First Step Farms WNC is two farmsteads, both located on historic farmland in Candler. One site grows vegetable starts for small farms; the other grows flowers for weddings and school graduations. But the farms’ primary purpose goes beyond agriculture — the two sites are home to a substance abuse recovery program that uses farming to restore self-confidence in recovering addicts.
Transitioning from the mission-driven military to ordinary civilian life is often when vets slip into unemployment, depression or homelessness. But two farming programs in WNC are working to give veterans a connection to the land, to their community and to a sense of purpose that so many seek.
Cherokee is a community in flux. Decadeslong high poverty and unemployment rates are beginning to decline, but access to healthy food remains limited and cultural values seem to be changing. “It’s Western civilization versus our traditional Cherokee ways,” say community leaders. But community efforts are using gardens to reconnect the Cherokee people to local food, health and a collective heritage defined by knowledge of the earth.
From the rancher with the cowboy hat and lasso to the grower on the tractor gazing out over the cornfield, our idea of a farmer is most often of a male — specifically an older, white male. In many ways, statistically speaking, that image isn’t wrong — but it may be changing. Diversity in agriculture is growing in WNC. Who are these new farmers? What challenges are they facing? And what new perspectives will they bring to agriculture in WNC?