The Bowditch Bottoms project has been a long time in the process – beginning in 2014 – and we are thrilled that it successfully closed in June! This 87-acre property in Yancey County contains important soils, farmland, undeveloped forested and non-forested habitat for wildlife, headwaters to the South Toe River, and intact wetland and riparian corridors. It is visible from the Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway and several higher-elevation vantage points in the Black Mountains and the Highlands of the Roan. Read more
Byrd Charolais Farm – Mitchell County (Highlands of Roan Area)
The Highlands of Roan are known for rare and fragile ecological communities as well as magnificent, panoramic views studded with scenic mountain farms. At the end of 2019, SAHC permanently protected 127 acres of beautiful family farmland in Mitchell County, preserving bucolic views along NC Hwy 226. The Byrd Charolais* Farm is an agricultural gem, with water conservation practices in place and a long heritage of mountain farming. One of just a few farm preservation projects SAHC has completed in the Highlands of Roan, the property is now permanently protected for future generations.
* Charolais are a breed of cattle which originated in France in the historic Charolais region. Read more
Farmland Preservation at Hogeye Bottomlands in Sandy Mush Community
In the Sandy Mush farming community, scenic views of fertile bottomland, rolling pastures, and distant mountain ridges create a stunning backdrop for those who work the land. Now, SAHC has conserved another tract of farmland here, adding to a network of protected agricultural lands and wildlife corridors throughout Sandy Mush.
Farmers Aubrey and Rieta Wells graze cattle and produce hay on the 88-acre Hogeye Bottomlands — now permanently protected through a conservation easement.
Sections of Sandy Mush Creek and Hogeye Branch run through the tract, which contains prime soils (a designation for soils of national importance) as well as soils of statewide and local importance. Almost half (45%) of soils on the tract are considered prime, locally or statewide important soils. Found along waterways and formed over long periods of time, these soils are important agricultural resources — and relatively rare in mountainous areas. Unfortunately, the low-lying, fairly flat bottomlands where we find these soils are also sought after for easy development. Both Aubrey and Rieta grew up in families with long farming traditions and wanted to see this farmland protected for future generations.
“We’d like to see the Sandy Mush area stay as undeveloped as possible,” shares Aubrey. “It’s one of the few places in the county you can still go to see the beauty of natural spaces and farmland.” Read more
SAHC recently purchased 139 acres in the Beaverdam area of Haywood County, connecting the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek watershed property with conserved land previously protected by SAHC. The acquisition will permanently protect wildlife habitat, scenic views from public trails, and water quality in streams.
“This 139-acre tract includes portions of Beaverdam Creek and its tributaries,” explains Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “The property fills a protection gap within the watershed, directly connecting Canton’s Rough Creek watershed conservation easement to the west and an SAHC-owned preserve to the north. Together these properties form a 1,120-acre nearly contiguous protected assemblage within the Beaverdam watershed.”
Beaverdam Creek’s water quality is considered to be on the decline, and SAHC’s purchase of the tract improves surface water quality by permanently protecting 2.5 miles of stream on the tract from development. We also plan to manage the property according to best management practices for water quality, which will help reduce sedimentation, bacteria levels, and runoff. This purchase directly supports the Beaverdam Watershed Action Plan, produced by Haywood Waterways and the Pigeon River Fund.
“SAHC’s acquisition of this property complements our work to prevent water quality degradation in Beaverdam Creek, which is considered to be on the decline,” says Eric Romaniszyn, Executive Director of Haywood Waterways Association. “Haywood Waterways works to maintain and improve water quality throughout Haywood County through voluntary initiatives. Our Pigeon River Watershed Action Plan specifically recommends conservation of critical headwater areas, such as the tract recently acquired by SAHC, for the long-term protection of water quality. We certainly appreciate SAHC’s and the partnership’s work to protect these lands and maintain the high quality of our watersheds.”
Former landowner David Ashe contacted SAHC about this property in the Beaverdam Creek watershed after reading about our purchase of the adjoining Doubleside Knob preserve last year. Both tracts were once part of a much larger parcel owned by his wife’s family. David wanted to permanently protect the land in order to honor her.
“She never wanted to see it developed,” he says. “She wouldn’t talk to anyone about selling it. She passed away about a year and a half ago, and I thought that it would be good to preserve it, so it will stay like it is. I think that’s what she would have wanted.”
This acquisition was made possible with a generous seed gift from private donors for the acquisition, support from SAHC’s members, and a $25,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.
“This land has been passed down in the same family for over 150 years, and we are so grateful that the previous landowner wanted to see it permanently protected and reached out to SAHC,” adds Muerdter. “We look forward to managing this land for future generations.”
Photo credits: Johnny Davison
Brandon Hensley has no illusions about farm life in WNC — it’s hard work, with sparse financial rewards. However, a deep connection to his family’s land kept him working with SAHC over the lengthy 5-year process to permanently protect a beautiful, productive farm in an area pinched by increasing residential development.
In March 2019, we closed on the conservation easement protecting the 118-acre Ridgeview Farm in Buncombe County. Located just 2 miles from our Community Farm, this historic homestead farm contains a high percentage of agriculturally important soils. Brandon, a young farmer in his mid-30s, is carrying on his family’s legacy as the 5th generation to work this land. Read more
Hugged by mountains and tucked away in the scenic Crabtree community of Haywood County, Rogers Cove contains beautiful rolling pastures and forested hills that stir the imagination. We have permanently protected 385 acres of productive, scenic farmland in this cove through agricultural conservation easements.
“The Rogers family has farmed this land for at least four generations and wanted to see it stay farmland forever, which is why they protected their land with SAHC through agricultural easements,” says Jess Laggis, SAHC’s Farmland Protection Director. “Beyond all the beauty and ecosystem services this land protection provides, it also supports some of the kindest farmers you could meet in maintaining our mountain farming heritage.” Read more
New participants in our Farmer Incubator Program, Claudie Babineaux and Sarah Bostick have been doing very physical labor for years. However, they frequently run into people who challenge the idea that two petite ladies can accomplish such work. In naming their farm business “Half Pint Farm,” they decided to ‘own it’.
“This name, Half Pint Farm, really works for us because people have always challenged our ability to do things because of our size,” shares Sarah. Their farm name also relates to scale of production — Claudie and Sarah have both worked in intensive farming on 5-10 acre parcels in the past, primarily in Florida and Maine, but they now want to focus on a smaller scale. They are using their first year in our Farmer Incubator Program learn about the particulars of farming in the Southern Appalachians, such as how soil and weather behave with certain varieties of produce.
“We have experience in farming, but not here in the mountains,” says Sarah. “We aspire to own our own farm, and it’s important to do a lot of learning before investing in our own land. We plan to use our time in the program to learn about the intricacies of farming in this soil — in this climate and landscape — because it’s really different from what we’re used to.” Read more
Tamia Dame, our 2017 intern from the Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s Diversity in Conservation Internship Program, spent a portion of her summer interviewing members of the community to explore the relationship between African Americans and agriculture. A portion of her story and interview excerpts were published as an article in the The Urban News, and we have published the full text here in our blog:
It wasn’t until recently that I gained an interest in agriculture, and even more recently that I found a passion in the social justice of farming.
This summer I served as Communication, Education, and Outreach intern for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) in Asheville, NC, writing about conservation efforts. Being an African American woman, I didn’t know what to expect when immersing myself into what is currently a predominantly white space. Having observed a lack of diversity in the environmental field, I became passionate about the improvement of racial equity and representation in this discipline. I find these topics to be particularly relevant in the Southern Appalachian region.
One day, I listened to a conversation about improving diversity in programs at SAHC’s Community Farm.
Being an advocate for inclusion, I asked myself why I never see black farmers in Western North Carolina (WNC). Is it because we just don’t farm? No, I refused to believe that. There must be some explanation for this lack of representation in agricultural Appalachia. So, I sought out information and insight, reaching out to the community to make some sense of this disparity, or to learn if there was any sense of it to be made.
On the suggestion of Deborah Miles from UNC Asheville’s Center for Diversity Education, I met with Kathey Avery of Fairview, NC to discuss her relationship with agriculture as the daughter of two African American farming parents from WNC. Kathey, daughter of Oscar and Alma Avery, talked with me about the history of her parents, their apple orchard and her perspective on African American farmers today.
From her I learned of a resource provided by the Center for Cultural Preservation titled the “Mountain Elder Wisdom Project,” intended to preserve the culture, history and adaptive strategies of our nation’s cultural legacies. In a video produced as part of the project, I was able to hear the words of Kathey’s late mother, Alma Avery, as she described her upbringing in rural Cedar Creek.
Alma spoke of childhood memories, both good and bad, with a smile in her eyes. She described her upbringing, working with her father in his vegetable gardens. Her perspective highlighted the relationship between black Americans and agriculture around the 1930-40’s; growing your food was for survival. “We had a hard time but it was a good life,” Alma said.
By second grade, Alma withdrew from school to help her family in the gardens. “I quit school because daddy kept us out to work. I started coming back home and we’d can beans and sauerkraut and things in the summertime because if we didn’t, in the wintertime we wouldn’t eat!”
For several decades, the Avery orchard produced apples for the family and market. Alma was passionate about selling food at the Hendersonville Tailgate Market. “She was always the first one there and the last one to pack up,” Kathey recalled. Between her parents selling produce and her mother’s factory job, the Avery’s were able to make enough money to survive.
Kathey went on to talk about the orchard today. “It’s not active anymore,” she explained. “The trees are there but they’re not salvageable. We sold the mountain part of our property to The Nature Conservancy so it wouldn’t get developed. I’m now a nurse and my brothers moved out of North Carolina.” Kathey still considers agriculture a definite part of her lifestyle despite not making it her career.
As our conversation developed, we touched on some more abstract concepts regarding the large-scale relationship between black Americans and farming.
“People often don’t want to do it because it registers to them as slave work,” Kathey stated. “They’d rather be inside or out in the city than working in the hot sun on a farm. It’s a cultural aversion that we must counteract. We need to bring agriculture as a class back into high schools.” She remembered forage clubs and agricultural classes in her rural elementary school, programs which are no longer available in most primary schools.
When loss of black-owned farmland is prevalent, there is a distinct value to protecting these lands to preserve the historic and cultural importance left by the families who inhabited them. By allowing The Nature Conservancy to protect this land, the Avery’s were able to secure a permanent connection to the land where Oscar and Alma spent much of their lives.
Kathey went on to tell me about her friend Wallace Bohanan, who is passionate about growing his own food. Later, I had the privilege of talking with Wallace about his experiences with agriculture. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Wallace has enjoyed living in WNC for 13 years.
He told me about his childhood and the start of his personal connection to land. “My father decided to start a Cub Scout Pack, and he got the community involved. We went camping and learned the Boy Scout skills like knot tying, compass reading, building a fire, putting up a tent, and I loved it!”
These experiences influenced his decision to move to the Southern Appalachians. “When I was older I got to go camping out in the mountains and it was amazing,” Wallace said. “That’s when I told myself ‘One day I’m going to buy some land and move to the mountains,’ so here I am.”
When Wallace moved to the area, he decided to rent a home with plenty of land. One day he inquired with his landlord about putting that acreage to use. “When I asked about having a garden he brought his tractor over, plowed up the land and let me grow there,” he recalls. Robert White, a founder of the Pisgah View Community Peace Gardens in West Asheville, encouraged Wallace’s interest in gardening. “He influenced me a bit and was actually the first one to give me some seeds and plants to put in the ground.”
Now, Wallace grows an abundance of vegetables including beans and sweet potatoes, as well as carrots, beets, onions, kale, and more. His interest focuses on knowing where his food comes from and sharing that food with those around him, rather than selling his produce.
Wallace and I went on to discuss why it seems fewer people are choosing to pursue agricultural businesses, although the movement for personal food gardens is on the rise. “If you grow your own food, you know the source. I think that’s what people are interested in,” he offered.
It’s also a fact that farmers often have side jobs, similar to Alma, for financial stability. According to the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture, black Americans account for only 3% of total NC farmers, and about 33% of those black-operated farms are considered to have a sales value of less than $1,000. This raises the question of equitability in agriculture, to which Wallace offered his insight, “I believe the equitability of agriculture is about the same as everywhere else. You can make it as a black farmer, but it’s going to be hard getting into the market to sell your produce or to get the price you want for it.”
Curious about the role of urban gardens in the relationship between black communities and agriculture, I sought out information about the Pisgah View Community Peace Gardens. I visited Lucia Daugherty and Robert White to talk about the creation of the gardens, their experiences with urban agriculture, and their decision to own a homestead themselves.
Robert is a native of New Jersey who moved to the mountains of North Carolina to escape gang violence and a harsh living environment. Because his mother is originally from Asheville, he was already familiar with the area when he began his life here in 1976. Lucia was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and moved to Asheville in 1998 for an AmeriCorps position. The two were living in the Pisgah View Apartments when Robert says he was overwhelmed with the compulsion to build a community garden.
“It wasn’t a good community to live in when we first started,” Robert explained. “Violence and drugs permeated the community. The children needed a safe space to play outside, they were too aware of what gunshots sounded like. A boy told me once that he thought tomatoes grew out of a can. I laughed at first, then later I sat down in my garden and cried.” It was this disconnect between the people and their food supply that pushed Lucia and Robert to create a safe, green space in the Pisgah View community.
“It needed to be someone from that community, a black man that was doing something positive,” said Robert. He knew that if he wanted to make a difference, he had to be willing to lead by example. “If people see you trying to lift yourself up they will give you the assistance you need. That’s how we got so many people helping in the community who would have never come otherwise. The garden was something everybody understood.”
Over time the garden became the focal point of the community. From the declaration by local gangs that the garden was considered a safe zone to a young boy who was so inspired by Robert’s work that he decided to pursue higher education, the stories of the positive impact this garden had on the Pisgah View community were incredible. “It was a community garden in every sense of the word,” Robert emphasized.
The Pisgah View Community Peace Gardens were a resource for food, friendship, education, and empowerment. “There is a better economy in selling collard greens than there is in selling crack cocaine,” Robert stated. “As long as there are folks who believe they feed us through government assistance, they will do anything they can to destroy those programs. If we can eat food from our own front yards, we won’t be dependent on anybody.” This is why Lucia and Robert took the initiative to share their knowledge of agriculture with the community. They provided classes for people of all ages to learn about cooking, food preservation, raising poultry and more. Unfortunately the garden is inactive today due to challenges community members faced after Robert and Lucia moved on.
Robert, Lucia and their three daughters now live in an agricultural oasis at their homestead in rural Leicester. They are happy to have an invaluable connection to land and fresh food, with fruits and vegetables growing right outside their home. “We’re growing pear trees, peach trees, apple trees. We’ve got lettuce, kale, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, butterfly bushes…” Robert went on, showing me around the garden in their front yard. “They say you should eat food within 100 miles from where you are; I believe there should be food 100 feet from your front door.”
Lucia shared childhood memories from growing up in a farm atmosphere, “Whether it was picking and eating blueberries, playing by the pond, watching the chickens, as a kid I mostly just enjoyed the land. All the sounds and smells of a farm bring me a sense of peace and joy, feeling connected to the earth helps us become our highest selves.”
She emphasized the value in claiming ownership of one’s food supply – that having a personal relationship with agriculture is no less valuable than a monetary relationship.
This had been a common theme throughout my exploration of the relationship between black people and agriculture. First Kathey, who believes although agriculture may not be her lifestyle of choice, it will be a part of her life forever. Then Wallace, whose interest lies in both the scenic beauty of nature and the security of knowing the source of his food. Finally Robert and Lucia, who created a community garden for the purpose of bringing people closer to food and now live with their own garden right in their front yard.
Having set out on a journey that left me with more questions than answers, I came to the conclusion that WNC’s black community is not as disconnected from agriculture as I’d originally assumed. However I was left still questioning what exactly is keeping black folk from building that monetary relationship — what is stopping qualified black agriculturalists from making a living out of farming?
While this question may have more answers than I can offer, I resonated with Robert’s perspective on the issue, “There are resources to help people, but those resources are not readily accessible to poor communities of color. Folks would do so much more if they knew how to plug in, but nobody comes to us to tell us about those opportunities.”
This statement registered to me as truth immediately. Robert White is a man with a wealth of knowledge, yet when I told him about SAHC’s Farmer Incubator Program, he was surprised to know such a program exists. I remembered having a similar feeling in late 2016 when I was introduced to the Conservation Trust for NC’s Diversity in Conservation Internship Program, which has afforded me the opportunity to write this article. It brought a feeling of elation to me when I was introduced to programs and opportunities for people of color to not only connect with nature, but to advance in knowledge and experience towards career-readiness in predominantly white fields.
I alone did not come upon this knowledge; it was passed unto me by those who already had a foot in the door and wanted to offer a hand in helping people like me reach these opportunities. Similarly, perhaps there are people growing food in their own backyards, dreaming of life as a farmer, waiting for someone to reach out and tell them it’s possible.
SAHC’s Farmer Incubator Program supports small agricultural businesses by providing access to land, infrastructure and training at a reduced rate. The program is meant to help prospective farmers overcome financial obstacles in launching agricultural businesses. Someday I hope programs like this will lead to more diverse involvement and equitable representation in our area’s farm businesses. However, the road to alleviating burdens of systemic oppression and exclusion is long. I cannot lift people from the circumstances that restrict their personal accessibility, so instead I will advocate for shared dialogue.
As of today the Southern Appalachian region appears to be predominantly white, however, this has not always been the case. In her essay “African Americans in Appalachia,” Dr. Althea Webb of Berea College (KY) states:
“History reveals that Appalachia has always had a racially and ethnically diverse population that has been significant and influential. Migration and mobility has shifted patterns of diversity within sub-regions and particular counties … while some areas today are largely white, the collective memory of a county may reveal a vastly different history.”
The history of people of color in agriculture is rich in the Southern Appalachians; for this reason it is crucial to uncover this history and the stories of the people before they are lost. My journey in talking with Kathey, Wallace, Lucia and Robert has brought to light just a few of the many stories there are to be told, and learning from my conversations with these folks has been, for me, an uplifting experience.
About the Author:
Tamia Dame is a student at the University Of North Carolina at Asheville. As a part of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s (CTNC) Diversity in Conservation Internship Program (DCIP), she served as our 2017 Communication, Education, and Outreach intern. She is passionate about topics relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion and hopes to pursue a career in conservation.
Local land trusts secure unprecedented $8 million dollars for farmland conservation in Western North Carolina
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture National Resource Conservation Service (USDA NRCS) recently announced 2017 funding allocations from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which included an unprecedented $8 million awarded for farmland conservation in Western North Carolina. This award for the Blue Ridge Forever coalition’s project “Forever Farms; Easements at the Eminence” will be used to protect working agricultural land and clean water sources across the region.
“This funding allocation is unique because of its size, and because it is directed specifically for the protection of important soils as well as clean water sources for our regional watersheds,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “We have successfully used federal funding to accomplish significant farmland conservation projects over the past decade, and this new allocation opens the door for us to work with willing landowners to protect some of the most crucial, large contiguous tracts of farmland remaining in the mountains. This is an incredible success, reflecting well on the perseverance and dedicated, collaborative efforts of the Blue Ridge Forever partners ”
The partnering Blue Ridge Forever land trusts plan to use the federally allocated funding to protect mountain farms from a change in land use through voluntary agricultural conservation easements. Agricultural conservation easements protect farmland and rare prime soils for food security for future generations, while also protecting the cultural heritage, scenic vistas, and farm-to-table establishments that drive tourism to the region. However, the benefits of this new funding will reach much further than the mountains. The nine river basins emanating from the WNC region contain the headwater sources for drinking water for millions of people throughout the Southeastern United States.
“We are thrilled to bring this allocation to Western North Carolina to keep mountain farms farming, and gratified the region is receiving national recognition for its importance as a freshwater source for the Southeast,” said Jessica Laggis, Blue Ridge Forever’s director. “This funding represents the culmination of years of dedication in conservation planning and relationship building. WNC land trusts have been laying the foundation for this RCPP success for a long time.”
In the past, SAHC used the same federal funding source to successfully protect several farms, including the 320-acre Reeves Homeplace Farm in Madison County, the 90-acre Watalula Farm in Leicester, 116 acres of fertile bottomland in Sandy Mush, and 80 acres of bottomland in Fairview in Buncombe County.
“The ability to protect nationally significant prime soils and water quality with the same funding source is a dream come true,” said Farmland Program Director, William Hamilton. “This funding will have a permanent, positive impact on WNC, and will be a gift that keeps on giving for generations to come. It provides us with the opportunity to help preserve some of the biggest and best farms in the region. One of the victories of this funding is that it obligates $8 million to be used exclusively for purchase of agricultural conservation easements in western North Carolina. In the past we were competing statewide for these same federal funds, and the federal allocation to the entire state of NC ranged between $500,000 – $3.5 million. So, securing $8 million for western North Carolina changes things in a dramatic way for us.”
Mountain farms are increasingly vulnerable to a change in land use, due in part to extraordinary development pressure and rapidly rising land values. Large mountain farms are particularly scarce because they are prone to fragmentation and development as they pass from one generation to the next, yet they are critically important for clean water because they encompass significant water sources. SAHC hopes to use this funding to continue building on more than a decade of successful farmland conservation.
“NRCS has created a unique opportunity with RCPP that recognizes the power of partnership,” continued Laggis. “Farmland preservation is great cause everyone can get behind; it brings a diverse array of stakeholders together in a beautiful way. We especially want to thank Principal Chief Patrick Lambert of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Congressman Patrick McHenry, Senator Richard Burr, Governor Pat McCrory, Representative John Ager, Representative Joe Sam Queen, and the NC Department of Agriculture for supporting farmland preservation in Western North Carolina.”
About Blue Ridge Forever:
Blue Ridge Forever is a coalition of the 10 land trusts in Western North Carolina, that have partnered for over a decade of conservation successes in the region. The partners include: Blue Ridge Conservancy, The Conservation Trust for North Carolina, New River Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Foothills Conservancy, Pacolet Area Conservancy, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Mainspring Conservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land, Riverlink, and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.
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