Women Farmers Building a Healthy Community and Economy in the High Country

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,900.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Chelly Richards
Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA)

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: apples, berries (other), berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, swine
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, cover crops, double cropping, multiple cropping
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, cooperatives, marketing management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: row covers (for pests)
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, employment opportunities, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    Institutional markets such as schools and hospitals can play a vital role in sustaining local agricultural producers and local economies. However, overcoming barriers to these markets such as, production methods, insurance requirements, distribution channels, and quantities needed to supply an institution can seem daunting to individual producers. In addition, women farmers are facing unique challenges in finding necessary resources and access points for establishing profitable and marketable farms. Although a strong and growing force in agriculture, women have long been undervalued, underserved and underestimated. Opening new, sustainable markets such as institutions will assist women farmers to advance toward agricultural sustainability, improve their family’s economic status as well as the community’s economic status, and battle against social inequalities. This project will organize women farmers to take the lead in creating a sustainable community based food system through the efforts of BRWIA. Therefore, BRWIA understands the need for technical and marketing training specifically for women farmers to be prepared for this specialized market. Through this project we will provide the necessary production training such as succession planting, season extenders, and sustainable agricultural management practices. We will also focus on marketing to institutions by providing trainings on packing requirements, distribution methods, and insurance expectations. These sessions will involve open communications between the food service directors and farmers so they can work together to achieve a higher percentage of local food procurement. Through this project we will assess institutional barriers and desires for local food procurement. This assessment will enable us to identify target institutions to build our institutional markets with regional women farmers. Once identified, project partners (institutions and farmers), will collaborate to build institutional markets in the High Country. In the development process of this unique market, BRWIA will demonstrate and prove the market potential by moving local food into the institutional food services. We will document our process and results in order to grow more institutional markets in the future. This guide will give BRWIA and project partners a system on how to approach other institutions to begin a similar project. We will also share this guide with other communities looking to develop institutional markets. This project will equip women farmers with the tools they need to become successful producers and marketers to local markets through a series of trainings that will be specific to the needs of the High Country. In order to develop local markets we also need to identify and develop local farmers at the same time. Developing a market with the suppliers will not work just as developing the producers without a market to fill. This delicate balance requires strong communication between the producers and markets, which BRWIA will fulfill. In the end, we will increase the percentage of local food commodities procured by target institutions, develop well-informed and trained women farmers who are prepared to sell their products to these markets, and we will have successfully hosted two pilot “all local meals” programs with targeted institutions.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: Conduct institutional food assessment in eight counties in the High Country (Watauga, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Yancey, Caldwell, Wilkes, Alleghany).

    · The institutional food assessment will allow BRWIA to compile a comprehensive list of institutions in the High Country, as well as talk directly with food service directors and purchasers about the unique processes they use to procure food.
    · The assessment will gauge the interest and desires of institutions for local food procurement. In addition, this assessment will identify the specific barriers and recommendations of institutions on how to make purchasing local food easier.
    · The non-biased institutional food assessment will be critical for identifying and beginning additional institutional markets for local food.

    Objective 2: Conduct two trainings for women farmers on successful production and marketing strategies for local institutional markets.

    · We will equip women farmers with the necessary production and marketing skills and resources to enter local institutional markets.
    · The first training for women farmers will be specific to production methods in the High Country. This training will focus on season extenders, growing large quantities, succession plantings, etc.
    · The second training for women farmers will be specific to marketing strategies. This training will focus on working with other farmers to increase quantities to be sold, packing and distribution, insurance requirements, etc.
    · We will develop the market and the suppliers simultaneously. This delicate balance requires strong communication between the producers and markets, which BRWIA will fulfill.

    Objective 3: Develop a guide on how to develop institutional markets in the High Country for the future and to share with others attempting to develop these markets in their communities.

    · We will document our process and path to developing institutional markets. This documentation will be assembled into a “guide” on how to develop institutional markets in the High Country.
    · A “how-to guide” will be useful for sharing information with other communities on how to develop institutional markets.
    · This guide will also be critical for BRWIA and project partners to develop and establish future institutional markets in the High Country.

    Objective 4: Develop two institutional markets for locally grown and processed foods.

    · Institutional markets are a growing trend in the United States. More and more people are realizing the economic, environmental, and health benefits to local food and North Carolina’s High Country is no exception.
    · Developing institutional markets will open doors for women farmers in the High Country. Institutional food buying represents a significant economic market in the High Country, which is why BRWIA’s focus is to develop relationships between farmers and institutions.

    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.