WNC farmers look to new business models after last year’s flooding

FRESH APPROACH: Cane Creek Valley Farm owners Amanda and Jeremy Sizemore, pictured with their children, Emma and Judson, are shifting to a more community-focused business model after heavy rains and flooding in 2018 decreased their farm's production by 60 percent. Photo courtesy of the Sizemores

Last year proved to be the wettest one on record for Western North Carolina. Through much of 2018, farmland in the region got doused as rivers and streams repeatedly crested their banks, drowning crops, saturating fields and killing livestock.

The trouble began in mid-May when days of consistent rain were followed by Tropical Storm Alberto. Farmers were still picking up the pieces when Hurricane Florence barreled through in mid-September. To add insult to injury, December brought about 12 inches of snow, followed by even more rain, bringing 2018’s grand total of rainfall to the record-breaking 80-inch mark in various counties. According to U.S. Climate Data, a normal year of rainfall is around 37 inches.

Cane Creek Valley Farm was among the local farms that suffered from the excess precipitation. The small Fletcher operation experienced a 60 percent drop in production due to the waterlogged conditions. “An early-season crop of greens, a midseason crop of squash and tomatoes and a late-season crop of greens were flooded out or oversaturated, causing stunted growth or disease,” says owner Amanda Sizemore.

Sizemore and her nuclear family are the current caretakers of the farm that has been in Amanda’s family line for 105 years. The property was first farmed in 1903 and returned to its roots 13 years ago when the family began cultivating 2.5 acres of certified organic land. Today, the farm markets its produce in stores throughout the Southeast, but in the wake of the unrelenting water, Sizemore is re-evaluating her business model and plans to add a new facet to the business.

In April, Cane Creek will open two of the organic fields on its 60 acres to the community through a new garden-share program. “We hope that with this new venture of gardening with the community, we can replace lost capital as well as create a fun experience for all,” says Sizemore.

Through November, she and her husband, Jeremy, will rent out 624-square-foot plots — sized 52 by 12 feet. In addition to use of the land, the $650 fee includes organic gardening guidance in the form of classes, hands-on learning opportunities for all ages and morning talk-and-walks through the gardens. Participants will also receive additional weekly support with needs such as fertility and water.

“In the beginning, our farm was rooted in the desire to farm in a way that included the community,” says Sizemore. “We have done that in various ways over the past 12 years while the farm evolved and changed. We have always enjoyed the connection that was created when our farm was open and shared with its neighbors.”

Cane Creek is not alone. Many WNC farms are rethinking their game plans, coming up with new and innovative ways to counterbalance the impact of severe weather. According to Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project program director Molly Nicholie, some ideas in the works for farmers include greater diversification of crops, relocating planting fields farther from riverbanks and incorporating agritourism.

North River Farms in Mills River is another farm making changes. “We are currently focused on repairing farmland that was damaged during the floods,” says owner Jason Davis, adding that he hopes — weather permitting — to keep his spring crops on schedule.

The farm’s vegetable division, he says, will see the most restructuring due to 2018 losses. “Our risks are being managed to the best of our ability,” he says. “We’ll be growing more corn and hay and focusing on our livestock and agritourism divisions.”

For more information on Cane Creek Valley Farm and its garden-share program, visit canecreekorganics.com. Learn more about North River Farms at northriverfarms.co.

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About Kim Winter Mako
Kim Winter Mako is a fiction writer and actor. She's lived in Asheville over 10 years with her husband Chris. Kim held the 2017 Community Author residency at UNCA's Ramsey Library, and is a member of The Flatiron Writers. She's at work on a short story collection and a novel. You can find her at http://www.kimwintermako.com/ Follow me @KimWinterMako

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