In Edible-Alpha® podcast #76, Tera talks with Mike Costello and Amy Dawson, owners of Lost Creek Farm in Lost Creek, West Virginia. Although Mike officially holds the titles of chef and farmer while Amy is farm manager and baker, the duo does everything in tandem, from restoring the long-vacated family farmstead to sharing the rich cultural heritage of their Appalachian-inspired farm-to-table cuisine.
Both Mike and Amy grew up on farms in West Virginia, but neither started their career in food. Mike initially wanted to be a chef but headed to journalism school instead, which taught him the value of place and storytelling. Amy earned a law degree. Eventually, their interests in food and farming were reignited, and when the opportunity arose in 2013 to purchase the property and reconstruct the farmhouse Amy’s great-great grandfather built in the 1880s, they jumped on it.
So began a long, challenging but highly rewarding journey. For two years, Mike and Amy rented an apartment nearby while restoring the farmhouse and doing popup dinners and guest chef nights. They marketed their business as Lost Creek Farm from the start, knowing they’d eventually host formal dinners on the farm featuring ingredients grown and foraged onsite.
Once their farm-to-table dinners got going, they went all in on elevating the unique ingredients, recipes and culinary traditions of Appalachia. Along with growing heirloom beans, corn, squash and other vegetables from seeds passed down for generations, their efforts include lots of historical research and collecting oral histories. Because to Mike and Amy, the stories behind ingredients and dishes, which illustrate people’s connection to place, are just as important as flavor. This is especially true given the widespread misconceptions about what Appalachian cuisine actually entails.
As the years have gone by, Mike and Amy have built a solid business, attracting guests from all over the country to their farm-to-table dinners. The late Anthony Bourdain and his crew even spent a day dining, swapping stories and filming with them to be featured in one the final episodes of his TV show.
But Lost Creek Farm also attracts a fair number of locals familiar with common Appalachian food narratives of shame and desperation. West Virginia's culinary traditions were largely born of necessity––that is, food people ate not because they wanted to, but because they had to. Rather than defining food by the shame of hard times, Lost Creek Farm offers proud narratives about innovative cooks who created complex, healthy dishes with extremely limited resources. Through culinary storytelling, Mike and Amy strive to change the way West Virginians see food as a source of place-based identity.
Although they were geared up for a bustling 2020, COVID-19 forced Lost Creek Farm to cancel all dinners and other events for the year. Mike and Amy have stayed plenty busy, though, developing their education curriculum, planning the buildout of their commercial kitchen and classroom, and producing a long-form-narrative podcast, The Pickle Shelf Radio Hour.
Lost Creek Farm’s success has proven that people are hungry for authentic, local experiences, flavors and culture. If anything, the pandemic has increased their appetite, which should bode well for this unique multifaceted business.