While the Outer Banks, North Carolina, may be thought of as a summer tourist destination, the Village of Wanchese has kept its unique identity while planted in the middle of the Outer Banks, on Roanoke Island. Wanchese is a deeply historic, tight-knit community where more than 1,500 people reside year-round. Community members Nancy Gray, Eric Soderholm, and Ladd Bayliss share a passion to ensure that these year-round residents have access to the food they need.
Nancy Gray is a former chef and owner of the Wanchese seafood hotspot Queen Anne’s Revenge. After the restaurant closed, Nancy got more involved in Bethany United Methodist Church’s food ministry, Bethany’s Table.
One evening, Nancy was in the church’s kitchen with a table full of food and no one to give it to. Bethany’s Table food ministry, initially designed to operate as a soup kitchen, wasn’t reaching the number of people that church members hoped it would. A collective epiphany struck the room full of volunteers — what if we brought it to the community? And with that bit of imagination, a new era of Bethany’s Table was formed.
For the last six years, members of Bethany UMC have gathered once a month to prepare a restaurant-quality meal and deliver it to community members. Nancy uses her expertise to create the meals and leads a team of volunteers to prepare more than 200 hot meals at a time.
Preparing 200+ quality hot meals is no easy task, and neither is sourcing that much quality food at an affordable price.
“What will God provide this month? It’s a little game I play with God,” Nancy said, “and God always comes through.”
Donations for the necessary food come from community members, local restaurants, and fisheries. To supplement this, Bethany’s Table also uses products from the local farmers market just a half-mile up the road: Secotan Market. To help meet the rising demand for food during the pandemic, RAFI-USA’s Come to the Table program awarded Bethany’s Table a mini-grant to purchase from the Secotan Market, local farmers, and fishermen — “the unsung heroes,” Nancy calls them.
The Secotan Market was created by Eric Soderholm and Ladd Bayliss, a married couple invested in the local community, who live and raise market gardens on Roanoke Island. They noticed that producers in the area needed more avenues to sell their products directly to customers without the fear of getting rained out. The couple dreamed of creating a hyper-local market in Wanchese where year-round community members would be able to come, check off most of their grocery list, interact directly with producers, and support the local food scene. With the help of a RAFI-USA Agricultural Reinvestment Fund (ARF) grant, Eric and a cohort of passionate producers built their market shelter out of local materials, including reclaimed chicken house trusses, fishing dock pilings, and lumber milled by founding producer Fred Inglis of Somerset Farm. The market first opened in 2018 and has been steadily growing ever since.
Secotan Market’s mission is “to connect people directly with local sources of sustenance, elevating careful stewardship of land and craft to build community.” The market is also a member of RAFI-USA’s Fresh Bucks consumer incentive program, which doubles the buying power of EBT shoppers at participating farmers markets.
Eric described the Fresh Bucks program as being worth any extra logistical efforts to ensure community members have the chance to buy from the market.
“Having the Fresh Bucks program is helping us achieve our mission. Our effort as growers is most worthwhile when we see others in the community at all economic levels being able to take advantage of the markets,” Eric said.
Each month, Nancy and her team get a different collection of food from the market and make a unique, healthy, and local meal. Eric said that Nancy has been a customer at the market almost every single week and that she is “intentional about trying to make the best use out of any food we have in excess that she can fit into a meal.”
“It’s not always the prettiest food, but it’s always flavorful, healthy, and ‘real’,” Nancy said. Buying from the local market has allowed Nancy to utilize under-appreciated and lesser-known vegetables like purple potatoes and turnips. It also gives her peace of mind knowing where the food she is serving comes from.
Working alongside Eric and the Secotan Market has been a gift for Nancy and the people Bethany’s Table serves.
“Food right out of the field is going to require more labor. You’ll need more volunteers, you’ll need people to dice, to peel, to wash,” Nancy said. “But the end result will be worth the effort and you’ll be proud of it, you’ll feel good sending out, and you’ll know you’re giving something of value to people.”
There are no rules or restrictions as to who can receive one of Bethany’s Table’s delicious monthly meals.
“Whether you’re recovering from surgery, having a hard time financially, taking care of a loved one, living by yourself, or whatever, we will deliver you a meal,” Nancy said. “It’s about showing the love of Christ.”