FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, March 2, 2020

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

Or the local N.C. Cooperative Extension Agriculture Agent

Grant recipients reflect strength of WNC farmers

WNC AgOptions grantees receive $216,000 in farm grants to expand and diversify

ASHEVILLE, 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 40 farm businesses a total of $216,000 in $3,000 and $6,000 grants. Funded projects include one of WNC’s only rice producers, an apple cider vinegar operation, and upgrades to support the expansion of an exotic herb and spice farm.

Eight of the farm businesses received $3,000 and 32 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.”

In McDowell County, Tou and Chue Lee of Lee’s One Fortune Farm will be expanding rice production with the purchase of a specialized rice combine harvester. One of the only rice producers in western North Carolina, the Lees have been providing rice to local Hmong communities for a number of years. As demand has risen, production has been limited to what can be done by hand. “It is highly time consuming and really hard work,” said Chue. “However, the payoff is truly wonderful. There is no other locally or regionally grown rice to compare to what we produce.” With the new equipment, they can expand to meet the high demand of their locally grown rice. Their goal is to show the farming community that small to medium scale rice production in the Carolinas can be a viable and profitable business, while preserving the traditional farming methods of the Hmong people.

KT of KT’s Orchard and Apiary in Haywood County will be adding an apple cider vinegar operation to their apple orchard. One of the unfortunate aspects of producing commercial fruit for sale is the amount of loss experienced from fruit that cannot be sold.  KT’s Orchard will be using apples from the orchard that are not market quality to make apple cider vinegar.  “Currently there is little or no income generated in the months of January through May,” said KT. “By producing apple cider vinegar in stages, we will have product for sale all year long.” KT’s Orchard will be the only farm in Haywood County producing a value-added vinegar product. KT also noted, “We will serve as a model for other farms looking to expand into value-added production as a sustainable business venture.”

Michael and Lauren Rayburn of Rayburn Farms in Buncombe County have been growing herbs and spices for the region’s craft beverage and artisan food-makers since 2014. Known as the “farm to the brewers” of Asheville’s rapidly growing craft beer scene, the Rayburns are also becoming a major supplier of bulk dried herbs for a growing Asheville-based tea company. Dried herbs such as pineapple sage and lime basil, as well as dried ginger, are very popular with the tea industry. Rayburn Farms will use their grant to build a commercial drying facility that will allow them to dry larger amounts of product at a single time. The new facility will have many benefits to their operation. “With a larger drying facility, we will be able to dry larger amounts product at a single time, resulting in reduced operational costs such as electricity as well as overall farmer time in harvesting, processing, packing and cleaning the crop.” said Michael. “We have finally gotten to the point where we can see the future for our business, but without an ability to scale and simplify our production and processing, we know it will never be reached.”

“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, Executive 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: