Media Packet


Contact: Megan Riley, WNC AgOptions, (828) 333-4151, or your local Cooperative Extension Center.

2009 WNC AgOptions Awardees Announced

Farmers Diversify Farms, Try Local Markets to Remain Viable

MARSHALL — Nearly 50 farmers in the mountain region recently received funding totaling $225,000 from Western North Carolina Agricultural Options to demonstrate ways to enhance farm businesses. The $3,000, $6,000 and $9,000 awards will help farm operations stay viable in the rapidly changing economy.

“It is exciting to see the wide variety of innovative ideas that have been awarded to farmers in Western North Carolina,” said William Upchurch, Executive Director of the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. “These great projects can meet the demand and desire for local products by consumers, and this program will continue to help these family farms stay in business.”

Since 2003, N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has supported WNC AgOptions, a N.C. Cooperative Extension program that provides resources to farmers diversifying or expanding their operations, particularly those transitioning from tobacco production. In partnership with RAFI-USA’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund, WNC AgOptions will provide funding for exemplary farm projects through a competitive application process through 2011.

Former recipients report an increased income for their farm business and greater stability in on-farm employment because of their WNC AgOptions projects. They also demonstrate successful operations to other farmers in the region who are searching for a venture to sustain their family at the level that tobacco farming once did. Some awardees are reviving farms that have remained fallow or neglected since previous generations farmed. As agricultural communities are strengthened and farmer income is secured, land is more likely to remain farmland.

Billy Bruce, a vegetable grower in Cherokee County, will build a farm store to market his produce directly to consumers with his WNC AgOptions award. Farmers are noticing a higher return on produce sold directly to consumers.

“Running the produce stand will move me away from the uncertainty of the wholesale market, where the tomatoes could be $5 a box or they could be $15,” Bruce said. “The people in Cherokee County have no place like this farm stand to shop in. People like to come out to the farm. They like to see it. They like to put a face with their food.”

Most of the WNC AgOptions recipients market their products at local farmers markets, restaurants, grocers or on-farm directly to the consumer.

“During these times of economic uncertainty, local farmers provide hope for the community that we can grow a new local sustainable economy,” said Rob Hawk, Area Specialized Agent, N.C. Cooperative Extension and member of the WNC AgOptions steering committee. “The WNC AgOptions program strives to support these farmers in growing their agricultural business for economic sustainability.”

In addition to the funds, the farmers receive business planning training, marketing assistance, and increased media exposure of their farms. The program introduces many farmers to the wide range of educational opportunities in the agricultural community for the first time.

“This year, a large percentage of the applications submitted were very well done and described projects involving farm transition and diversification with an emphasis on local markets,” said Ross Young, Madison County Extension Director and leader of the WNC AgOptions steering committee. “That response is encouraging as it shows that farmers are continuing to find creative ways for being successful. The best strategy for preserving farms and farmland is for farmers to be economically successful.”

Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include representatives from N.C. Cooperative Extension, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services – Marketing Division, and HandMade in America, as well as a former WNC AgOptions recipient and the manager of the Waynesville Farmers Co-Op. The program funds farmers’ projects in 17 counties and the Cherokee Reservation.

2009 WNC AgOptions Recipients Project Descriptions


In addition to Billy Bruce of Cherokee County, five other 2009 WNC AgOptions recipients reside in Cherokee, Clay, Graham or Macon counties :

•  Scott Boxberger of Stoney Hollow Farms and Stephanie Loafman of Five Sisters, both of Graham County will build a commercial kitchen to produce a variety of value-added products from the fruits and vegetables grown on farm.

•  Glenn Carson of Two Buddies Heirloom Apples in Cherokee County will improve his apple grafting business by building raised beds with drip irrigation.

•  Charlie and Barbara Kissling of Clay County will market natural farm-raised beef with premium genetics to retail markets.

•  Philip Moore of Clay County will install a high tunnel designed to save water and energy for the production of tomatoes.

•  Kathy and Daniel Tinsley of Slagle Farm in Macon County will expand their wool processing operation and establish an asparagus patch, selling their products at local tailgate markets.

Two Cherokee Reservation residents received 2009 WNC AgOptions awards:

•  Danny and Kristy Lambert will expand their small grass-fed beef operation by preparing pasture, renovating a barn and adding a heritage breed, Belted Galloway.

•  Mick Rattler will cultivate “Job’s Tears,” a plant that produces a seed used as a bead for jewelry and also as a nutritious edible grain.

Four Haywood County farmers received 2009 WNC AgOptions awards:

•  Tim Kelley will purchase equipment that will improve his system for tracking the weight gain of his cattle, enhancing the productivity of his herd.

•  Terry Rogers of Arrowood Tree Farm will establish White Pine and hardwoods stands to generate income from pine bough clippings and eventually wood products.

•  Skipper Russell will purchase a refrigerated box truck to improve the shelf life and delivery of romaine lettuce to vendors as far away as Charlotte.

•  Winding River Hops, a four-person business that Scott Grahl leads, will grow hops, testing different varieties, trellising systems, and nutrient and irrigation requirements.

Four Jackson and Swain County residents received 2009 WNC AgOptions awards:

•  Marsha Crites of Harvest Moon Gardens in Jackson County will improve her retreat business and agri-tourism destination by propagating most of the perennial flowers and herbs used in her landscape design.

•  Joseph and Carol Doyle of Salegee Farm in Jackson County will expand their heather and lavender operation, selling to nurseries, landscapers and residential and commercial developers.

•  Jim Frady of MaiLee’s Mountain Mushroom Expansion in Swain County will build a climate controlled production house to ensure year-long production of Shiitake and Lions Mane mushrooms.

•  Mike Glover of Sleepy Hollow Farm in Swain County will expand his vegetable and gourd operation by building a greenhouse to start his plants.


Janet Shisler Peterson, who operates a diversified berry, cattle and bee farm in Buncombe County , aims to create a model for other farms with wood lots to saw their own barn lumber, fence posts, cattle stall frames and other wood products. With her WNC AgOptions award, she purchased the equipment necessary for a small sawmill business, which will add another income stream to her farm.

“Living on a farm with lots of trees that need salvaging and thinning, but having no way to make lumber, is like being on a boat in the ocean with no water to drink,” Peterson said. “Now I can make the lumber I need for out-buildings as I enter the agri-tourism market, as well as custom saw for people in the community, making use of this renewable resource.

“This WNC AgOptions project gives me the support for making a business plan with follow through,” Peterson said. “The grant will enable me to maintain a healthy forest, focus on the sustainability issue of the farm and benefit financially at the same time.”

In addition to Peterson, six Buncombe County recipients received 2009 WNC AgOptions awards:

•  Van Burnette will transition one portion of his farm into “U-Pick” blueberries and another portion to hops for use at local microbreweries.

•  Walter and Wendy Harrill of Imladris Farm will construct a rabbit barn and sanitary processing building and will sell meat to consumers and chefs.

•  Susan Mallard, owner of Blue Heron Farm, and her farm manager, Viki Nofke, will extend their growing season of culinary herbs to year-round production by converting a hoop house to a heated house and installing drip irrigation.

•  Neal Morgan will produce a non-corn-based type of feed, grinding high quality alfalfa hay and mineral supplements. Feeding this to his cattle will yield hormone-free beef, high in omega 3, for individuals and retailers.

•  Rayenelle Ritchie of Wilson Farms will expand her on-farm store and install a greenhouse to expand sales of bedding plants, poinsettias and vegetable transplants.

•  Debra Roberts will double the size of her bee yard to 10 hives, using a non-chemical beekeeping approach.

In Henderson County , Rick and Karen Jordan of Deerwood Nursery will diversify their plant base, growing vegetation to sell for stream bank restoration projects.

Six Madison County farmers received 2009 WNC AgOptions awards:

•  Nancy Odell of Geowild will expand her native and medicinal plant nursery by building a cold frame growing house and potting area.

•  Linda Raper of Rogue Harbor Farm will boost tomato production by constructing a high tunnel and improving irrigation on her certified organic farm.

•  Robin Reeves Singleton will expand her poultry operation and refurbish a trailer, which was once used for tobacco production, for poultry processing.

•  Shannon Roberts will establish a pasture poultry operation and horse manure compost system.

•  Steve Rice will improve his indoor mushroom growing environment with the hopes of eventually selling his product to medicinal markets.

•  Fred Treadway will build a mushroom fruiting house to improve the plants’ growing environment and expand his customer base.

In McDowell County , Meredith McKissick of Crooked Creek Farms will build a greenhouse for the production of vegetable and flower transplants, increasing the efficiency and profitability of the farm.

In Polk County , Rodney Booth of Adawehi Institute and Wellness Center will install a high tunnel and drip irrigation to expand the market garden production for the 50-member residential community. Produce is also sold to the general public in an on-site grocery store. The Center aims to produce vegetables with the highest quality nutrient content as possible.

In Transylvania County , Harold Paxton of French Broad Garden Center will create a roadside retail sales lot to market his trees and shrubs directly to consumers.


Douglas Harrell, who grows Christmas trees and raises cattle in Mitchell County , will use his WNC AgOptions award to expand his agri-tourism venture, which he hopes will ensure the longevity of his 220-year-old farm. “The times in the economy have changed so dramatically, especially with the demise of our primary cash crop, tobacco, that it’s become critical for our farm to diversify and try other ventures,” Harrell said.

Harrell plans to construct a building where school groups and 4-H members can participate in the production of molasses and apple butter. They’ll also be involved with the planting and harvesting of crops, giving students first-hand knowledge of agricultural practices. “This project is fundamentally important for me and the farm, and also for the local schools in the community,” Harrell said.

In addition to Harrell, six Mitchell County farmers received 2009 WNC AgOptions awards:

•  Brandon Birchfield will transition from tobacco to potatoes to keep alive his family’s multi-generational farm.

•  Roger Frye and John Slayton of Grassy Creek Blueberry Patch will revamp his family’s existing blueberry patch, first started by Frye’s grandfather.

•  Rick Harty will expand his mushroom, honey, rabbit and vegetable operations by purchasing additional livestock and equipment, making value-added products such as candles, and upgrading preparation areas.

•  Tim Hughes, who manages a “U-Pick” berry, greasy bean and corn farm, will improve his production techniques and the customer parking area to substantially increase his yields and customer base.

•  Nick Sagan of High Mountain Nursery will transition his nursery to a state-of-the-art “Pot-in-Pot” system, growing a mix of screening material and Japanese Maples.

Sam Silver will buy a potato washing and grading line to improve his potatoes’ appearance and sort for size, increasing their marketability

In Avery County , Ellis and Barbara Aycock will expand their organic fruit and vegetable operation by building an on-site greenhouse to start seedlings. They will sell seedlings not used on their farm at local tailgate markets, to restaurants and directly to consumers.

In Watauga County , Ernie Dollar, a former tobacco and beef cattle farmer, will set up a cold frame to organically grow produce to sell locally.

Four Yancey County recipients received 2009 WNC AgOptions awards:

•  Michael and Tammie Edwards, who grew tobacco until 2006, will build a germination chamber inside one of their greenhouses to produce flower and vegetable plugs for their operation as well as for their fast-growing customer base of growers.

•  Jeremy McCurry, who also grew tobacco until 2006, will purchase a drip irrigation system for his Day Neutral strawberries, increasing yield and quality.

•  Elke Spirakis of Wellspring Farm will further open up her farm as an agri-tourism destination. She breeds and markets llamas, heritage breed sheep, and angora rabbits and sells honey, eggs and wool products.

•  Ryan Wiebe will build a greenhouse to improve his certified organic operation, expecting a substantial savings as a result of no longer purchasing transplants.