Many local farmers left their work behind on Thursday, Feb. 27, to attend the WNC AgOptions 2014 Award Ceremony at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River.
According to AgOptions Project Coordinator Jennifer Ferre, 2014 marks the 10-year anniversary of grant-giving for the organization, which has awarded more than $1.7 million in mini-grants over the last decade. During her opening address at the ceremony, Ferre welcomed three new counties to the program: Burke, Caldwell and Rutherford.
Out of more than 100 applicants, 29 recipients received grants this year: 22 farm businesses received $6,000 each, and seven received $3,000 each. Funded projects range from portable netting for piglets, to a grist mill for grinding grits and corn for feed, to funds for starting a truffle orchard on a third-generation farm that used to grow tobacco.
The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has been AgOptions’ sole funding source since the program's first grant cycle in 2004 so, according to Ferre, tobacco farms take precedence.
“Every year there is a theme,” says Ferre. “Livestock seems to be the theme this year. There’s a lot of growth opportunity and demand for all that now.”
Neal and Ava Morgan of Shady Place Farms in Leicester plan to construct an on-farm building with their grant money so customers can buy freezer beef. “We’d like a decent structure to sell from instead of our garage,” Ava says. The Morgans also envision their upcoming store as a community resource; they will allow neighboring farmers to set up displays with brochures and information.
Bill Hendley, 78, of McDowell County is going to use his $6,000 grant to expand his beekeeping operation from 10 to 40 or 50 beehives. “I love bees,” Hendley says. “I’m not ready to retire. I want to start up my own business.” Hendley has already been selling his honey at farmers markets, but the grant will allow him to expand quickly and that means more profits.
A decade of experience with farmers means Ferre can spot potential issues before they happen. “Back pockets and dashboards of trucks are not good places to store your receipts,” Ferre told the group, only half jesting. The organization also understands the nature of granting money to innovative projects. “We don’t expect every project to go perfectly,” Ferre says. “If you try something and it doesn’t work, that’s good information for us. It’s about your experience.”
After the grants were awarded, the guests were invited to attend presentations by former grant recipients and workshops on business planning and marketing – not a typical day’s work for most farmers.
For a list of all 2014 grant recipients, visit wncagoptions.org/2014-topics.