WNC AgOptions Awards 2010 Farm Diversification Projects

Grants for local farm product sales, pioneering ventures, and alternative markets

The WNC Agricultural Options Program awarded 42 farmers seed grants totaling $225,000 to assist them in completing farm diversification projects. This year’s grantees are selling Appalachian Grown meats at the WNC Farmers Market at Asheville; creating alternative markets for established strawberry, trout and edible landscaping enterprises; and introducing innovative crops to the region such as milkweed for sale to butterfly farmers and mosses for landscapers.

Three of the awardees received $9,000 grants, 27 received $6,000 and 12 received $3,000. These projects ensure the economic sustainability of farm businesses as well as provide demonstration to other transitioning farmers. The ultimate goal of WNC AgOptions is to protect mountain farmland by assisting the longevity of farm enterprises.

“We continue to be encouraged and amazed by everyone’s innovative ideas and the variety of projects that are produced by our WNC AgOptions grantees these past few years,” said William Upchurch, Executive Director of the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. “Our board members are very supportive of the program for one key reason – we’re able to keep farmers in business by reducing their costs and increasing their income.”

Since 2003, N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has supported WNC AgOptions, a N.C. Cooperative Extension program that provides resources directly 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 provides funding for exemplary farm projects through a selective application process.

Projects awarded in 2010 include: a produce packaging facility for improving sales to local grocery chains, a propagation house for food and medicinal plants, hops production for steep terrains, a maple syrup finishing cooker, no-till production of specialty winter squash, a specialty screened greenhouse for commercial disease-free strawberry plants, and an on-farm retail store in Barnardsville to sell grass-fed beef and pork.

In response to high demand for locally raised rabbit meat, beef and poultry, 13 recipients are completing livestock projects, including the raising of hormone-free, antibiotic-free and humanely raised animals. Frank and Jeanette Wilson of Hominy Valley Farms – Land and Cattle in Candler are opening a market stand for local meat at the WNC Farmers Market at Asheville. They’ll sell their own meat and poultry as well as Sunburst Trout products and other goods from area farms, all under the brand “Loca-Motive.”

“It will be one more market for local foods and for meats in particular,” Jeanette Wilson said. “It will add one more option to the WNC Farmers Market that may bring in more local customers.”

The WNC Farmers Market at Asheville currently depends on a large volume of tourist traffic. Market Manager Doug Sutton encouraged the Wilsons to set up the stand in the hopes that the market will increasingly become a resource for local residents. “We want school kids to know where their produce is coming from,” Sutton said. Sutton also hopes to see an increase in the variety of choices at the market, including organic vegetables.

A WNC AgOptions grant will allow Ronnie and Kathy James of Haywood County to further diversify their tomato and pepper farm. They will increase the production of cucumbers with the purchase of a polyplanter seeder, which will save hundreds of dollars per acre in the cost of hand planting cucumber seeds. This boost in income is crucial for them as they further test new ventures. They hope to establish the county’s first CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, as a way to sell baskets of produce directly to local residents.

In Mitchell County, Cynthia Sharpe and Dwain Swing of OakMoon Farm & Creamery are growing the scope of their cheese-making and goat husbandry workshops. With their grant, they will improve farm infrastructure to support the agri-tourism dimension of their farm, which is key for off-season income. Their workshops attract participants from all parts of the country.

“When people attend our workshops, they stay in local accommodations, eat in the restaurants and visit galleries,” Sharpe said. “They get to see what this region is like and this helps put Bakersville on the map.”

Impacts from WNC AgOptions projects are often significant. Recipients typically double the size of the grant with the new income that the projects bring in the first year alone. Profits usually continue to increase in the years to follow. Last year, the 46 WNC AgOptions recipients reached approximately 10,000 people during the completion of their projects, including customers, workshop participants and readers of newspapers, magazines and online media.

Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include: representatives from N.C. Cooperative Extension program, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services– Marketing Division, HandMade in America, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) and the Waynesville Farmers Co-Op.

Since 2004, WNC AgOptions has supported more than 250 farmer projects. Ross Young, Extension Director, Madison County and WNC AgOptions steering committee leader, reflected on the change in agriculture since that time:

“When Burley tobacco was ‘King’ in western North Carolina, it and other commodities defined mountain agriculture,” Young said. “Many farmers are realizing that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to farm by raising crops destined for a commodity market. The WNC AgOptions Program has been very instrumental in assisting farmers as they transition to direct markets and local sales. Instead of selling to warehouses, packing sheds and stock yards, many farmers are selling directly to local groceries, restaurants, cafeterias, and other consumers of the products.”

View the results by county or by topic.

Click here to see a list of the 2010 recepients.