Nearly 50 farmers recently received grants from Western North Carolina Agricultural Options, a N.C. Cooperative Extension program that provides resources to farmers diversifying or expanding their operations – particularly those transitioning from tobacco production. Six winners are in Buncombe County, with AgOptions projects ranging from expanded bee yards to improved alfalfa production.
“It’s exciting to see the wide variety of innovative ideas that have been awarded to farmers in Western North Carolina,” said William Upchurch, executive director of the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.
With her AgOptions grant, Janet Shisler Peterson – who operates a diversified berry, cattle and bee farm in Buncombe County – purchased the equipment necessary for a small sawmill business, which will add another income stream to her farm and create a model for other farms looking to saw their own barn lumber, fence posts, cattle-stall frames and other wood products. “Living on a farm with lots of trees that need salvaging and thinning, but having no way to make lumber, is like being on a boat in the ocean with no water to drink,” Peterson says.
“Now I can make the lumber I need for out-buildings as I enter the agri-tourism market, as well as custom saw for people in the community, making use of this renewable resource,” she continues. “The grant will enable me to maintain a healthy forest, focus on the sustainability issue of the farm and benefit financially at the same time.”
Six other Buncombe County recipients received 2009 WNC AgOptions awards, too: Van Burnette (blueberries, hops), Walter/Wendy Harrill (rabbit barn), Susan Mallard (year-round culinary herbs), Neal Morgan (non-corn-based cattle feed), Rayenelle Ritchie (bedding plants, veggie transplants, poinsettias), Debra Roberts (bee-yard expansion).
For winners in other nearby counties and more information, see www.wncagoptions.org.
–– Margaret Williams, contributing editor