from the kitchen garden that is nestled among swaths of bee-bristling wildflowers might be the star.
Neely prepares these meals.
Pittsburgh chef Brian Magliochette –who was lured from the corporate world into the quiet freedom of farm to table after visiting Barn With Inn for his wife’s birthday — does the larger events.
At Barn With Inn, that includes monthly farm-to-table dinners throughout the outdoor dining season.
These feature local foods in a ramped-up way. Themed edibles such as berries from Eric Freeland’s nearby farm or mushrooms from Ohio Valley Mushrooms of Wheeling appear in multiple courses.
Featured farmers are on hand to tell ingredients’ tales.
Alternatively, at the historic Sarah Miller House in downtown Wellsburg, Magliochette prepares intimate and locally sourced dinners each Thursday and private dinners for parties of 10 to 20 or so at other times.
These reservation-only events feature live and local music, local art on the walls and flowers from either an on-site garden or the farm on the tables. There is also a course-by-course culinary interpretation from Magliochette, who pops out from the kitchen for this purpose.
Interested? You’re not alone. Unless there is a cancellation, Neely said nothing is open at either site until late fall or early winter.
“We have been absolutely overwhelmed with the support,” he added of their first handful of years in operation. “It really has … opened our eyes into how many people from our community want to know where their food comes from.”
1.8 MILLION CONNECTIONS
Neely suspects what has happened with their own local-food enterprises has been enhanced by two things. One is location.
“We’re really fortunate, where we are,” he said of being able to readily source everything from fresh trout to bison to raspberries as the supply end of the local-food movement continues to blossom. “We tap into not only West Virginia, but from Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well.”
Location also comes into play with guests, he noted. A Steubenville trio of sisters and their husbands are regulars at Sarah Miller House. Wheeling residents are also frequently on site.
But, diners also make the trek to both venues from Pittsburgh, Morgantown and Columbus. Neely wonders if the reach into Ohio will expand when a new bridge connects Wellsburg directly to that state.
When Barn With Inn first opened in 2015, he noted it wasn’t always easy to find locally sourced foods. Now, the only imported items at a breakfast, for example, might be coffee and wheat. In the summer, he often forgoes long-distance olive oil for local bacon grease and an iron skillet.
By the time Sarah Miller House and chef Magliochette entered the mix in 2018, local food was nearly doorstep abundant.
“I’m usually picking,” Magliochette said of how he gets many meal elements these days. “I don’t get many deliveries.”
A second contributor to their success is likely the amazing web of connections that a low-population state like West Virginia can have, Neely added of launching a new business.
He compared the local foods and local labor they have experienced to the success of West Virginia’s COVID vaccine roll out. Both situations involved people who were primed to connect both quickly and with a high level of trust.
That kind of network goes way beyond food, he added.
It was a local carpenter who turned reclaimed wood from an old, on-site barn into the backboard of a bed, Neely offered as an example. That furniture tucks playfully under a sloped ceiling in what used to be a hayloft.
Loft guests – including a number from Europe, some of whom have been lured by a novelist’s acknowledgements of time spent writing in that very suite – can peer down into the barn through internal windows.
OR NOT TABLE
Just don’t expect any of the chickens meandering just under those windows to ever be on the table themselves, Neely added with a shudder.
“If you name it, you certainly can’t eat it,” he said of limiting edible interactions with the farm’s 43 resident animals to fresh eggs. “Public relations, grazing. They all have a job.”
He noted donkeys — a couple of them Spanish burros from the Good Zoo — keep coyotes at bay. Six farm dogs, an army of cats and a free-ranging, pot-bellied pig (who used to live in a house in downtown Pittsburgh) likely help keep deer, raccoons and their kind at a polite distance, as well.
Neely — who took a moment to survey the flowers and critters and mentally tick through that very evening’s mushroom-laden menu — said this second career has been pure joy.
“To me, it’s the best way to showcase what our region has to offer,” he said. “It just gets better and better. Sometimes I wish I didn’t love it so much.”