Area Farmers Get Grants for New Ventures

Release date: March 17, 2008

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 farmers in Western North Carolina to diversify their operations, and to help agriculture continue to grow and thrive as a profitable, ecological, and market-driven industry in our new farming economy,” said Stanley Holloway, Yancey County Cooperative Extension Agent. “Ensuring the economic sustainability of farms is one of the best ways to preserve our 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.

“We’re providing AgOptions recipients agribusiness training in hopes to create a smarter farm, which in the long run, establishes sustainability,” said Jeff Vance, Mitchell County Cooperative Extension Director. “We encourage participants to seek marketing assistance from Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and business planning advice from N.C. Small Business & Technology Development Center, which are partnering with AgOptions.”

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.”

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.