TIDAL WAVE: Walter Vicente is a master stitcher, sample maker and worker-owner at the Valdese-based company Opportunity Threads. With nearly half of local businesses owned by baby-boomers, economic analysts are working to draw attention to the impending mass retirements of these owners, while others advocate alternative succession plans, like employee cooperatives. Photo courtesy of Opportunity Threads.

Passing the torch: What happens when local business owners retire?

With 45 percent of business owners in Buncombe County alone facing retirement in the next decade, local groups and service providers are encouraging them to start planning for their company’s next chapter, while simultaneously devising ways to turn an impending crisis into an opportunity for employees to shoulder new responsibilities.

LEGALIZED IT: North Carolina passed legislation allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp in 2015. But barriers still stymie farmers hoping to develop hemp as a new cash crop. Photo courtesy of Vote Hemp

DEA holds up industrial hemp in North Carolina

Local farmers are still holding out hope that 2017 will be the year industrial hemp grows in WNC fields for the first time in decades. But the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration isn’t making it easy for growers to source seed or seedlings in time for planting, which may mean another year of waiting for eager prospective hemp growers.

QUALITY CONTROL: Two pollutants make up the bulk of the air quality monitoring oversight by the NC Department of Environmental Quality: ozone and fine particulates (PM2.5). From Bryson City to Lenoir, there are 11 ozone monitoring sites and five sites for PM2.5. The WNC Air Quality Agency conducts monitoring operations in Buncombe County, which also includes an urban air toxics monitor at A-B Tech. New this year is a sulfur dioxide monitor near the Duke Energy Progress plant in Skyland. Image from  Google, mapped by NCDEQ

Air apparent: monitoring air quality in the mountains

We all have to breathe to live, and the good news is that here in Western North Carolina, the quality of the air we all share is much better than it was just a few years ago. Across North Carolina, government employees are monitoring air quality and the associated health risks to make sure they stay within specified legal parameters. Meanwhile, citizen volunteers are also collecting data and working to make more information available to the public.

Western North Carolina farmers markets are springing up! At early spring markets, find fresh greens, spring onions and asparagus; meats, cheeses, baked goods, value-added farm products like preserves, and a wide selection of plant starts and, of course, flowers.

Springtime tailgate markets popping up: Where to shop this season

(Go to the bottom of this article for a listing of local tailgate markets) When the springtime flowers start popping up in the mountains, the tailgate markets are never far behind. Though the full harvest is still around the corner, many markets have already begun selling fresh, local foods in outdoor locations around the region […]

DIRTY BUSINESS: CompostNow offers weekly pickup of compostable waste for residential customers. Once a month, customers get back a delivery of finished compost equal to half the weight of the material they collected. The company now serves about 100 area customers and hopes to triple that amount by the end of the year. Image courtesy of CompostNow

Local companies lead the way as Asheville considers composting service

Asheville and Buncombe County have worked for several years on plans to reduce the area’s solid waste stream, but implementing “pay as you throw” and municipal composting programs remain in the realm of good ideas rather than reality or even future plans. But the city says it hasn’t given up on initiatives to divert more waste away from the landfill.

SEW SUSTAINABLE: Asheville's sewing scene is growing, both for businesses and hobbyists. Photo by Kari Barrows

Local businesses aim to make clothing more sustainabl­e

Industry studies show consumers are growing tired of fast, disposable fashion. In addition to a greater awareness of where clothes come from and the impact of their production, a new interest in extending the life of clothing or reusing materials to create new garments is fueling a resurgence of sewing skills in this region and around the country.