- Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, ornamentals
- Animals: bees, poultry, goats, swine, sheep
- Miscellaneous: mushrooms
- Animal Production: housing, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages
- Crop Production: multiple cropping
- Education and Training: general education and training
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, value added
- Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, riparian buffers, wildlife
- Sustainable Communities: community planning, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, employment opportunities
The purpose of this project is 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 serves as the site for this new and innovative project. SARE grant funds were utilized to initiate programs at the farm that will serve beginning farmers and members of low-income communities in the surrounding rural area. This includes a farm business incubator program, a post-harvest and value-added processing facility, and an agricultural-based education center and healthy food access site.
The following describes the background of the problems that each element of this project addresses:
1) Agricultural business incubator for new and beginning farmers: There is high interest in sustainable farming among youth and 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) Post-harvest and value-added processing facility for local producers: 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. As funding allows, SAHC’s farm project can support infrastructure necessary for such a facility.
3) Educational and healthy food access site for citizens of low income and rural communities: 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. According to a 2010 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, U.S. childhood obesity has tripled since 1980 – 16.9% of children ages 2 to 19 are considered to be obese. With childhood obesity a growing national issue, lack of outdoor activity and lack of knowledge about growing and preparing healthy foods among youth today have been attributed to the problem. With our farm project, SAHC aims to partner with organizations and provide its farm site as an agricultural and environmental education center for youth in the region. The overarching goals of SAHC’s Community Farm and Food Project are to utilize strategic partnerships, promote local food production as a catalyst for economic growth in the rural areas of Buncombe County, train developing farmers to be able to fill the gap of those reaching retirement age, keep our valuable farmland productive, and boost the quality of life for rural communities in need through on-farm education and access to healthy food.
SAHC’s Community Farm and Food Project will develop over several years, but SCIG funds for 2013 were focused on implementation of the incubator farm and development of the farm trail for educational purposes. Some planning of the processing facility and access to healthy food aspects of this project took place in 2013. Objectives set for the year 2013 of this project included:
1. Farm Infrastructure Planning and Development – Firming up the farm plan, research of additional funding sources, planning and implementing farm and infrastructure improvements that were necessary, equipment acquisition, and research into construction of the post-harvest and value-added processing facility.
2. Incubator Program Development – This included creation of policies and procedures for the incubator farm and forming an application process for the incubator. It also included collaboration with local agricultural agencies to develop a technical training program for the participating incubator farmers based on sustainable agriculture practices. Lastly, this step included collaborating with other local organizations to create marketing opportunities for the participant farmers.
3. Education and Food Access Site Development – Work with partner organizations to develop an educational farm trail. Collaborate with other organizations already working with low income and rural communities to bring groups out for an on-farm educational experience. Develop partnerships with these organizations to provide food to these communities once it is being produced at the farm.
4. Incubator Pilot Program Development – It was a goal to have the planning and infrastructure ready to provide land and equipment to at least two beginning farm operators by the end of this grant term.