The Sandy Mush community has played an important role in conserving productive farmland – for SAHC, Buncombe County, and Western North Carolina. Building trust with landowners in Sandy Mush has enabled us to protect rich bottomland soils designated as important for agriculture and productive farmland across varied terrain in this gem of an Appalachian community. This year, Jim Gibson generously donated his 50-acre farm in the heart of Sandy Mush to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.
Jim has long been interested in farmland preservation and helping young farmers overcome obstacles, and it is fitting that his farm – now permanently protected by SAHC – anchors our conservation work in Sandy Mush.
Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has been protecting farms and scenic ridgelines in the rural Sandy Mush community of Buncombe County for over 25 years, with more than 13,000 acres protected in Sandy Mush and neighboring areas of Buncombe, Haywood and Madison Counties. In fact, to a large degree, our farmland preservation program started right here.
“What is most poignant to me is the view from the front porch of the farmhouse,” shares Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “From this vantage point, we can see into the farmland and ridges that SAHC has protected. In many ways, the farm represents the heart of SAHC’s conservation work in the community. SAHC’s innovative efforts at the Community Farm and successful farmland conservation program across the region demonstrate a long term commitment to meaningful stewardship of agricultural resources. We are grateful to Jim for donating his farm for the continued growth of this important work.”
Jim is a lifelong resident of New Jersey, with a love of the southern Appalachians stemming from his college years at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has visited Asheville off and on over the years, and became a generous and enthusiastic supporter of SAHC in 2015. He has been instrumental in helping us develop the Farmer Incubator Program and other programming at our Community Farm in Alexander, and made a gift to SAHC that enabled us to purchase the beautiful Jenkins Branch property near our Community Farm.
Not long after Jim got involved with SAHC, he began looking for a farm in the mountains, which he could purchase and permanently protect from development, and use to support sustainable agriculture in the area. In 2016, he visited several potential sites with SAHC staff. When he saw the lovely farm on Bald Creek Road in Sandy Mush, he knew it was the ideal place for him to purchase and protect. Jim purchased the farm in December 2016, and has enjoyed owning and improving the property for the past six years. This summer he proudly donated the farm to SAHC for us to own and conserve.
“This is such a great property for us to own for the long-term,” says Farmland Program Director Jess Laggis. “The property really anchors that experience of the history of SAHC’s farmland conservation in Sandy Mush. It will be a great place to bring people, as part of our Connecting People with Land initiative. It is more accessible than many of our preserves, and we look forward to sharing that visceral experience, seeing the benefit of beautiful protected land surrounding you.”
From a corner of the Gibson Farm property, you can see into the lush, flat farmland SAHC has conserved along Sandy Mush Creek all the way up to the protected forested mountainsides surrounding this lovely rural valley. “The donation of this farm helps us continue to expand the network of permanently protected agricultural resources in such a beautiful corner of Buncombe County,” continues Jess. “Sandy Mush feels like a refuge, a place outside the turmoil of the world. This was a philanthropic project for Jim – and it has been really inspiring to see how excited he is for us to receive it. He has a lot of interest in good stewardship of the land as well, such as controlling invasive plant species and exploring regenerative pasture management.”
The land will be preserved for farming, and SAHC will develop a land management plan for the property over the next year. The donated Gibson Farm adjoins Full Sun Farm, a family farm run by Vanessa Campbell and Alex Brown that produces organic vegetables and fresh flowers for sale at local tailgate markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture shares). Vanessa and Alex generously donated a conservation easement on 32 acres of Full Sun Farm last year and we are currently working with them to preserve the additional acreage.
“The longevity of the farmland conservation program owes so much to our long-standing reputation in the community because of the connections between landowners,” reflects Carl. “We are very grateful to Jim for donating this beautiful farm property, and we look forward to using the land to advance our efforts in supporting local agricultural production.”