Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lessons from WNC farmers

As many of you know, I have been involved since 2008 with a special program called WNC Agricultural Options, which awards seed money to diversifying farmers, helping to offset the risk of trying new ventures. While I scaled back my duties significantly since I started focusing on my own business endeavors in 2011, I still greatly appreciate the opportunity to write up descriptions for each of the awarded projects for the WNC AgOptions website.
My last official WNC AgOptions site visit--one of about 200 visits to farms in three years.
As I read through the recipient applications, I'm always filled with such energy, as a vision for evolving agriculture—one that is healthy for the consumers, the land and the animals—shines vibrantly in my mind. While the recipients are not required to undertake ecologically sustainable ventures to receive a grant, many of them are just because that's what many successful farmers leading agricultural innovation do these days.

I read the applications in the dead of the winter (this year, parked at my house for three days during the season's heaviest snow fall) when my interaction with customers are limited and I'm a bit isolated. Yet at these times I never feel more connected to my community, even at a long distance, as I share a lot in common with these small-scale growers with such long-range visions. Tucked in the nooks and crannies of the mountains, we're all working hard to make our creative mission-driven businesses profitable, not just for our and our families' betterment, but for the community as a whole.

I especially appreciated a statement by Jen Stockbridge of Stockbridge Farms in Cherokee County, who is improving her pastured poultry operation. "Several of our customers are aspiring producers themselves," she said. "We find this inspiring, not threatening. To grow your own food, or to try to, is the best way to fully appreciate the value of food."

Her sentiment is exactly mine, and one of the driving forces behind my business. As we appreciate all that goes into growing our own vegetables, and taste the immense flavors that can come out of our backyard, we are more likely to patronize other businesses that sell healthy, locally grown, ecologically sustainable food. Any other produce begins to taste bland and lackluster.

I believe the energy put into growing food can be tasted and felt in it, so I'm so glad to live in a region where so many growers are altruistically motivated, yet practical at the same time, ensuring the longevity of their businesses.