Brown Family Farm

Cattle in pasture at forest edgeThe Buncombe County Farm Heritage trails winds through scenic farming communities in the Leicester, Sandy Mush, and Alexander areas of the county. Now, views of rolling pastures and forested hillsides along the farm trail at the Brown Family Farm have been permanently protected. Thank you to all the SAHC members and supporters who have made farmland preservation possible here and throughout the region!

“The Brown Family Farm is a great example of farmland protection working for conservation-minded landowners,” says Farmland Conservation Director Jess Laggis. “Margaret and Grover Brown wanted to retire from farming, and their twin sons, Robert and Stephen (and wife Angela), wanted to expand the existing cattle operation. The easement provides the means for this  farm operation to continue without the need to parcelize the land and inhibit the next generation’s farm use. AND, it’s just stunning, and anchors the viewshed on both sides of South Turkey Creek Road, a route beloved by motorists and cyclists for its scenery.”

The 175 acres now permanently protected at the farm contain important agricultural soils, undeveloped forested and nonforested habitat for wildlife, frontage along South Turkey Creek Road, and stream corridors. The land has been in agricultural use for as long as anyone can remember. The current Brown Family Farm was established in 1952, originally organized as a dairy farm.

Brown family members and farmland conservation partners on site visit to farm“The farm is a 4th generation family farm,” says Angela Brown on behalf of the family. “The farm was a dairy farm until 1995 when the dairy industry in western North Carolina took a downturn. In 1995 the farm converted to beef, tobacco and hay production. We no longer grow tobacco, and the farm is now focused on beef cattle and hay production. Our hope is that Grover will be able to ease into retirement, but for the time being he is still actively farming as he has for years. Stephen and Robert have stepped in to help Grover to continue on the farm work into the future, and they plan to continue farming. Our goal of preserving our farmland is to keep it a farm from now on as our family and family before wanted.”

Conservation of the farm was made possible by a grant from the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture, Brad and Shelli Stanback, a grant from Buncombe County, and donation of a portion of the conservation easement value by the landowners. Mountain Valley RC&D helped SAHC secure grant funding from NC Dept. Agriculture to make this project possible.

“We are incredibly excited that through dedication from SAHC and partnership with Buncombe Land Conservation Advisory Board’s transaction cost funding, both Brown Family Farm and Full Sun Farm will be protected permanently as working farmlands,” says Ariel Zijp, Farmland Preservation Coordinator. “By protecting these two properties, SAHC will bridge gaps in designated priority regions of Farmland as well as strengthen relationships with conservation partners and land stewards in the community.”

Partner Perspective: Buncombe County Farmland Conservation, Ariel Zijp, Farmland Preservation Coordinator

Protected farmland in Sandy Mush community of Buncombe County“As Asheville grows as a tourist destination, and development soars, Farmland Preservation is a high priority for Buncombe County. Land Protection completed by our non-profit land trust partners aligns strongly with the Buncombe County 2025 Strategic Plan Goal: Preserve farmland and environmentally sensitive tracts of land. By protecting Farmland, we are not only protecting land from development, but we are also protecting farm family’s livelihoods, protecting fertile agricultural soils which took a thousand years to form, protecting scenic mountain viewsheds which draws millions of tourists a year, protecting Asheville’s vibrant foodshed on which the restaurant industry depends, and securing land access to farming generations to come. Thank you to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy for continuing to move forward this imperative land protection mission.”

 

Full Sun Farm

fields and forest area at Full Sun Farm

Full Sun Farm, Sandy Mush, NC. Photo Credit Michael L. Pittman

Vanessa Campbell and Alex Brown have a passion for growing fresh, healthy produce. They enjoy being outdoors, and bring that joy to their farming endeavors at Full Sun Farm. Looking toward the future, they wanted to ensure that the land would continue to be available for farming for future generations. This year they donated a conservation easement on 32 acres of their farm in the Sandy Mush Community of Buncombe County, and plan to work with SAHC to protect the remainder of the farm as well.

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Rogers Cove – 236 MORE Acres

view of farm and mountains from aboveMark and Laura Rogers worked with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to protect 236 more acres of beautiful farmland in the Crabtree community of Haywood County. These agricultural conservation easements join land that they and other members of the Rogers family worked with SAHC to conserve in 2017 – bringing the total of protected farmland in Rogers Cove to 620 acres! In addition to protecting productive agricultural land for future generations, farmland preservation in the cove protects scenic views from Crabtree Bald and Crabtree Mountain Road.

Farmland conservation projects can take many years to come to fruition. Mark and Laura had planned for this property to be permanently protected when they began working on conservation efforts with SAHC and other family members several years ago.

“Conservation of this land and the previous project were intertwined; they were really planned together from the beginning,” says Laura. Researching conservation options 15 years, Mark contacted SAHC in 2006 and embarked on an ambitious effort to secure farmland which had been in the Rogers family for generations and prevent future loss to subdivision and development. Read more

Beaverdam – 54 Acres

Google Earth image of 54-acre parcel on mountain slopeIn November, we purchased 54 acres in the Beaverdam community of Haywood County, protecting land adjoining the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek Watershed and other SAHC-protected properties in the Beaverdam and Newfound Mountains area.

“Permanent protection of this tract will help preserve scenic views from public trails in the adjoining Rough Creek watershed, as well as stream sources and habitat in an important wildlife corridor,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “These 54 acres add to a network of thousands of acres of protected land in Haywood County and western Buncombe County.”

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Sandy Hollar Farms

row crops at Sandy Hollar FarmsIn June, you helped purchase a conservation easement on 49 more acres of productive farmland in the lovely Sandy Mush community of northwestern Buncombe County.  Sandy Hollar Farms is a Buncombe County attraction, with seasonal events like pick-your-own Christmas trees, pumpkins, and berries.

This idyllic slice of farmland is primarily used for row crops, fruits and berries, and Christmas tree production. According to landowner Curtis Hawkins, Sandy Hollar Farms is one of the biggest producers of blackberries in the county. They also grow squash, green beans, pumpkins, and other fresh produce, which goes to small retailers and farmers’ markets. There is a small herd of sheep and goats on the farm, along with llamas as pets, and landowner June Hawkins periodically gives natural dye and spinning demonstrations. Read more

Community Farm Updates

SAHC’s 140-acre Community Farm hosts beginning farm businesses, educational workshops, and service learning experiences. The site includes a Farmer-Incubator Program, stream restoration and shortleaf pine reforestation projects, educational Discovery Trail (which can be visited by appointment), a bee yard, and indoor and outdoor space for special events. It’s a working model that blends productive agriculture with educational opportunities and community engagement.

Tamarya SimsWelcome Tamarya Sims, Community Farm Associate!

Tamarya (she/they) joined SAHC as full-time Community Farm Associate in June. They graduated from UNC Asheville with a degree in Environmental Studies, and after college pursued environmental education and learning how to grow food. They served at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through American Conservation Experience and at the Durham Public Schools Hub Farm through CTNC AmeriCorps. Tamarya loves teaching, photography, gardening, herbalism, beekeeping, raising chickens, and driving the SAHC tractor. Most of all, they are passionate about food justice and making farm and garden education accessible to all people. Read more

Young Pisgah Mountain

Map of Young Pisgah MountainThe Young Pisgah Mountain property adjoins Pisgah National Forest just a mile north of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Upper Hominy Creek Valley of southwest Buncombe County. This 102-acre conservation easement conserves habitat in an important wildlife corridor, in a network of other protected areas such as Chestnut Mountain and the tracts being secured for the new Pisgah View State Park.

“The tract at Young Pisgah Mountain is connected to a large block of protected land in the Balsam Mountains including Mount Pisgah and the Shining Rock Wilderness, which contain many biologically significant destinations,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “It has been a long-term project and we are grateful for the landowners’ commitment in protecting this special place. They first approached SAHC in 2010 about potentially conserving the land, and we are thrilled to have purchased the conservation easement this summer.” Read more

Sandy Mush – 25 Years of Conservation

Sandy Mush conservation map 2020Mountain ridges, low-lying farms, beautiful streams and forested hills coalesce into a quiet rural community in the corner where Buncombe, Haywood, and Madison Counties meet. This idyllic haven has been the beloved home to generations of hard-working farmers as well as a treasured retreat to relative newcomers. We’ve been cultivating relationships and conserving land in this beautiful area for decades, and we are very grateful to all the partners, landowners, and supporters who make conservation in Sandy Mush possible.

Bee Branch viewWhat makes this area so unique for conservation? A combination of agricultural land and fertile farming soils, secluded coves and ridges that make excellent wildlife corridors, and a plethora of stream sources. All potentially under threat of development as the population and popularity of the region continues to swell. Unlike SAHC’s other five conservation focus areas, where we often concentrate on connecting to or filling in gaps within national forests or state parks, the French Broad River Valley focus area did not have an existing conservation skeleton on which to build. By conscientiously creating long-term relationships with landowners in the Sandy Mush area, we have established a framework of contiguous protected land, and we continue to work diligently to protect important tracts while the opportunity remains.

In its remoteness, Sandy Mush is a close-knit community with a shared appreciation for the beauty of the land, history, farming experience, and respect for nature. This land is steeped in history, and families with long-standing connections to the area who have farmed here for generations — with names like Duckett, Wells, and Reeves — have worked with SAHC to permanently protect their land. We are grateful to all the landowners who have built relationships with us over time and shared news about conservation in the community. Here are a few of
their stories. Read more

Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Coalition Update

Photo of a tangle of Oriental bittersweet vines.

Oriental bittersweet vines can be extremely prolific, killing trees and harming forest health.

The Sandy Mush Coalition — a partnership among SAHC, the Forest Stewards Guild, and EcoForesters – has completed its first year of collective effort to increase capacity to control invasive exotic plants and improve forest stewardship in Sandy Mush. The coalition is fostering healthy and resilient forests that protect environmental values, cultural heritage, economic opportunities, and quality of life for people in the Sandy Mush area of Buncombe, Madison, and Haywood counties.

“The purpose of the coalition is to increase the community’s capacity to conduct forest management activities and to address the concerns and needs of landowners in the community,” explains SAHC Stewardship Director Sarah Sheeran.  “We just finished the first year of our partnership, in which we’ve been meeting with community members, natural resource professionals, and stakeholders. With the coalition up and running, we have an action plan and are now in the process of implementing that plan as we head into our second year.”

The coalition held two introductory information-gathering sessions with community members last fall and a Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Gathering in January, in which a variety of organizations and forest professionals presented.  These facilitated listening sessions connected state and local partners and other nonprofits involved in forest health initiatives with community members.

A tree after the Oriental bittersweet vines have been cut and treated

A tree after the Oriental bittersweet vines have been cut and treated.

“The coalition is providing a means to connect landowners with the technical and financial resources they need in order to improve forest stewardship on their properties,” continues Sheeran. “The event in January was a powerful way of gathering the people together in one room so that SAHC and our coalition partners could answer questions from landowners on the tools and resources available to help them manage their land.”

Funding for the coalition also enabled SAHC to treat approximately 50 acres of our conservation properties and preserves.

“We’re trying to be good stewards of the land we own and fulfill our own commitment to management, while modelling these management practices for others,” says Sheeran.

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area logoThis project is made possible in part by a grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership. Support from local philanthropic environmental leaders provided critical funding to make the coalition possible. We also want to thank the state and local partners and other nonprofits who presented at the community gatherings and have been involved in these efforts – including NC Forest Service, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Mountain Valleys RC&D, MountainTrue, Hemlock Restoration Initiative, and several others.

“We’ve all been working together to fulfill community goals for family forests in Sandy Mush — To help gain an understanding of what people value about the land, fears they have, and the needs they’ve identified, so collaboratively we can come up with a plan to address these needs and concerns,” says Sheeran.  “What I really appreciate about the community is how much they value their sense of place. This is a very tight knit community that has a tremendous love for their land, their neighbors, and their place. You get a real appreciation for how special Sandy Mush is – the sense of ownership and pride in community.”

Hogeye Bottomlands – 88 Acres

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