Community Farm and Food Project Phase I - Assessing Needs and Building Partnerships

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2011: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Allison Kiehl
Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • 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

    Proposal abstract:

    The sustainable agriculture movement thrives in certain areas of Buncombe County and Western North Carolina (WNC). There are several non-profit and educational organizations dedicated to supporting sustainable agriculture and its advancement. There are numerous farmers in the area that implement sustainable farming practices and operate successful enterprises. Several local educational programs exist for training young and beginning farmers in sustainable practices, and participation is abundant. Consumer demand for sustainably grown, local food is steady and continues to increase in some areas even in hard economic times. In spite of all these positive forces behind the sustainable agriculture movement in WNC, there are certain shortfalls in the system where needs are not being met and some groups remain underserved: 1.) Although there is much interest in sustainable agriculture among youth and young adults in the area, the burdens a new farmer faces in beginning an agricultural enterprise often prevent those interested from going into the field. 2) Even though there is an abundance of sustainably and locally produced food in the WNC region, there is a large percentage of the population that cannot access this healthy food. 3) Also, many farmers in the region that have traditionally relied on conventional markets can no longer afford to make a living off their land – exacerbating the conversion of farmland to development at the expense of the rural communities in which the land is located. Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) is a non-profit organization that preserves the unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, local farmland and scenic beauty of the mountains of North Carolina and east Tennessee for the benefit of present and future generations. SAHC is also the lead organization of Blue Ridge Forever (BRF) – a coalition of twelve local, state, and national land conservation organizations implementing a collective vision to achieve protection on a region-wide, landscape scale. SAHC and Blue Ridge Forever convene the WNC Farmland Access and Preservation Forum – a gathering of rural farmers and agricultural support groups with the goal of improving access to and preservation of western North Carolina's farmland. In 2009, SAHC was donated a 100-acre working farm (the property) located in Alexander, NC – about 15 minutes drive time from the city of Asheville, NC and surrounded by significant farming communities of Buncombe County. As an organization that has built strong relationships with agricultural communities and supporting agencies in Buncombe County and beyond, SAHC plans to utilize this property to address some of the needs of the region discussed above. SAHC is seeking funds to initiate a community farm and food project – utilizing strategic partnerships and sustainable practices – that will benefit rural citizens and farmers of Buncombe County and the WNC region. The purpose of this project is to initiate a community farm and food project in Buncombe County, North Carolina at a 100-acre farm recently donated to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy – engaging and benefitting the local agricultural and rural area. The project will entail assessing the needs of agricultural and rural communities in Buncombe County, evaluating the feasibility of three potential community farm models for this particular property, and building partnerships with the appropriate people and organizations to support the project. There are three potential community farm models that SAHC is considering for this project, and each would serve to enhance sustainable agriculture and rural communities in the county – 1) an agricultural business incubator for new and beginning farmers 2) an agricultural-based job and life skills training center for youth and young adults of low income and rural communities 3) a demonstration site for an innovative agricultural product with a niche market for farmers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    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.

    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.