the project

About the 2009 AgOptions Program

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.”

View media packet about the 2009 recipients. Click Here


In addition to the funds, the farmers receive business planning training, marketing assistance, and increased media exposure for 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.