The cover article published in the current issue of the Mountain Xpress (titled “Field of Dreams: The Rise of Agritourism in WNC,” Aug. 24, by Jonathan Ammons) contains misinformation about our program and the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The amount of misinformation was significant enough to warrant this response with accurate information.
Most importantly, WNC AgOptions has been exclusively funded by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission for over a decade. Since 2004, our program has awarded $2.1 million to 450-plus farm projects throughout Western North Carolina. In 2016 alone, with support from the NCTTFC, we awarded 33 farm businesses a total of $177,000 in $3,000 and $6,000 grants.
Our mission is to build sustainable farming communities in our mountain region by providing resources directly to small family farmers who are diversifying or expanding their operations. While agriculture is a varied and diverse industry that can be defined in many ways, WNC AgOptions favors applicants who operate a business and manage land for the purpose of producing crops for harvest and sale. WNC AgOptions also favors agritourism operations that are for the purpose of inviting the public on the farm to increase sales of farm products. Farmers who are diversifying or expanding their operations so that they remain sustainable for this and future generations, and farmers who are former/current tobacco growers are a priority for WNC AgOption’s funding.
Our website, www.wncagoptions.org, reflects a multitude of diverse farm projects, including livestock, fruits, vegetables, season extension, value-added, nurseries, ornamentals, natives, apiary, specialty crops and agritourism. Each year, the mix of commodities and types of projects awarded varies based on the quality and quantity of applications submitted — we do not have set categories as reflected in the article. As an example, in 2016, two agritourism grants, four beef/cattle grants and three mushroom grants were awarded out of 33 projects for the year.
Our ultimate goals are to assist tobacco farmers and those in once tobacco-dependent communities minimize financial risk in crop transition; provide production, marketing and business management assistance; and offer demonstration to the agricultural community. It is important to note that grantees are required to match 10 percent of their grant award ($300 on a $3,000 grant and $600 on a $6,000 grant), not a match of their total award as reported in the article.
The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service has been a key partner with the WNC AgOptions program since 2004. County agents and other agricultural industry representatives work together to administer grants and help farmers with the successful completion of their projects. WNC Communities, an Asheville-based nonprofit agency, is the grant administrator and provides marketing and technical support to grantees.
Please be aware N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission funding has not “just this year … vanished” as shared in the article. NCTTFC continues to provide vital funding for agriculture projects across the entire state of North Carolina. For information on its programs and processes, I recommend contacting them: www.tobaccotrustfund.org.
We are grateful for Mountain Xpress’ coverage of our program over the past years and know that accurate information is as important to the staff, with which we have worked, as well as to your readers. Thank you for the opportunity to provide correct information about the WNC AgOptions program …
— Jennifer Ferre