Central Mountains

“My husband Isaiah and I want to move from being part-time to full-time farmers,” said Annie Perkinson, co-owner of Buncombe County’s Flying Cloud Farm, which has grown steadily since 2000. “That means extending the season so we can have a year-round income.”

Perkinson will use the shared-use commercial kitchen equipment of Blue Ridge Food Ventures, an initiative of the Advantage West Economic Development Group, to process her fruits and vegetables into jams, juice and relishes. “The AgOptions grant gave me the push I need to get it started. It makes my project feasible.”

For Cathy and Andy Bennett, owners of Doubletree Farm in Madison County, the AgOptions grant is helping them keep Appalachian traditions alive. They’re using the knowledge about molasses-making they’ve gained from their neighbors Peggy and Nathan Harmon, whose ancestors made molasses, and building their own sweet sorghum processing operation. The facility will available to neighbor cane growers for a fee.

“This grant has given me the motivation to start looking seriously again at making our farm more into a profitable business,” Cathy Bennett said. For the last five years, she and Andy have set farming aside except to grow food for their family of five.

The AgOptions grants are particularly suitable for innovative projects, like Ronald Searcy’s Weed Abatement business. He temporarily fences goats on his customers’ properties to control unwanted brush. With the grant, Searcy will purchase a gasoline power fencing system, allowing him to take up fences quickly and move to his other customers – which are increasing steadily.

Along with Perkinson, Bennett and Searcy, 11 other AgOptions recipients are in the Central Mountains region:

  • In Buncombe County, Anne Gaines Grier will encourage year-round sales by growing winter crops, such as onions, leeks and garlic. She will sell to area restaurants, local produce companies, natural food grocers and tailgate markets.
  • In Buncombe County, Brad Martin will develop his 8-acre hay field into the main growing site for his nursery, Southeastern Natives. He will construct a greenhouse, cold frame, shade house and irrigation system.
  • In Henderson County, Diane Almond will develop her 8-acre farm into an agri-tourism destination and resource for local residents. She will increase the number of bee hives and heather plantings, create educational materials and publicize farm events.
  • In Madison County, Coy Griffin, a former tobacco grower, will improve his horse boarding business by modernizing and expanding his building.
  • In Madison County, Chris Owen will improve the cheese aging facility at Spinning Spider Creamery and make the Creamery more inviting for visitors.
  • In Madison County, Diane Tolman will employ several ecological sustainable techniques at Big Pine Native Gardens, resulting in a viable native plant nursery that incorporates outreach programs to the public.
  • In Madison County, Hardin Wrenn will build an energy-efficient and water-saving greenhouse to improve his production of mums.
  • In Transylvania County, Keith Chappel, a beekeeper since 1973, will re-establish his hives to make Poplar and Sourwood honey.
  • In Transylvania County, Kate Gieger and Tom Dierolf will begin pastured layers and dairy goat operations, as well as expand their beekeeping operation. They will produce a unifying product of goat’s milk soap, including types that incorporate eggs and honey.
  • In Transylvania County, Alan Johnson will build a greenhouse for propagation of plant material, which he sells for stream restoration projects.
  • In Transylvania County, Dale Robertson, farm manager of the camp Gwynn Valley, will automatize his milking operation, improving educational opportunities for campers.