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


    An institutional food assessment gauged the interest and desires of institutions for local food procurement. It identified the specific barriers and recommendations of institutions on how to make purchasing local food easier. Institutional markets and suppliers were developed simultaneously. Information gathered by the assessment and input from participants can be used in trainings for local growers interested in selling to institutions. Institutional food purchasers and growers were brought together for a vendor fair.


    The core components of a community-based food system in the North Carolina High Country include local agricultural producers; agriculture-related businesses, such as value-added food processors and community kitchens; local points of distribution like farmer’s markets and food co-ops; and food consumers like restaurants, institutions, and individuals. When these components are linked together they strengthen local relationships between stakeholders in the food system—from field to table. The outcome will be a system that ensures each member of the community has access to healthful and nutritional food grown in way that reduces reliance on agri-chemical fertilizers and pest control and where the economic benefits remain and are re-circulated within the community.

    Institutional markets such as schools and hospitals can play a vital role in sustaining local agricultural producers and local economies. Institutions are driving forces in rural economies such as the High Country; they create jobs and produce goods for the community. By encouraging and developing markets for a different kind of exchange, these same institutions provide more benefits to the places they serve and exist. Even if small percentages of their food budgets were spent on local food procurement, it would add thousands of dollars back into the local economy creating a multiplying effect. Institutional markets for High Country farmers will also create opportunities to enable many of the underemployed constituents develop viable income streams through sustainable alternative agricultural enterprises such as specialty crops and value-added products.

    For individual producers, however, overcoming barriers to entering institutional markets, including production methods, insurance requirements, distribution channels, and quantities needed to supply institutions can seem daunting. In addition, women farmers face 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 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.

    Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) organizes women farmers to take the lead in creating a sustainable community based food system. The “Women Farmers Building a Healthy Community and Economy in the High Country” project assists rural women through training and market development to create economic opportunities for themselves and their families, with agriculture as the cornerstone, as well as to address issues of consumer access to locally grown and produced products. This project aims to continue to build women leaders and provide new opportunities for them in our community food system through institutional markets.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1: Conduct the High Country Institutional Food Assessment

    -Hire Farm-to-Institution Coordinator
    -Develop Institutional Food Assessment strategy and survey
    -Identify institutions in the eight High Country counties in which BRWIA works (Ashe, Avery, Alleghany, Wilkes, Watauga, Caldwell, Mitchell, Yancey)
    -Conduct telephone surveys
    -Compile and analyze results
    -Publicize our findings to the High Country community
    -Use the results to identify target institutions and training needs

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

    -Use the results of the Institutional Food Assessment along with input from High Country women farmers to identify specific training topics
    -Develop a training program
    -Identify and secure expert trainers for workshops
    -Market training workshops to women farmers
    -Conduct a workshop to educate women farmers on production strategies for institutional markets (such as season extenders, growing large quantities, succession plantings, etc.)
    -Conduct a workshop to educate women farmers on marketing strategies for institutional markets (such as increasing quantities to be sold, packing and distribution, insurance requirements, etc.)

    Objective 3: Develop two institutional markets for locally grown and processed foods

    -Collaborate with project partners to plan vendor fairs which will connect farmers and food service directors
    -Host vendor fair for mountain counties (Watauga, Avery, Ashe, Mitchell, Yancey)
    -Host vendor fair for foothills counties (Caldwell, Wilkes, Alleghany)
    -Plan on-farm and institution site visits for farmers and food service directors
    -Identify two institutions that want to increase their local food procurement
    -Collaborate with farmers and target institutions to develop strategy for increasing the local food procurement
    -Plan and develop two pilot “all local meals” at the target institutions
    -Survey participating institutions to identify challenges, successes, and recommendations for future of institutional markets in the High Country

    Objective 4: Document our lessons learned and allow for replication of the project across the region

    -Prepare a written strategy on the institutional food assessment. This will entail our survey tool, a comprehensive list of institutions in the High County, the compiled results of the survey, and recommendations on how to approach targeted institutions.
    -Prepare written documentation on our methods for the vendor fairs, institution site visits, and on-farm site visits.
    -Prepare a hard-copy of our comprehensive list of institutional processes of food procurement and perceived barriers put forth by the institutions so we can establish specific strategies for the institutions we plan to work with in the future.
    -Set forth our recommendations for future programs and strategies needed to establish successful and sustainable institutional markets for local food procurement.
    -Compile surveys of project participants throughout the two-year program to provide recommendations and success stories for the guide.

    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.