Buzzworm news briefs

Everything’s coming up dollars

Farmers and gardeners eager to wring a little more green from their agricultural endeavors might consider attending the Marketing Opportunities for Farmers Conference planned for Saturday, Feb. 25, at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa.

The daylong event will bring attendees face to face with some of the region’s (and the state’s) most successful growers and ag marketeers: an ace egg producer from Chapel Hill, for one, as well as local medicinal herb and free-range meat mavens. The pros will share their hints about what works and what doesn’t, saving farmers all the work and expense of reinventing the wheel on their own back 40.

This is the third marketing conference organized by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, a West Asheville-based advocacy organization and information clearinghouse. Peter Marks, who chairs the group’s Local Food and Farm Campaign, says the emphasis this time around will be on how farmers can best meet the needs of grocers and restaurants. Ample unstructured time between sessions, says Marks, will mean plenty of chances for even the shiest of farmers to schmooze.

“You can approach, for instance, Earth Fare’s produce buyer and say, ‘Hey — do you want to buy some heirloom tomatoes this year?’ It’s a great opportunity to establish those sort of connections.”

In recent years, North Carolina has passed into a new and, in many ways, unforgiving agricultural world. Historic commodity crops such as tobacco and small grains are either becoming harder to grow or less profitable for farmers. Between 1997 and 2002, the state had the dubious honor of ranking fifth in the nation for most farmland lost. Increasingly, merely staying in business requires a combination of marketing savvy, diversification and a willingness to reach out to consumers. Luckily, however, the cachet of locally grown and organic foods is growing by the day. Marks says national surveys reveal a 70 percent consumer preference for food labeled ‘locally grown.’ In and around Asheville, he adds, that figure rises to nearly 90 percent — which just might make all that weeding seem worth it.

Among the subjects to be covered at the Feb. 25 conference are growing and selling medicinal herbs, cross-marketing crafts with farm goods, pricing produce, tailgate marketing, season extension, forestry, Internet marketing, working with the media and agri-tourism.

Conference sponsors include both ASAP and the U.S. Department of Agriculture plus a herd of local backers, including Biltmore Estate and Winery, the West End Bakery, French Broad Food Co-op, Manna Food Bank, Sunburst Trout Farm and many others.

The cost for the conference is $20. To register, visit www.asapconnections.org, e-mail Peter Marks at peter@asapconnections.org or call him at (828) 236-1282.

— Kent Priestley

Talking about tolerance

Morris S. Dees Jr., a man both loved and loathed for his advocacy of social justice and civil rights, will present a free public talk at Western Carolina University’s Fine Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Dees, the son of an Alabama cotton farmer, went on to build a direct-mail sales company before launching the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971 with co-founder Joseph Levin Jr. The nonprofit has defended minorities and taken aim at the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations.

As the nonprofit’s chief trial counsel, Dees devotes a good bit of his energy to suing white-supremacist groups and developing ideas for “Teaching Tolerance,” the center’s ongoing education project. He also finds time to write: His book Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat (Harper Perennial, 1997) drew attention to the danger posed by right-wing paramilitary groups, and his autobiography, A Lawyer’s Journey, was re-released by the American Bar Association in 2003.

Another nonprofit, the Black Mountain-based Southern Legal Resource Center, stands at the opposite end of the political spectrum. The group, which says it specializes in “Southern heritage defense,” is led by Executive Director Roger McCredie and colorful, controversial Chief Trial Counsel Kirk Lyons — a man constantly on the SPLC’s radar and often written about in the center’s newsletter, Intelligence Report.

“The SPLC has made a cottage industry out of us and Kirk Lyons,” McCredie charges. And though his organization hasn’t yet made Dees’ list of hate groups, “It’s probably just a matter of time” before that happens, McCredie predicts.

While Dees has built a public persona as an outspoken defender of blacks, Jews and other minorities, McCredie charges that Dees is nothing more than a showboating huckster making money off the people he purports to defend. “He was recently inducted into the DM [direct-mail] Hall of Fame, and he should be,” notes McCredie. “Look at his endowment [which last fiscal year stood at $136.5 million] and his six-story building. And here we are, $100 in the bank and working out of a duplex apartment in Black Mountain.”

And while the two groups have never gone head-to-head in the courtroom, they are constantly circling each other. “We’re like two opposing football teams,” McCredie observes, “like two opposing armies taking potshots at each other.”

Speaking of which, if you’re going to hear Dees at Western, be forewarned that you might be searched. A security checkpoint will be set up at the door, and attendees are encouraged to arrive early.

The doors open at 6:20 p.m., and organized groups planning to attend should contact the school’s Office of Multicultural Affairs (227-2276) prior to the event.

— Hal Millard

The other book mobile

You know how your mom told you to turn off the TV and read a book instead? Well, C-SPAN2 offers the best of both worlds with Book TV: 48 hours of literary programming that runs from 8 a.m. Saturdays to 8 a.m. Mondays. Nary a cartoon here; instead C-SPAN2 features nonfiction literature with shows on the likes of Alexander the Great and the American presidents, as reported by their biographers and researchers.

But just talking about books isn’t enough — the public-service cable station also aims to get the public excited about nonfiction and Book TV. So every week, the program’s 45-foot-long tour bus, launched last September, travels to a new U.S. locale, stopping off at book fairs, bookstores, literary events and libraries. The customized coach is tricked out with a mobile television-production studio, allowing visitors an up-close look at how the weekly show is created.

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the Book Bus rolls up to Pack Memorial Library in downtown Asheville. From 5-8 p.m., Book TV fans will have a chance to tour a state-of-the-art studio set, take in an interactive demonstration about the program, learn how a TV show is produced and more — all right there on the bus.

At 7 p.m., Pack Library will offer its answer to Book TV: an author event in Lord Auditorium. William Forstchen, co-author (with Newt Gingrich) of Grant Comes East; Mark Gibney, who penned Five Uneasy Pieces: American Ethics in a Globalized World; author/ activist Clare Hanrahan, who wrote Conscience and Consequence: A Prison Memoir; and historian Milton Ready, the author of The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina, will all speak on current topics.

For more information, call 250-4700 or visit www.booktv.org.

— Alli Marshall

Bellamy lays out vision

To survive and prosper into the future, city leaders and residents alike must strive to “not kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy told an audience assembled for the Leadership Asheville Forum’s Feb. 15 Critical Issues Luncheon at the Country Club of Asheville.

The group is made up of alumni of Leadership Asheville, a community-development program affiliated with UNCA. The new mayor laid out her vision for the city, including both short- and long-term goals aimed at protecting and improving on the things that make Asheville special.

Bellamy also spelled out City Council’s top priorities: job and business growth, housing, land use and development, protecting Asheville’s sense of place and heritage, forging partnerships to improve critical services and infrastructure, overseeing the area’s natural and built environment, and community-building.

Her talk, titled “Asheville Vision: Working Together — Moving Forward,” emphasized the need to utilize “smart growth” strategies.

Citing the city’s natural and architectural beauty, along with its culture and bustling downtown core, Bellamy speculated many in the room had moved to Asheville because they fell in love with it. “I bet it wasn’t for Staples,” she said, getting in a playful dig at the office-supply retailer’s controversial new Merrimon Avenue store. “We all need to protect the Asheville you came to love.”

One example of smart growth, she said, is the conversion of the former Interstate Motel near the Civic Center into the 37 Hiawassee condominium complex. Another is the mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly urban village being built on the site of the former Gerber plant off Hendersonville Road.

Bellamy also promised “an open, honest, inclusive government” that will strive to do a better job of informing and engaging city residents, both in the decision-making process and in public/private partnerships. Another key issue is building better relations with the county in the wake of the water dispute. “We need to extend olive branches where they need to be extended,” she said.

In the short term, said the mayor, the city will focus on such goals as improving basic services and finally addressing the future of the Civic Center and the redevelopment of the Eagle/Market Street area.

In addition, the city will seek to develop a multiyear approach to the budget to help plan for future needs and particularly the kind of sustained growth Asheville expects to see over the next several decades.

— Hal Millard

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