This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

When people arrive at Dawn Mathews’ home for her dinner parties, they rush out to see the goats and chickens, and she can’t get them inside for dinner.

“People won’t just come in the house,” Mathews said. “They want to meet the animals first.”

Mathews, her husband, Steve, and their two children live on a half-acre “micro-farm” in a Granite Falls subdivision.

The idea of a micro-farm is to do everything you would on an ordinary farm in a constrained space – in this case, an average suburban yard, Mathews said.

They’re also avid travelers, and they host dinners on the farm serving food from around the world – this year, those dinners represent two of the Caldwell Arts Council’s eight “April Food and Fools” parties. (They’ll also host “Around the World in Eight Courses” next Saturday – those dishes will come from places as varied as Australia and Nepal.)

At a dinner Saturday night, Mathews decided to go with her guests’ natural impulse to see the farm and gave them a tour over hot tea first before ushering them inside to enjoy a homemade Middle Eastern spread.

About 10 people gathered to enjoy the meal and shared their stories. Clustered around the Mathewses’ table were artists, farmers, retirees and wwoofers (people who travel to work on farms through WWOOF USA, Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms).

As introductions were made, dishes began to circulate. Salads and spreads came out until it all mingled together on the plates: hummus, Israeli vegetable salad, salt-cured pickles, baba ghanoush – all soaked up with Arabic Bedouin bread.

It was all helped out courtesy of two seasoned servers: the Mathewses’ sons, Dorian and Isaac, who’ve helped serve food at each of the dinners.

By the time the Mathews boys came out with Jordanian grilled chicken and French fries (“Everyone eats fries with their food in the Middle East,” Steve Mathews explained), hands were already reaching to rub full bellies and forks were slowing their scrapes across plates.

The Mathewses told stories about the 2010 trip to the Middle East that inspired the night’s menu. The family visited Jordan, Egypt and Israel, staying mostly in hostels and having their fair share of adventures.

That’s not to say that their life in Caldwell County isn’t an adventure.

The Mathewses raise ducks, chickens, rabbits (for meat) and goats (for dairy). They make everything from cheese to soap – about 30 to 40 percent of their groceries come from the farm, Dawn Mathews said.

They also host interns and visitors through WWOOF-USA. The wwoofers try their hand at milking goats, making cheese and soap, processing animals, canning vegetables – “anything they want to learn, basically,” Mathews said.

People who attend the dinners mostly refer to them as “the party.” As in – are you going to the party? Do you remember the food we had at the last party?

At the party on Saturday, guests started questioning Mathews. How did she remember all these foods she ate on a trip two years ago, they asked.

Mathews shrugged. Food is her passion. It’s how she soaks in the different countries she visits – how she brings them back home to Granite Falls.

“Some people say, ‘Today we were in so and so and we saw this,’” Mathews said to the guests gathered at her table. “I say, ‘Today we were in so and so and we ate this.’”