The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission funds the program through a grant with the Asheville-based non-profit organization Handmade in America.
The Tobacco Trust Fund Commission was established by the General Assembly in 2000 as farmers, former quota holders and tobacco workers began the transition from a stable, federally run price-support system to a free market of direct contracts with tobacco companies and a globally competitive price structure. The commission offers grants to help individuals and communities in North Carolina with this transition and to prepare them for the economic opportunities of the next generations.
“We’re really pleased to be able to help these farmers pursue new opportunities,” said the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission’s executive director, William Upchurch. “We feel the AgOptions program is extremely beneficial not only to the farming communities in the western counties but to the economy and culture of Western North Carolina as a whole.”
Background on the 2008 Program
The Western North Carolina Agricultural Options Program recently awarded $5,000 to 23 area farmers and $2,500 to 14 farmers who are diversifying or expanding their operations.
The grants offer incentive for farmers to try new ventures – encouraging the sustainability of their operation, as well as demonstrating new methods to the larger agriculture community. A sampling of this year’s awarded projects include winter crop expansion, the addition of naturally grown livestock, the construction of a sugar cane processing facility, and cultivation of wine-grape vines to be sold to local growers.
“The goal of this program is to help farming in Western North Carolina grow and thrive as a profitable, ecological, and market-driven industry, particularly as tobacco farmers are exploring other income opportunities,” said Kenneth Reeves, Buncombe County Cooperative Extension Director. “Ensuring the economic sustainability of farms is one of the best ways to preserve farms and the rural nature of our region.”
The N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers in the 15 western counties and Cherokee Reservation operate the AgOptions program, now in its fourth year. The agricultural extension agents work closely with the recipients, strengthening the educational relationship between Cooperative Extension and area farmers.
“The AgOptions program is offering training to the grant recipients addressing the business needs of the farm” said Ross Young, Madison County Cooperative Extension Director. “For farms to remain successful in the future they will have to operate as a business. Simply growing something is not enough anymore.”
Of the 37 awarded projects across Western North Carolina, nine are fruit & vegetable or edibles diversification projects; nine, nursery or trees; eight, livestock; four, beekeeping; four, product processing; and three, agri-tourism.