While North Carolinians are busy worrying about the rising price of food and gas, our legislators in Raleigh are entertaining some counterproductive ways to balance the budget. A recent legislative study recommended closing seven of North Carolina’s Agricultural Research Centers—most of which are located in WNC—and selling off the land. This caused a storm among farmers and farm advocates, prompting harsh criticism of the proposal by several members of the legislature. Rep. Ray Rapp called it “ready, shoot, aim” policymaking. Sen. Martin Nesbitt said, “The last thing we need to be doing today is closing agricultural research facilities.” Thank heavens for leaders with courage and vision!
Closing these stations is an absurd move any time, but especially now. N.C. farmers rely heavily on technical assistance from these crop-research stations to stay one step ahead of the newest blight and pest and to move into agri-tourism activities compatible with the growing tourism economy. Most alarming is that legislators would even consider such a move, when just last year they made the bold stride of establishing the N.C. Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, with $130 million designated to stimulate farmland preservation and agri-tourism initiatives.
With development quickly gobbling up rural farmland and mountain ridgelines—pushing local families off the land and into substandard housing and service-industry jobs that don’t pay a living wage—we need to be spending even more money on conservation and education. Do we think that tourists will continue to flock here when every historic farm and ridgeline is dotted with row houses and McMansions? When it’s all developed and gone, the land prospectors will go back to Atlanta, Miami and New York, and the last laugh will be on us: Mountain families will be squeezed off the family farms into trailer parks, while seasonal residents who enjoy the tax benefit of homestead exemptions in their own states don’t pay income taxes here—and yell the loudest against spending on schools, teachers’ pay and public services that the people of our state need. That Southern-fried chicken tastes just as good whether the cook can read or write or not—as long as someone got a good land deal.
No doubt legislators are under pressure from these developers. The crop-research stations are some of the largest remaining unspoiled parcels of farmland left, held in trust and for the exclusive benefit of the people of North Carolina. Their loss would affect us all: farmers new and old, businesses built on the backbone of the beautiful rural landscape, and everyone who wisely chooses locally grown food over that grown by commercial growers.
We need to encourage our legislators to oppose these closures and renew the N.C. Farmland Preservation Trust Fund with increased funding. We need to help farmers stay in the fields and urge young families to go back to the land, plant gardens and watch them grow!
— Vera Holland Guise
Appalachian Homestead Farm & Preserve