Located in Boone, North Carolina, the FARM Café is a volunteer-operated restaurant whose mission is to Feed All Regardless of Means—anyone who needs a free meal and who can in return offer the café an hour of volunteer work. It’s the ministry of executive chef Renee Boughman, who felt called five years ago to feed the hungry. The FARM Cafe “gives people the chance to practice being human,” says Boughman. “Everybody feels that sense of coming to the table together, dining together, sharing the meal together.”
RENEE BOUGHMAN (Executive Chef, FARM Café): F.A.R.M. Café stands for Feed All Regardless of Means, and that is the community café concept that we employ here at the café.
What that means is everybody that comes in the door is entitled to a meal. What we like to do is involve them in communities.
I really feel like this place allows you the chance to practice being human, because it’s not easy to be human and understand what that means in the full humanity of spirit, taking care of each other.
This is an opportunity for people to help their neighbors have a meal who might be down on their luck, cannot exchange cash for a meal, and so when they come in, if someone says I’d like to have a meal but I don’t have any money today, we say would you like to volunteer for an hour for your meal?
The volunteer jobs can be anything from helping us to set up in the morning, helping us sweep, take down chairs, help us take out the trash. When someone’s been with us for a while, and we’ve gotten used to what their skillset is, we actually have volunteers who might cook with us. We have volunteers who can help us even in the afternoon with breaking down our food, so it can be anything that a regular restaurant does.
We do a buffet-style service, so we have a small plate and a lunch plate, and we have about seven items on the menu every day. From two soups, to a salad. Then we’ll have an entrée, side dishes, dessert, coffee, and we ask for $10 as suggested donation for the lunch plates, seven dollars suggested donation for the small plate. Basically that donation, on the average, takes care of the cost of the food.
People often ask, how much money did you get from the town? Well, I didn’t get any, because I didn’t ask for any.
When someone comes in the door, it’s all based on honesty. It’s all based on what they tell you. They say I need a meal. That’s it. I don’t ask how many’s in your family, what’s your income, and we just say step up and enjoy the food.
We do buy all of our food. Ninety-five percent of our food is purchased. A lot of people think it’s donated. It’s not, although we do get some valuable donations.
It’s important to us that the food is very good. We get a lot of local food. We buy from local farms. We buy meats from a local family farm up the street.
We want to make sure that everybody understands that their dignity is attached to their meal. I’m very much at a place, and I think a lot of the folks in my faith community are the same, where it’s how do you live your life? It’s not so much what’s the chalkboard of what you believe. I mean whatever people believe, you know, that’s the issue for them. But it’s how you live your life in relationship to that faith.
It’s so thrilling to share that with everyone, and then, especially those who might be in need who have eaten a lot of processed food, and they get excited about it. It’s great.
That’s important to us, though, that everybody feels that sense of coming to the table together, dining together, sharing the meal together, you know. If there’s any faith component to it to for me, a lot of it has to do with that, just sitting down together and being able to exchange our lives.