WNC AgOptions Accepting Grant Applications

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Contributed by Jennifer Ferre, WNC AgOptions Project Coordinator

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—WNC Agricultural Options is now accepting grant applications from farmers diversifying or expanding their businesses. The program helps offset farmers’ risk of starting ventures or growing new operations with $3,000 and $6,000 grants. The application deadline is Nov. 14.

Tobacco Trust Fund logo

The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has notified WNC AgOptions leaders that the program will be funded for another two years. This news is encouraging to program leaders since they typically only receive enough support for an annual cycle. The Commission expects to increase the amount of funding so that WNC AgOptions can give more farmers grants in 2017 and 2018 than in recent years.

“We receive a significant amount of grant applications every year, so any additional funding we receive from N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission directly translates to more farmers we are able to help,” said Ross Young, Madison County Extension Director and WNC AgOptions steering committee leader. “Having the assurance of a two-year funding cycle, as opposed to a single year, allows the steering committee to focus more on the farmers and less on the process. We are very excited about the next two years and anticipate an increased number of farmers benefiting from the program.”

Applicants should contact their Cooperative Extension Agents by Oct. 14 to set up an appointment to discuss their projects. Applications are available at www.wncagoptions.org or at local Cooperative Extension Centers. Extension Agents remain a resource for farmers throughout the year as they complete their projects.

Potential applicants are encouraged to attend grant information sessions in which Program Coordinator Jennifer Ferre discusses the application and answers questions about the grants. The sessions will be 6 p.m. Friday at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center and 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13 at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Caldwell County Center.

The program made one noteworthy change to its application process. The deadline is no longer a postmark cutoff date. Applications must be at the WNC Communities office by November 14. WNC Communities, a non-profit organization that has been improving agriculture in the region since 1947, administers the WNC AgOptions program.

“We are pleased to again partner with WNC Communities for the WNC AgOptions program,” said Bill Teague, Chairman of the Commission, which has a long history of supporting farmers across the state throughout major changes in agriculture, ensuring the industry remains viable. “This project will help local individual agricultural producers become more innovative and efficient. The teamwork between WNC Communities and N.C. Cooperative Extension agents gives local farmers the funds and the best information available to improve their farming operation.”

Since 2004, WNC AgOptions has awarded more than $2 million to 456 farmers. The program serves a diverse array of farmers, including many noteworthy agritourism projects. Greene Family Tree Farm in Watauga County used their 2016 grant to create a year-round on-farm experience for customers, expanding the farm’s offerings to include an activity each season, paired with sales of a seasonal farm product. The Greenes open the Blueberry Patch in summer, the Pumpkin Patch in October and the Tree Farm at Christmas time. The project has allowed them to employ their current workers for longer hours and hire two additional helpers.

“I like to see families picnicking at our tables, fishing in our ponds, taking photos of their families in our fields, and eating food fresh off the vine, branch or plant,” said Burl Greene, Owner of Greene Family Tree Farm. “I would like to help build children’s memories of great experiences with their families at a farm.”

Warren Cabe of Blue Ribbon Farms in Macon County diversified his family’s produce, cattle and poultry farm by adding a sorghum syrup processing facility with his 2016 grant. The story of sorghum syrup making “from field to jar” is visible to customers who visit the farm because the open shed that houses the wood-fueled juice cooker overlooks his sorghum fields and antique cane press. With the addition of the processing facility and on-farm demonstrations, his syrup has become very popular.

As a result of their grant-funded greenhouse, Randy and Carol Edmundson in Henderson County can now grow all their own vegetable starts for their 100-acre vegetable farm. The project saved them thousands of dollars and ensured they have healthy, disease-free transplants, which they could not guarantee when purchasing from other sources. This year they have also produced more vegetables than in the past and increased overall sales.

WNC AgOptions offers grants for farms in the following counties/units: Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Clay, Cherokee, Cleveland, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey.

The program’s non-profit administrator WNC Communities provides a unique forum for leaders in western North Carolina to carry out innovative programs to improve the quality of life for rural communities and to enhance the agriculture economy. “WNC Communities is delighted to serve as administrator for WNC AgOptions,” said L.T. Ward, Vice President of WNC Communities. “We are grateful to the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission for their support for 13 years.”

Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include: representatives from N.C. Cooperative Extension, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services–Marketing Division, WNC Communities, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and other leaders in agribusiness. For more information, see the following: WNC Agricultural Options: www.wncagoptions.org; N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers: www.ces.ncsu.edu; N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission: www.tobaccotrustfund.org; WNC Communities: www.wnccommunities.org.

For more questions, contact Jennifer Ferre (828) 252-4783, admin@wncagoptions.org; Or your Watauga Cooperative Extension Agriculture Agent at 828-264-3061.