Henderson County is home to one of the most productive agricultural economies in Western North Carolina. It is also undergoing change as the result of development pressure on farmland and global shifts in agricultural markets. There is broad support for agriculture in both urban and rural communities. This project explored ways that the Henderson County government can support agriculture as one of the pillars of the local economy. Extensive public comment provided the basis for an agricultural chapter in the recently adopted County Comprehensive Plan. That plan recommends actions for preserving farmland, directing economic development resources to farmers, ensuring that other county polices are farm-friendly, and appointing an agricultural ombudsman within county government. The specifics of these recommendations are detailed in attachments to this final report. (Contact the SARE Office for copies of any attachments noted in this report.)
Henderson County is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the western part of North Carolina. Community support for agriculture remains strong but development threatens the farmland base that is essential to agriculture in the future. Shifting agricultural markets are bringing traditional products such as milk and apple juice into question. A plan was needed to focus the attention of the community on these issues and on how to respond. SARE provided the resources to achieve that focus to a greater degree than would have been possible otherwise. Our successful planning process and the plan adopted by our Board of County Commissioners is described in this final report and the following attachments.
The grant proposal described the following objectives:
1. A county agricultural profile. The profile is attached to this report. (attachment A)
2. Listening sessions to hear from farmers and the agricultural community. Two instead of four sessions were supported with SARE funds because many community meetings were held which covered agriculture as well as other topics related to the comprehensive plan (attachment B.)
3. A draft agricultural plan took the form of a report (attachment A) that served as the basis for the final plan (attachment C) which was adopted by the Board of County Commissioners in July 2004.
4. Action strategies were identified in the agriculture plan and the Comprehensive Plan implementation schedule.
The methods described in the proposal were followed through adoption of the agriculture element of the plan. A steering committee guided the work of county staff in drafting the plan. Substantial public comment guided the work of both the committee and staff. A literature search helped understand trends in the agricultural economy as well as changing land uses. A search for creative approaches spanned other states and countries. An advisory committee and the county planning board helped select recommendations that are likely to be supported by both farmers and the larger community. Adoption by the Board of County Commissioners ensures that agriculture will be supported by county policies into the foreseeable future.
A county plan to support agriculture and agricultural communities was drafted, reviewed, and adopted in a public process.
Educational & Outreach Activities
County planning staff conducted an extensive public survey (attachment B) which found substantial support for open space protection and agriculture. This support included both policy support and a willingness to provide financial support for a continued agricultural presence in Henderson County. A public outreach plan (attachment B) built on these survey results and guided staff in developing the Agriculture Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.
Three articles were developed of varying lengths to describe the results of this SARE project (attachment E).
The planning process pulled together various members of the agricultural community and helped focus their attention on the long term future and ways that Henderson County can support their agricultural industry and agricultural communities. Consensus on a plan for action will avoid working at cross purposes and will focus limited resources where they can be most effective. The innovative plan developed with SARE support will serve as an example for other communities facing the common problems of development pressure on farmland and shifting agricultural markets.
Most counties have plans, and many counties have comprehensive plans, but the Henderson County plan is one of the first examples of a county adopting a plan to support their agriculture industry as a part of the county comprehensive plan. The plan addresses minimizing farmland loss, providing access by farmers to economic development assistance, and establishing an agriculture facilitator within county government. The plan also contains a growth management strategy that encourages development in the urban parts of the county and developing a mechanism for transferring development rights from important agricultural land to more urban areas.
County staff is proceeding with implementation of the Comprehensive Plan in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Schedule. Actions are scheduled from 2004 through 2010. SARE assistance may be sought for some of these elements. Numerous future recommendations were developed as concepts (attachment A) and in the adopted plan (attachment C.)