With support from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, WNC Agricultural Options has provided 423 grants totaling nearly $2 million, along with agribusiness training and marketing education, to farmers and community groups since 2004.

In the last decade, the farm landscape of Western North Carolina changed significantly as many farmers transitioned from growing tobacco. The transition opened up a range of possibilities: local markets, diversified crops and agricultural tourism.

In 2003, agricultural leaders in the region — including N.C. Cooperative Extension county centers, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services – Marketing Division, and Handmade in America — formed the Western North Carolina Agricultural Options Program to give financial aid and technical assistance to farmers venturing into unknown agricultural markets.

In 2008, WNC AgOptions entered a partnership with RAFI-USA’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund to offer awards to farmers demonstrating economic viable operations through 2011. The steering committee established a community grant program in 2011 to support groups improving the local agricultural system by addressing processing, packaging, marketing or other distribution needs.

In 2011, WNC Communities became the fiscal agent of the WNC AgOptions program. WNC Communities is dedicated to providing a unique forum for leaders of Western North Carolina to convene, collaborate and carry out innovative programs to improve the quality of life for rural communities and to enhance the agriculture economy.

Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include N.C. Cooperative Extension Agents from all areas of the region, an NCDA Marketing Specialist, the Farm Outreach Specialist at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and a farmers cooperative owner.

The diverse board of WNC AgOptions continues its mission of building sustainable farming communities in the mountains. WNC AgOptions projects demonstrate to the larger agricultural community successful crop transition, farm expansion, and innovative farming practices and marketing techniques. The steering committee seeks ways to improve the local agricultural system as a whole while also boosting individual farm enterprises.