Three years out from the closure of the state’s only USDA-inspected plant for independent farmers, more than 200 North Carolina farms are processing their own poultry. But due to the extra labor and time requirements, many producers statewide are still putting less pastured poultry on the market now than they were in 2017.
Xpress photographer Cindy Kunst spent a night on the prowl for the spookiest Halloween decoration displays in West Asheville and Canton neighborhoods. Be warned: Cobwebs and disembodied, blood-covered limbs lie ahead!
Black Folks Camp Too founder Earl B. Hunter Jr. said new marketing collaborations would help him develop more interest in camping among the Black community. And later this month, Asheville-based artist Matthew Willey will begin work on a giant mural of honey bees at Hendersonville’s Hands On! Children’s Museum.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Oct. 6 to award $15,000 toward the construction of an agricultural education facility at Enka High School. But as Chair Brownie Newman noted, recommendations to support such projects are normally made by Buncombe’s School Capital Fund Commission or Board of Education and funded through the regular budget cycle.
The revision comes thirteen years after the county Board of Commissioners first adopted the plan and reflects myriad changes to Buncombe’s agricultural sector, from the vibrant expansion of its direct-to-consumer markets to the gradual evaporation of its commodity dairies.
Roughly 10 small processors are available for all of North Carolina’s local livestock farmers. With higher overall demand due to COVID-19 and commodity beef producers leaning on the local supply chain in their transition to direct-market sales, some farmers can’t get meat processed until the spring of 2021.
A late June report from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association found that 77% of growers reliant on agritourism had seen reduced income since the start of COVID-19. But as the pandemic continues, Western North Carolina’s farms are finding safe, creative ways to share the agricultural experience with visitors.
Mary Wells Letson has been giving away free flower bouquets from a stand on Kimberly Avenue since June 1. The arrangements also include a flyer that highlights the work of social justice organizations the teen supports.
Six years ago, Roy Harris helped launch the Southside Community Garden. The initiative has taken on greater meaning in the wake of COVID-19, he says. Food insecurity is a particular problem in the predominantly low-income Southside neighborhood. Gardening, he continues, is one way to combat the issue.
With farmers losing access to customers and many people facing food insecurity during pandemic, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project offers a solution.
As “congregate living settings,” migrant farmworker camps have been listed as high-risk locations for virus transmission — not just by counties throughout Western North Carolina, but by state health officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mike Diethelm, president and founder of Asheville-based SolFarm Solar Co., says a $10 million construction bond requirement for would-be bidders on the solar projects “knocks out so many local medium and small solar businesses, which we have a lot of in this town, and only opens it up to the big guys.”
Asheville Pollination Celebration! returns for its eighth year in June. For the first time, the event includes a photography contest.
The region’s small farms have been rocked by the coronavirus, but community support and innovative thinking have enabled many local growers to pivot and persist as they work to find a way forward.
The okra selected for the 2020 project, Aunt Hettie’s Red, boasts both regional roots and modern acclaim. Last September, the variety was crowned the best of 54 in “The Single Biggest Chef-Centered Okra Tasting Day Ever” contest staged by the Utopian Seed Project.
Since late March, Michael Stratton, his wife, Amanda, and a small, hardworking steering committee have managed to transform a 4,000-square-foot grassy field near Fairview Road into 15 neat garden beds, which in mid-April were already speckled with green sprouts of onions, potatoes, kale, chard and more. The group plans to donate the produce to food pantries and neighbors in need due to COVID-19.
“I feel like right now this COVID virus is forcing people to slow down and, hopefully, look internally and not just at their phones,” says Percoco, the Firefly Gathering’s new executive director. “It’s interesting how something like this can come in and show us how vulnerable we are.”
Classes take place on a hilly, wooded eco-homestead campus featuring Bogwalker’s self-constructed cabin, gardens and fruit trees, and students can choose to camp on the property for a full immersion into a more sustainable way of life. “We are permaculture in action, a living example of the beauty and abundance of the land,” she says.
Kristin Weeks, managing partner and co-owner of the Asheville location of Fifth Season Gardening Co., says business is booming in the wake of COVID-19. “People are coming in and spending a lot more money; the average invoice has gone up, too,” she says. “People are kind of just coming in and going for it.”
As coordinator of Bountiful Cities’ Asheville Buncombe Community Garden Network, Whitaker manages communication, educational programming and resources such as free seed and tool libraries for more than two dozen local gardening efforts. And after COVID-19 began impacting life in Western North Carolina, he’s seen an increase in the number of local residents interested in starting new community gardens.
Now in its 27th year, the Organic Growers School Spring Conference welcomes growers and sustainability-minded folks of all types for a weekend of region-specific educational offerings, a trade show, seed exchange, guest speakers and opportunities for socializing and networking. This year’s conference takes place Friday-Sunday, March 6-8, at Mars Hill University.