FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, February 11, 2019

Contact: Jennifer Ferre, (828) 252-4783,;

Or the local N.C. Cooperative Extension Agriculture Agent

WNC AgOptions Announces 2019 Awardees

MILLS RIVER, N.C.—Diversifying farmers in western North Carolina are receiving support to offset the risk of expanding and trying new ventures. WNC Agricultural Options awarded 39 farm businesses a total of $216,000 in $3,000 and $6,000 grants on Thursday at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River. Farm projects include a new meadery operation, the expansion of heirloom wheat and rye flour production and an agritourism endeavor that will create a new “Pizza Farm.”

Six of the farm business received $3,000 and 33 received $6,000. The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission is the exclusive financial supporter of WNC AgOptions, which aims to build sustainable farming communities in the mountain region by providing resources directly to farmers.

“The WNC AgOptions program has proven success stories,” said Bill Teague, Chairman of the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. “We continue to be amazed at how these producers utilize these funds to ensure their family farms grow and remain profitable.”

Ryan and Launi Higgs of Blue Ridge Apiaries in Caldwell County will be producing mead, an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey, to complement their existing fourth generation honey production operation. The meadery will not only allow them to diversify, reducing the financial risk in offering one product—honey, but will also add value and increase income. “Producing mead offers a new revenue stream independent of our current revenue stream,” said Ryan. “We cannot compete with commodity honey prices outside of our region due to the constraints on honey production in North Carolina. This makes the proposition of adding value to our honey crop all the more attractive and sensible as a means of insuring economical sustainability.”

In Buncombe County, Anne and Aaron Grier of Gaining Ground Farm will be expanding heirloom wheat and rye production. “While we have been growing small grains for more than 10 years, we have determined varieties that are the best fit for our operation and need to scale up in order to be economically viable,” said Anne. “Over the last couple years we have seen an increasing demand for our heirloom flour, and we see this as an important way to diversify our offerings with a unique product.” The Griers will be purchasing needed equipment that will allow them to expand to grow five acres of grain by 2020.

Carl Evans and Julie Mansfield of Mountain Harvest Organics in Madison County will use their grant to transition from crop production to produce value-added products and services by becoming a Pizza Farm. “We hope to become a food destination for people in our community and the Asheville area by combining our 20 years of growing fruits and vegetables along with our passion for making pizza using a wood-fired oven and with ingredients from the farm,” said Carl. The goal is to draw people to their farm and encourage them to wander the fields to see pizza toppings growing and then enjoy a pizza prepared with fresh farm ingredients right before their eyes. “The farm tour aspect of our Pizza Farm will educate people about agriculture and challenges facing small farms.”

“N.C. Cooperative Extension is excited to be a part of a program that is making such impressive impacts in the agricultural community,” said Ross Young, Madison County Extension Director and WNC AgOptions steering committee leader. “Agriculture is a thriving and ever-changing economic engine in western North Carolina with new enterprises and creative ideas emerging daily. WNC AgOptions plays a crucial role in helping many of these farmers fulfill a dream that may not be attainable otherwise.”

The administrator of WNC AgOptions is WNC Communities, a non-profit organization that has been supporting agriculture in the region since 1947. WNC Communities provides a unique forum for leaders in western North Carolina to carry out innovative programs to improve the quality of life for rural communities, as well as managing programs to enhance the agriculture and forestry sectors.

“WNC Communities is honored to be the administrator of this annual funding opportunity designed to support farmers in their quest to try new techniques or implement innovative farming practices,” said Jennifer Ferre, Interim Director of WNC Communities. “WNC AgOptions strengthens our agricultural community, ultimately benefiting us all.”

Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include: representatives from N.C. Cooperative Extension, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services–Marketing Division, WNC Communities, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and other leaders in agribusiness. For more information, see the following: N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers:; N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission:; WNC Communities: