Prescribed Burn for Shortleaf Pine

This Spring, we used a prescribed (controlled) burn of 13 acres to help manage our shortleaf pine reforestation project at our Community Farm.

This prescribed burn will help restore the shortleaf pine by removing undesirable, competing plant species and giving the slower-growing shortleaf pine a chance to re-establish. Shortleaf pine is a fire-dependent and fire tolerant species, meaning that the species actually depends on fire in order to reproduce and thrive. Read more

Performance Horses and Cattle

Brahman-Longhorn cow and calfThis year we welcome Wesley (Wes) Buckner and Cheyenne Cearley of WC Performance Horses & Cattle Co into our Farmer Incubator Program. Wes and Cheyenne are operating a cow-calf operation on the farm, with plans to build up their herd of Brahman-longhorn cross cattle.

“We wanted to be part of the Farmer Incubator Program to take our herd and cattle operation to the next level,” says Wes, who grew up in the area and currently works as a farrier. “It’s such a great opportunity, set up perfectly for what we need and only two miles from our home. We look forward to the next few years growing our herd and farming skill sets. The Brahman-longhorn cross we are breeding are very hearty animals who do well in many conditions and can clean up rough terrain, like a goat. We were also drawn to their unique look.”

Nature Experience Director Lauren meeting Brahman-longhorn bullExotics like the Brahman-longhorn cross can help diversify a cattle program, commanding a higher price at market, and may be favored by landowners for managing fields because they are beautiful and resilient foragers.

“I’m a young farmer who is passionate about farming and preserving the lifestyle and land,” continues Wes. “My family has been farming this area for several decades. As we are now taking over and branching out on our own, it’s sad to see less and less farmland available in the region.”

The Buckners have historic family roots in the Alexander community, and Wes remembers his father purchasing bulls from Robert and Marie Anderson, who owned the Community Farm property before it was donated to SAHC. He recalls Mr. Anderson as a “very fair and honest person.”

“I really enjoy being out on the land caring for my animals,” adds Wes. “We hope to grow a big enough herd and find land for long-term lease or buy pastureland after our term in the Incubator Program is over, so we can continue farming for years to come.”

From the Farm: January 2019

Our Community Farm Manager, Chris Link, blogs about updates from our Community Farm:

Greetings, all — from the winter quiet on the SAHC Community Farm in Alexander!

We enjoy the break in buzzing activity that comes every January. Not completely dormant by any means, this season for planning and taking stock is valuable in its own right.

While I can wax poetic about the meditative frosty mornings and the fun flurry of animals moving around (one resident fox is quite obvious in the still and monochrome landscape), there’s much work to be done on our ongoing projects here. We’re planning work in the stream restoration area which improves our water and habitat, preparing community kitchen space which will open to the public this spring (along with our new event venue!), and organizing many educational workshop offerings — including a controlled-burn to support the fledgling short-leaf pine habitat.

Headwaters Market Garden will be getting early spring crops seeded and growing in February.

We’re also hoping to expand our team of incubating farm businesses who grow and/or raise animals out here!  If you need to take the next step in your farm business, our Farmer Incubator Program is set up to support you.  We have many types of infrastructure for varying enterprises, staff technical support, access to the Organic Growers School Farm Beginnings training, social media and marketing support.

Click HERE to apply today.

Half Pint Farm

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

From Kudzu to Cover Crops

Our Community Farm continues to serve as a model — balancing agricultural production with environmental responsibility while providing educational opportunities.

Farmer Incubator Program

Will Salley and Savannah Salley of Headwaters Market Garden use a unique French method of bio-intensive vegetable production on small acreage. Currently in their first year of full-time farming, they have wholesale and restaurant accounts. They will return to the downtown Asheville City Market in the Spring, to host a booth on Saturday mornings. Next year, they plan to expand their operation with mushroom and egg production. Read more

Aloft Downtown Asheville Volunteers

We’d like to give a HUGE thank you to the terrific team of volunteers from Aloft Downtown Asheville who came out to work on our Community Farm on Tuesday, October 17. This energetic crew arrived ready to get their boots dirty and do some good! They helped our Headwaters Market Garden incubator farmers harvest carrots, beets and kale, wrapping up summer production in the fields and preparing to transition to cold-weather operations. Read more

Farmer Education Workshop: Tractor 101 for Women

explaining tractor engineOur first tractor operation and maintenance workshop geared specifically for women was a hit! Led by local farmer Danielle Hutchison of Beacon Village Farm, the workshop provided a safe environment for women to learn how to maintain and use tractors on their farms. Attendees ranged from college students to retirees in their 60/70s — including apprentices, landowners, and growers who sell at local markets.

tractor and group view

For 3 1/2 hours, the group actively engaged in discussing safety and tractor maintenance, with lots of hands-on interaction. Danielle created an open learning environment to encourage participants to ask questions. Read more

Headwaters Market Garden

We welcome Will and Savannah Salley of Headwaters Market Garden, new vegetable producers on our Community Farm. Their operation focuses on growing seasonal mixed vegetables and culinary herbs. Will and Savannah recently returned to the Carolinas after living in Maui, Hawaii and are launching their new  market garden business through participation in our Farmer Incubator Program.

Read more

Farmer Education Workshop: Irrigation for Small Farms

In July we hosted an informative workshop on irrigation for small farms at our Community Farm to educate farmers and others about optimizing water use. This workshop — led by Community Farm and Food Associate Chris Link, WNC FarmLink Director Suzanna Dennison, and Chris McWhorter of the W.P. Law Agriculture Division — covered important questions to ask when considering irrigation, irrigation system components, and the mathematics required to calculate accurate measurements for an irrigation system. Read more

Afrolachian Agriculture: Bringing People Closer to Food

Tamia doing interviewsTamia 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.

Kathey AveryOn 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!”

Alma AveryFor 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!”

Wallace BohananThese 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 WhiteRobert 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 pointing out growing watermelonRobert, 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.