WNC AgOptions grantees use funding to boost profits and support communities
ASHEVILLE, N.C.— This year’s grant awards will support projects that improve efficiencies on the farm to increase income, allow for growth and provide additional benefits in the communities where the grantees farm. Over half of the awarded projects will be investing in equipment and processes that will dramatically increase the sustainability of their farm businesses by providing efficiencies that will have a direct effect on their bottom line, allowing them to add farm jobs and support the local food system.
Thirty-one farm businesses in western North Carolina were awarded a total of $244,000 in WNC AgOptions cost-share grants in 2023.
The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission awarded WNC Communities a three-year grant for the WNC AgOptions program to provide nearly three quarters of a million dollars to family farms in WNC through 2024. “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.”
Family farms in western North Carolina continue to contribute to the local economy by supporting the agricultural sector across the region. By creatively and deliberately addressing ways to reduce costs, increase time efficiencies and maximize labor, these farms are looking to create sustainable models to ensure their operations remain profitable and support the communities where they farm. The WNC AgOptions cost-share grant program provides the means to further their efforts.
By adding a dried flower processing chamber to her existing successful cut flower operation, Emily Patrick of Carolina Flowers in Madison County hopes to increase production and processing efficiency on her farm. With this project, she can grow an additional 6000 square-feet of flowers in a former tobacco field, which will double her dried flower yields. The increased income and cost savings will help support Emily’s commitment to providing year-round employment. “Carolina Flowers makes a difference in our community by creating full-time, year-round careers in agriculture. Most of our employees work year-round. We are a unique farm because we do not lay-off employees in the winter,” said Emily. In addition to the 13 employees currently working at Carolina Flowers, the project funded by her AgOptions grant will support the salary of one of four full-time employees Emily plans to hire this spring.
Having an impact in the community is also very important to William Wright of Wright Way Nursery in Haywood County. He will use his grant to build a greenhouse which will provide a unique local source of Rhododendron “liners.” Liners are very young plants, usually sold to retailers or wholesalers who grow them larger before selling to consumers. Growing his own liners will result in significant cost savings, which will help his local business compete with larger corporate nurseries and provide year-round employment. William says “My farm is the sole provider of income to my family. It also provides income for six other people in my community and is a source of local plants to hundreds of community members.” He continues that this project will “provide work to local labor pools during a time when we traditionally do not have enough work to keep them busy” all while “making our operation more profitable, which will keep us growing local plant material well into the future.”
Bearwallow Valley Farms in Henderson County is transitioning to a wholesale business model and will use their grant to improve efficiency, reduce crop waste, and increase production and net income through strategic equipment purchases and process improvements. This includes the purchase of multi-functional production equipment and an innovative semi-mobile wash and pack station. After initial equipment purchases and implementation, Bearwallow estimates a reduction in labor by more than 40% by 2024. Registered Dietician and farm owner Nicole Coston says, “This will leave additional time to focus on farm to school and other community outreach programming.” Since 2021, Nicole and her husband Brent, a fourth-generation farmer, have been involved in numerous community programs, such as supplying produce to Head Start centers in WNC and providing packed produce boxes for the local home-bound elderly community. Nicole adds, “With plans to continue giving back to the community, pivoting to a wholesale model to improve production and income is vital to sustain this farm for future generations.”
“N.C. Cooperative Extension’s role in the AgOptions grant program is an extremely rewarding aspect of my position,” said Karen Blaedow, chair of the WNC AgOptions Steering Committee. “WNC AgOptions is one of the few grant programs where funding goes directly to NC family farm businesses. Every year I am amazed to see how this program grows local agriculture and the communities surrounding it.”
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 strengthen their businesses and contribute to the economy of our region,” said Jennifer Ferre, Executive Director of WNC Communities. “As we work with rural communities in WNC, we see firsthand how strong local farms impact communities for the better. The support from the NC TTFC allows us to assist in their accomplishments. This is evidence that WNC AgOptions strengthens our agricultural community, ultimately benefiting us all.”
Since 2004, WNC AgOptions has awarded over 600 farm projects more than $3.6 million.
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, ASAP and other leaders in agribusiness.