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

Grants to Boost Local Agriculture System

WNC AgOptions application deadline November 22

MARSHALL — WNC Agricultural Options is introducing a new community grants program that will support projects that are improving the local agriculture system. WNC AgOptions will fund at least three farmer-led group projects that address processing, marketing, packaging and other distribution needs in the mountain region.

The new Family Farm Innovation Fund, which Gov. Beverly Perdue announced on Monday, will provide $100,000 to WNC AgOptions, in addition to the $225,000 that the program distributes annually. RAFI-USA’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund, with which N.C. Cooperative Extension partners to manage WNC AgOptions, was included in the $18.4 million package to five state and federal programs assisting farmers.

“This initiative builds on the legacy of innovation in North Carolina’s family farms, and it is another step forward in our JobsNOW economic recovery efforts,” Perdue said in making the announcement at the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center.

The WNC AgOptions steering committee determined that logistical challenges related to distribution are the main barriers in improving the local agricultural system. “Solving distribution issues is often more challenging than growing the product,” said Ross Young, Madison County Cooperative Extension Director and leader of the WNC AgOptions steering committee. “We hope applicants will use this opportunity to create systems that help local farmers respond to the high demand for local products, as well as improve the availability of locally grown products to consumers.”

The size of the community grant is dependent upon the expenses associated with the project. The maximum amount to be awarded per applicant group is $20,000.

In addition, WNC AgOptions is continuing its grant program for individual farm businesses, and will award approximately 40 grants ranging from Grant Award: $3,000 to $9,000 for farm diversification projects. Since 2004, WNC AgOptions has administered more than 250 grants in 17 counties and the Cherokee Indian Reservation to mountain farmers diversifying or expanding their operations.

The North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has supported WNC AgOptions since 2003. “We’re proud to be the funding partner for the WNC AgOptions program,” said William Upchurch, Executive Director of the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. “Over the past few years, the farmers in western North Carolina have developed very innovative projects and have shown that their ideas can generate some great results.”

Applications are available at or at county Cooperative Extension Centers. The postmark deadline of November 22 is earlier than previous years, and the 2011 grant cycle is from January to November. Interested applicants should contact their local Cooperative Extension Agents by November 1 to express their intent to apply.

Priority will be given to projects that provide demonstration to other farmers and encourage the economic sustainability of cooperating farm businesses. Applicants should extensively research the logistics, markets, expenses and timelines for their projects.

Successful community grant projects will require participation from a diversity of people, organizations, and institutions. Groups of farmers, farm coops, farmer associations, churches, local businesses, civic organizations, non-profit organizations or combinations of these are eligible and encouraged to apply. Western North Carolina farmers must be active in the leadership of the group.

Individual farm business 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, and a screened greenhouse for commercial disease-free strawberry plants.

The ultimate goal of WNC AgOptions is to protect mountain farmland by assisting the longevity of farm enterprises. Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include: representatives from the N.C. Cooperative Extension, HandMade in America, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and other agricultural business leaders.

For more information, see the following: N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers:; Family Farm Innovation Fund:; Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund, RAFI-USA:; N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission:

Scott Grahl of Winding River Hops, Haywood County explains his 2009 WNC AgOptions hops project to participants of a hops tour. (pictured above)