Grants support diverse ventures, boost local agriculture system


MARSHALL — The WNC Agricultural Options program recently awarded six community groups and 47 farmers grants totaling $326,000 to assist them in farm diversification and joint marketing and distribution efforts.

This year’s community grant recipients are creating cohesion, infrastructure and marketing for local products. Individual recipients are improving such diverse operations as a 75-acre kale, turnips and collards farm in Cherokee County, a new dairy in Madison County, a micro-greens venture in Watauga County, and a canned bamboo shoots business in McDowell County.

buncombefrisbee 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. “We have been a strong supporter of the WNC AgOptions program because we know western farmers appreciate the funding and know how to put it into action,” said Bill Teague, NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission Acting Chairman. “These farmers have a wide variety of innovative ideas and we expect successful outcomes from which other farmers can learn.”

The program has worked in partnership with RAFI-USA’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund since 2008. RAFI-USA was also included in the $18.4 million Family Farm Innovation Fund last summer, which provided an additional $100,000 for WNC farmers this year.

While WNC AgOptions has given 300 individual grants to farm businesses since 2004, the community grant program is still in its infancy. The WNC AgOptions steering committee established the program last summer to encourage groups of farmers to solve logistical challenges in the local agricultural system, which the committee identified as the main barrier in boosting farm income.

Community groups received varying amounts totaling $92,000. Grantees are: Avery County Farmers Tailgate Marketing Association, Jackson County Christmas Tree Association, Mountain Cattle Alliance, Mill Spring Agricultural Development Center, Watauga County Farmers Market and Southern Appalachian Family Farms.

The community group grantees, which collectively impact at least 3,500 farmers, will:

  • Build a distribution center and retail center to serve farmers in at least six counties and consumers in four major metropolitan areas;
  • Create energy, unity and awareness of local foods shopping, Christmas tree sales and cooperative farm marketing;
  • Establish a system for small and medium-sized cattle farmers to use a portable corral unit, which will facilitate meeting Beef Quality Assurance program standards to increase profits;
  • Secure a permanent site for the mountain region’s oldest and largest tailgate market, opening up additional space for vendors and creative marketing and educational opportunities.

Three individual farm businesses received $9,000 grants, 25 received $6,000 and 19 received $3,000. Projects increase the economic sustainability of farm businesses as well as provide demonstration to other transitioning farmers. This year’s recipients will:

  • Continue their family’s multiple-generation tradition of farming with such ventures as wine-grape vineyards and wineries;
  • Transition a 75-acre greens operation from wholesale markets to direct sales to individuals and grocery stores with the purchase of a translicer;
  • Diversify a meat and vegetable operation with the addition of a dairy for 50 head of Holstein and Jersey cattle;
  • Sell goat milk under North Carolina Milk for Pet Food Use Guidelines with the addition of certified milking facilities/parlors;
  • Expand or add unique poultry selections such as duck, turkey and quail to their farm operations with the purchase of processing equipment;
  • Build a farm store to sell several farmers’ products on a well-travelled highway in Weaverville where no stand currently exists;
  • Revive foods traditional to the Cherokee Indian Reservation, including crawfish and canned wild greens;
  • Improve a hydroponic farm’s greenhouse heating and irrigation system, increasing the business’ bottom line;
  • Establish a Black Perigord and Burgundy truffle operation in inoculated Filbert and Oak trees, which are expected to eventually gross between $17,500 to $35,000 annually;
  • Demonstrate a unique terraced growing system for raspberries.buncombecole2011county

The ultimate goal of WNC AgOptions is to protect mountain farmland by assisting the longevity of farm enterprises.

“The sustainability of the agricultural industry in Western North Carolina is dependent upon the innovation of farmers and their willingness to try new things,” said Ross Young, Madison County Extension Director and WNC AgOptions steering committee leader. “This region is a leader in agriculture innovation, and I believe that the WNC AgOptions program has played a very important role in providing farmers with educational tools and financial resources they have needed to take their wonderful ideas and turn them into reality.”

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

For a full list of 2011 recipients click here.

Megan Riley, Media Relations Specialist, (828) 333-4151,;
Jennifer Ferre, Project Manager, (828) 333-4277,;
Or the local Cooperative Extension Center