Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture and Energy Project

Final Report for CS06-049

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2006: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
John Jackson
Appalachian Native Plants Inc
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Project Information


This Sustainable Community Innovation Grant has established the closed county landfill as an asset in the community. On this site commercially viable native plants and technical assistance are available to interested farmers in the region. A Subterranean Heating and Cooling System has been installed in the production greenhouse, plant material has been provided to growers in the region, and outreach efforts have gained new grower interest in native azaleas as a viable alternative crop. With this foundation in place, the project is well positioned to include sustainable/organic food crops in the program within the next year.


Appalachian Native Plants set out to establish the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture and Energy Project. The closed county landfill is now being used to produce native azaleas and the site has been expanded to prepare for additional greenhouses that will produce sustainable/organic food crops. Established growers of native azaleas and emerging growers now have a source of hard to find native azalea liners and technical assistance on how to grow them. Partnerships with University of Tennessee professors and extension agents, Appalachian State University, local officials and economic development organizations, as well as the local school system have been elemental in the success of this project.

Project Objectives:
Meeting the Goals

The purpose of this project has been to provide commercially viable horticultural crops and technical assistance to interested farmers in the region. ANP produces native plant liners for other farmers to grow on to finished landscape size plants. The outlined objectives/performance targets for this project are as follows:

1. Economic stimulation and viability.

2. Educational benefits derived from the Horticultural Education/Demonstration Center.

3. Demonstration of “Green energy” technologies in agricultural production.

4. Demonstration of Sustainable Agricultural methods of producing native plants and organic vegetables.

5. WEB based marketing of crops produced through the project. Co-op style procurement of materials needed for the growing of these crops.

6. Job and wealth creation through value added agricultural enterprises.


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  • Joe Savery


Materials and methods:

1. ANP will demonstrate/produce/market crops of native plants from seed. These economically viable methods will be taught to other interested growers.

2. Construction of a commercial sized “passive solar” greenhouse with an attached classroom, passive solar growing structures, trial gardens and display gardens will be the foundation of the educational initiative.

3. Use of passive solar growing structures and possible supplemental heating in the greenhouses from landfill methane extraction will demonstrate practical “green energy” applications in agricultural production.

4. Production of native plants from seed and organic vegetables in passive solar growing structures and the creation and maintenance of display gardens will demonstrate economically and environmentally sound methods for other growers.

5. By working with UT at this early stage in implementing a WEB based marketing plan commercial viability will be achieved early in the life of the project.

6. Sustainable Agricultural production tends to be labor intensive. ANP expects to hire 4 full time employees within 5 years. Many other jobs could be created in nursery/food growing and landscaping trades in the county and region.

Research results and discussion:

The primary investigators have continued to provide monetary support for the project. Two additional greenhouses, a 20x100 quonset and a 24x70 Cravo, have been donated to the project for a total market value of $30,000. These additional greenhouses will increase production of native azaleas and allow us to move forward with containerized blueberry and sustainable food production. The county has asssisted with further site preparations. These preparations have made space for the classroom building to be constructed.

A greenhouse grower was hired in May 2006 and replaced with a new grower in November 2007.

The project held two grower workshops in 2007. Both workshops were attended by 20 participants. In total 40 people have engaged in conversations at these workshops regarding best production methods for native azaleas.

An open house was held in May 2008 with an additional 25 people in attendance. Marketing this outreach effort as an open house brought a wider group of people interested not only in native azalea production, but also in sustainable energy applications.

Alliances have been formed with North Carolina extension agents with particular interest in the production of native azaleas.

A 24x96’ Quonset greenhouse was fully constructed, with a Subterranean Heating and Cooling System, and propagating the 2008 crop starting in November 2007. A 20x100’ Quonset shade house was constructed in June 2008.

The greenhouse constructed employs a Subterranean Heating and Cooling System (SHCS) to buffer the high energy demand of quonset greenhouses. Integrated Pest Management techniques are used to produce native azaleas. Ten individuals have visited the greenhouse to learn more about the performance of the SHCS and its installation.

University of Tennessee has been recording data on the SHCS and has put together an initial progress report. Not fully analyzed, this data is yet to be announced publically.

A demonstration line out bed has been planted on site and used to help explain field production of azaleas starting with plugs.

Information sheets on pros/cons of field and container production as well as logistical outline of the "Azalea Project" have been compiled and distributed. These sheets will further be used in conjunction with two upcoming Azalea Project workshops specifically for growers who will be setting at least 200 azalea liners by October 2008.

Appalachian Native Plants web site was launched in December 2007. The market page of our site is under construction as of May 2008. Contact has been made with suppliers of organic materials that will be made available to growers in the area.

Three high school students have been hired for the summer to assist with greenhouse production.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Publications/handouts created through this project include: general brochure, catalog of plants including pictures and descriptions, Outline of the Azalea Project, Growing Azaleas from Seed, and Getting Started in Native Azalea Field and/or Container Production including pros and cons of each system.

Three articles have been written about ANP. One was on the front page of the April 30th edition of the Tomahawk, one of our local papers. Another was in the May 2008 edition of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News. The final one was most recently in the June 9th edition of B.A.D Idea News. The project was also aired on WCYB TV on May 13th.

A presentation was given to the Mountain City Council on June 3rd. This presentation was written up in both the Tomahawk and the B.A.D. Idea News in their columns about the City Council meeting.

Two grower workshops and one open house were held. The grower workshops functioned as demonstration as well as information sharing. The workshop in November was attended by four established azalea producers from Western North Carolina. The open house offered an opportunity for individuals interested in the Subterranean Heating and Cooling system and other sustainable energy systems to come to the greenhouse site where they may not have attended if announced as a grower workshop.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Two grower workshops were held, one in May 2007 and one in November. Five new growers have shown interest in beginning native azalea production in 2009. Two growers have shown interest in production of sustainable/organic food crops. An open house was held in May 2008. By marketing this as an open house rather than a grower workshop we were able to attract people that are not necessary growers, but interested in aspects of the project such as sustainable energy use and preservation of native species.

First 24’ x 96’ greenhouse with SHCS is in place and functioning. Additional grading of the site for the classroom and additional greenhouses has been completed. A second 20’ x 100’ quonset shade house has been constructed.

Landfill gas to energy system installment feasibility and cost assessment was completed in June 2007. These reports were provided on a pro-bono basis, a $13,778.45 value. Funding requests have been submitted based on this feasibility and cost assessment. Hot water panels have been promised to the project which will demonstrate “green energy” in-bench heating systems in the second house currently under construction.

8,000 native azaleas were produced in 2007. We began taking orders for these plants in November 2007 to be picked up in 2008. 1,000 of these plants were set into demonstration line-out beds in May 2008. 4000 of these plants have been provided to growers in the region and 3000 have been transplanted to the next container size to grow on.

20,000 are currently in production for the 2008 season.

Web site was launched in December 2007 by a local web designer. UT has been gathering data on the SHCS since January 2008. A progress report on the system has been drafted. Their interest has been peaked as they have found a 30% energy savings when accounting for propane and electricity as compared to a neighboring greenhouse.

ANP has hired three part-time student employees for the 2008 summer to assist with transplanting. With the construction of additional greenhouses it is likely that we will retain at least one of these students.

Workshops are scheduled for August and October 2008 specifically for growers planning to set at least 200 azaleas before fall 2008.


Potential Contributions

Increasing income of farmers

Five growers have shown interest in growing on native azaleas. With the two workshops scheduled for August and October, we hope to increase this number to at least fifteen growers. Fifteen growers will produce at least 200 plants each for a total of 3000 azaleas in production. These plants are salable at 18-24" in three to four years. In three to four years these plants will return $18 each on the wholesale market. The total return for all growers of the 3000 is $54,000. Each grower of 200 azaleas will increase their individual income $3600.

The 4000 plants provided to regional growers will return a gross income of at least $72,000. Some of these plants will be sold retail and will return higher income than the $18 wholesale price.

Future Recommendations

Continue forging bonds with azalea growers and regionally based agricultural organizations in order to develop an official coalition for the Azalea Project/Initiative.

Continue with University of Tennessee professor data collection and analysis of SHCS.

Development site further to build capacity and begin sustainable/organic food crop production on site and to assist other growers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.