- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, focus group, mentoring, workshop, youth education
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, feasibility study
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships
The purpose of this grant was to initiate Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s (SAHC) Community Farm and Food Project in Buncombe County, North Carolina. SAHC accepted the donation of a 100 acre working farm in 2010, which will serve as the site for this new exciting program. SARE grant funds were utilized to assess the needs of agricultural and rural communities in Buncombe County that this farm could serve, evaluate the feasibility of three potential community farm models for this particular property, and build partnerships with the appropriate people and organizations to support the project.
SAHC’s initial development of this Community Farm and Food project was based on three issues facing the local community of our region:
1) There is high interest in sustainable farming among young adults throughout Buncombe County and the western North Carolina area (WNC). Additionally, there are several institutions in the area offering programs or courses of study in sustainable agriculture and horticulture, as well as many sustainable farms hosting a large number of apprentices. The demand for locally and sustainably grown food in WNC continues to grow, even in hard economic times. Buncombe County’s Agricultural Development and Farmland Protection Plan stated in 2007 that the average county farmer is over 58 years of age, and the conversion of farmland to other uses is rapidly expanding. Due to all of these factors, there is an increasing need for a generation of new farmers in Buncombe and WNC. However, out-of-reach land prices in WNC, high-cost of farm equipment and capital, and the lofty risk involved in starting an agricultural business often prevent prospective farmers from embarking new agricultural enterprises. An incubator farm in the region could provide access to land, equipment, and business training at reduced cost to potential farmers who otherwise lack resources necessary to begin farming. This would allow the new farmer to build his/her business in the start-up phase and eventually afford to continue the venture off-site with the skills necessary to sustain it.
2) Despite the growing interest in and availability of sustainably and locally grown food in the WNC region, this fresh food is still not reaching certain communities in the area. A recent study by MANNA FoodBank and Feeding America (“Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity 2011”) revealed that 29.9 percent of children under the age of 18 in WNC and 27.5 percent in Buncombe County were food insecure in 2009. A study released in March of 2011 by the Food Research and Action Center rated the Asheville metropolitan statistical area (comprising Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties of WNC) as the seventh worst in the country in terms of people’s basic ability to put food on the table. Based on other successful models in the country, SAHC’s farm property could serve as an educational center for youth and young adults of rural, low income communities to build job and life skills through paid agricultural work. Participants can also gain skills through marketing the bounty produced at the farm back to their own communities (at subsidized rates), expanding access to fresh local foods and helping to expand a new consumer market for other farmers to reach.
3) Buncombe County’s 2007 Agricultural Development and Farmland Protection Plan recognized that an initiative to preserve farmland against development will only be successful if there is a corresponding effort to sustain farm profitability, and this was made one of the county’s top priorities for agriculture. Because of the topography of the mountainous WNC region, local farms cannot compete on the large commodity markets dominated by larger, flatter farms. Therefore, it is essential for WNC farms to continue to diversify, find innovative ways to remain profitable, and to be able to sell products directly to local markets. Community supported initiatives to find new, profitable agricultural markets for local farmers (such as value-added processing) have proven to be successful in the region. SAHC’s farm property could build upon that success by serving as a model site for production of an innovative product, opening up a new market for the benefit of local farmers.
1) Assess the needs of agricultural and rural communities in Buncombe County: In order for SAHC’s farm and food project to be supported by the community, it must benefit local farmers and citizens of the surrounding rural area. A needs assessment will engage farmers, partners, and rural citizens with the project, determine how the project can best aid participants in solving community issues, and guide SAHC in consideration of the three different community farm project models.
2) Evaluate the feasibility of three potential community farm projects to be hosted at the property: SAHC must perform further research into what it will actually take to operate each of the three potential community farm projects. This may best be accomplished by evaluating existing successful examples of each of the three projects. Also, certain existing conditions on the property will guide what can actually be accomplished on the ground at the property. SAHC will need to evaluate all of the physical characteristics of the farm in order to determine which community farm project would be most suitable for this particular property. This will also help to determine future farm improvement and infrastructure needs, to create a farm plan, and to create a financial budget for farm operations.
3) Build sound partnerships with appropriate people and organizations to gain support for the community farm project: As SAHC has already made preliminary contact with potential partners for each of the three possible community farm projects, more effort is needed to further develop these partnerships and to gain community support for the project. Partnership development will help to guide the project in the right direction, and SAHC can proceed with the community farm project model that gains the most partner support.
4) Pursue one of the three community farm projects at the property (based on outcomes from the first three objectives): Based upon the needs of the local agricultural and rural communities, the physical suitability of the property, and the partnerships developed along the way, SAHC aims to have the tools and support necessary to pursue one of the three community farm project models at the end of this grant cycle. At this point, it is expected that the project will be guided by working partnerships with local organizations and members of the sustainable agriculture and rural communities.