Written by Jennifer Fitzgerald
Get Out of the Restaurant & Onto the Land
Farming is not for the faint at heart. It is a day that begins before the sun rises and ends after dark. It is hard work tending animals and planting and harvesting crops. It is a challenging but, ultimately, a rewarding experience for farmers across Western North Carolina.
Many of these farmers open their farms for tours, realizing the public has a growing interest in local and fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables. People want to meet the farmers, and ask questions of them. Children love to see the animals up close and personal—a fun outing for all ages.
“Farm tours are incredibly popular now because there is this increasing awareness and interest in wanting to know where your food comes from,” says Ariel Dixon, Farmland Preservation Coordinator for Buncombe Soil and Water Conservation. “Creating the opportunity for people to actually step onto the land, meet a farmer, and see where fresh local food is produced is an incredible experience to connect people with the understanding of the importance of local food, local farms, and farmland.”
ASAP Tour 2016
Saturday and Sunday, June 25 and 26, is a perfect time to visit some local farms as Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) hosts its annual farm tour. ASAP is an Asheville-based nonprofit with a mission to help local farms thrive, link farmers to markets and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food. ASAP has been hosting the tour since 2009, and it typically draws over 2,000 attendees each year.
ASAP is currently selling passes for the tour—$30 in advance (at asapconnections.org) or $40 at farms the days of the tour. One pass admits an entire carload at all the featured farms on both days of the tour. Cost to visit an individual farm is $15.
“ASAP hosts the farm tour to connect consumers with their local food producers, to raise awareness about farming and local agriculture practices, and to promote local farms and provide them with a valuable marketing opportunity to increase sales and build new customer relationships,” says ASAP’s Development Director Scott Bunn. “Ultimately, ASAP wants people to be engaged with the food system and know where their food is coming from, and the farm tour is a great way to provide people with a truly fun local food experience.”
All the farms on the tour are Appalachian Grown certified by ASAP, which means they are family-owned farms producing food in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Participating farms have common goals to provide education on local agricultural practices, build their customer base, generate new revenue options, and connect people to their food, farms, and the agricultural heritage of the region.
In addition, the farms on the tour will be selling products, and a number will have meals available for purchase. Farms are grouped together geographically, with clusters in Candler, Fairview, East, Leicester, Sandy Mush, and Madison County.
Here is a look at a few of the featured farms. Directions to the farms and more information is available at Asapconnections.org.
Dry Ridge Farm
East Fork Farm
Spinning Spider Creamery
Zimmerman’s Berry Farm
Sunburst Chef and Farmer at Smith Mill Works
Addison Farms Vineyard
Farm House Beef
Reeves Home Place Farm
Lady Luck Flower Farm
Full Sun Farm
Long Branch Environmental Education Center
Hop’n Blueberry Farm
Round Mountain Creamery
Farm Fresh Ventures
Vandele Farms on Cedar Creek
Smoking J’s Fiery Foods
Venezia Dream Farm
Cane Creek Creamery
Flying Cloud Farm
Hickory Nut Gap Farm
East Fork Farm
East Fork Farm, located in Madison County, is home to chickens, turkeys, rabbits, sheep, cows, fish, pigs, ducks, a donkey, and a waterwheel to drive a small gristmill. The farm, owned by Stephen and Dawn Robertson, was the old Buckner farm that grew predominantly tobacco. The Robertsons own 40 acres of the original 100. They sell their products at the North Asheville Tailgate Market and the YMCA Indoor Winter Tailgate Market.
“Stephen and I have been farming for 20 years and have slowly put together our little piece of heaven in Madison County,” Dawn says. “We start our day with feeding at 7AM. All animals are fed, watered, and checked upon. This task usually takes about an hour and half in the morning. After that, we grab breakfast and start barn cleaning. Projects follow. On any particular day this might consist of processing chickens, touring cottage guests, cleaning cottages, fence mending, weed eating—the list goes on and on. Finishing up the day, we check on all of the animals again and close the chicken nesting boxes. After dark, our chicken barn doors are closed, brooder lamps turned on, and the chicken nesting boxes are opened and ready for the chickens in the morning.”
The ASAP tour is the only time that East Fork Farm is open to the public. At other times, they reserve farm tours exclusively for their cottage guests. Details: Eastforkfarm.net
Zimmerman’s Berry Farm
Zimmerman’s Berry Farm is a 70-acre, pick-your-own berry farm in Madison County—black raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Hay and some vegetables are also grown.
Owner Pam Zimmerman has been farming in Madison County all of her life. She grew up on a mountain tobacco farm riding the work horse as her father and grandfather plowed tobacco.
“Zimmerman’s Berry Farm is located on my late husband’s family farm that we bought in the early 1990s,” she says. “It was a traditional tobacco farm until we began the berry farm in 1999. Burley tobacco has been the traditional cash crop that was grown for many years in our area. There were a lot of issues that caused tobacco to no longer be profitable: the ending of government price subsidies, increased need to add chemicals to combat disease in plants, inability to hire field labor. Berries are something that can be done without hiring help; there’s a growing interest in local food; there’s not the tremendous amount of heavy lifting that’s required with tobacco; and berries smell a lot better.
“We do pick your own berries beginning mid-June through August. Some are tourists coming to visit the mountains, but most are return customers who bring their families and come back year after year to pick berries.”
Zimmerman’s Berry Farm will open for the season in mid-June. Details: Zimmermansberryfarm.com
“We want to educate people about what farmers do and about how important the land and water are to our livelihood. We want people to understand what it takes to get you the food you eat.”
Reeves Home Place Farm
Robin Reeves is the seventh generation on his 180-acre family farm in Leicester. Visitors to the Reeves Home Place Farm will meet the cows and poultry, learn the history of the farm, and visit the green house and hydroponic operation.
“We have a long history of being in the same community farming the same land as our forefathers, which is an honor,” Reeves says. “The house we live in was built before the Civil War. We want to educate people about what farmers do and about how important the land and water are to our livelihood. We want people to understand what it takes to get you the food you eat.”
Reeves sells his products at his farm store, the Asheville City Market South, East Asheville Market, and Trust General Store in Spring Creek.
“The hardest part of farming has to be losing an animal that you have worked so hard to save,” Reeves says. “The most rewarding thing is to watch things grow and thrive whether it be animals, plants, or people.”
At times other than the ASAP farm tour, call 828-231-2390 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment for tours.
Venezia Dream Farm
Venezia Dream Farm is micro— four acres total, only two acres in pasture. Starr Cash’s Candler farm is home to “Happy Healthy Alpacas.”
“Alpacas are very easy livestock to take care of, and I’ve planned my farm layout to make my daily care chores as easy as possible,” Cash says. “It’s my pleasure to spend time with them every single day. That’s my way of making sure they are in good health. As long as they have grass or hay to eat and clean water to drink, they don’t need a whole lot of personal care on a daily basis.”
Cash has a small store at the farm featuring items she creates from the alpaca fibers. She also sells a few things at Asheville NC Home Crafts in the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville.
The most rewarding day at Venezia Dream Farm is Shearing Day. The alpaca coats come rolling off like a 2-to-4-inch thick blanket as the shears float over their body.
“And they love it when they stand up and they are 10 pounds lighter than they were just 10 minutes before,” Cash says. “It’s my harvest day and it’s a hard work day, but it’s a huge amount of fun, too.”
Every private tour includes going into the pasture or barn to spend some quality time with the alpacas. Cash says they are not camera shy and love to pose for pictures. In addition, visitors will tour the fiber studio where they see “Farm to Fashion,” an explanation or demonstration of each step in the process of taking fiber from the alpaca to finished fabric.
“It used to be people weren’t all that interested in how clothes are made or where they came from,” Cash says. “Cheap and disposable ‘fast fashion’ was all anyone wanted. Now, I find that more people are looking for fabrics and products that are well-made and will have a long useful life. They want items made of high quality materials and that were made in a way that is ethical for both people and the planet.”
Cash opens her farm to visitors to not only sell her products but also to share her passion for life.
“I care about our planet and I think I have things to say about how we can do better than we have done,” she says. “I want to inform and entertain people. I want them to purchase something from my store that is going to give them pleasure for a long time. I want them to turn to each other in the car after they leave my farm and say, ‘Wasn’t that amazing?’”
At times other than the ASAP farm tour, call 828-667-2785 or email email@example.com to schedule a visit.
Hickory Nut Gap Farm
The history of Hickory Nut Gap Farm began one hundred years ago in 1916, with the arrival of Jim and Elizabeth McClure. Newly married and still on their honeymoon, they fell in love with the old Sherrill’s Inn and the surrounding farm.
Elizabeth devoted herself to restoring the old inn and its landscaping. On April 30, 1918, Jim held the first official meeting of the Hickory Nut Gap Farm Company.
In 2000, Jamie Ager, a fourth generation descendant of the McClures, and his wife, Amy, took the reins and began their grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork business. In 2007 the land was put into an agricultural conservation easement, which allowed the Agers to continue to use the land and grow their business.
“Our farm rests on 90 acres of land here in Fairview, and we also lease another 200 acres in Rutherford County, which we use for winter grazing our cattle,” says Amy Ager. “Visitors will often see our cows roaming out in the pasture, our pigs rooting in the woods, and baby chicks pecking in the brooder house. We have 90 acres of pasture, six acres of organic apples, a hill with U-Pick blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and several play areas for children. We have an event space for birthday parties and for larger events such as reunions and weddings.
“Our farm store is open to the public seven days a week, from 9AM to 6PM, where you can buy cuts of meat and local products. Lunch is served daily, and is both farm and locally sourced. We also sell our meats in local farmers markets: the West Asheville Tailgate Market, the Asheville City Market, and the North Asheville Tailgate Market. You can also find our meat in the community at local grocery stores and over 50 restaurants in Asheville and regionally.”
Over the last 15 years, the Agers have observed an increase in the demand for sustainable, ethical farming and the products that they raise. They say they are thankful to have the opportunity to farm in a time of increased customer awareness and to be able to provide the community with healthy, sustainable meat; they open the farm to the public as a way to share the family farm experience and set an example of healthy land stewardship. Details: Hickorynutgapfarm.com
The Farm Heritage Trail
Another farm tour option is the Farm Heritage Trail—a scenic driving and cycling route through the rural agricultural communities of Alexander, Leicester, Newfound, and Sandy Mush in northwestern Buncombe County. The trail includes six stops at conserved family farms that are marked with designated signage. The public is welcome to travel the public roads of this trail year-round, a leisurely two-hour drive while enjoying a few stops along the way.
Trail riders may choose to follow the specific route or enter and exit at any point, selecting farms they may want to drive by or visit along the way. Stops include Dr. King’s Carolina Bison, Sycamore Valley Farm Store, Addison Farms Vineyards, Sandy Hollar Farm, Long Branch Environmental Education Center, and Sandy Mush Herb Nursery.
Buncombe County Soil and Water was awarded a community grant from Buncombe County Recreation Services in October 2015 to create the Farm Heritage Trail. Northwest Buncombe County was chosen because it has the largest concentration of conserved farms in the county.
“The Trail was created to showcase some of the most beautiful rural agricultural areas in the county, as well as inform the community about the importance of farmland preservation,” says Buncombe’s Farmland Preservation Coordinator Dixon. “We hope to share these beautiful areas with tourists and the community to raise awareness for the importance of protecting farmland in conservation easement—so that the land will forever be used for farming and forestry. We hope that by creating this fun opportunity to drive and participate in the trail, we will create an understanding that, without the protection of these lands, we could slowly lose our fertile farmland, the opportunity to have fresh food in the community, and the scenic views and agrarian beauty so imperative to Buncombe County.
“We are hoping to create this trail as a pilot project and possibly have other farm heritage trails in other regions of the county in the future, with possibly one in the southeast region of the county.” Details: Farmheritagetrail.org
“There is much more awareness about the importance of farming and more interest in learning about farming. There is also a movement of people searching for ways to reconnect with things that are tangible, real, and meaningful.”
Apple Hill Farm
In addition to the ASAP farm tour and the Farm Heritage Trail, there are numerous farms throughout Western North Carolina that welcome visitors. Apple Hill Farm in Banner Elk is one of these farms. “A place where animals talk and people listen,” as the motto announces, the farm is owned by Lee Rankin and sits on 43 acres, with approximately 15 acres used for farm operations.
“The farm was part of an 80-plus acre tract of land that was cleared and planted as an apple orchard in 1960,” Rankin says. “When I acquired the property in 2001, there was only a section of the orchard remaining, as well as a field planted in Frazier Firs. I bought my first alpacas in 2003, and we have slowly added more types of animals over time to meet our different needs as they have arisen. We first opened to the public in 2006, and things have really taken off in the last few years. In 2015 we led 443 guided walking tours of our farm.”
A tour of the farm offers mountain views, wooded footpaths, and landscaped gardens that provide the setting for the alpacas, goats, donkeys, chickens, dogs, horses, and other animals calling Apple Hill Farm home. The guided walking tour winds its way around the farm, giving guests a chance to meet all the animals.
According to Rankin, the tour also provides a snapshot view of what life can be like on a working alpaca farm. “Each animal at Apple Hill Farm has a job—and many have stories to share as well! We raise alpacas and angora goats for their fiber, which we shear off and sell in our farm store. We raise donkeys and Great Pyrenees dogs to guard and watch over our alpacas and goats. Chickens provide eggs, Mr. Pickles the mini-pig is the ‘boss hog’ of the farm, and the horses and ponies provide companionship and love to all who visit. We have a very active chicken coop and a small vegetable garden as well. The garden is primarily for our own use, but we do invite our guests to take a walk through it, and [we] sell some of the produce grown there.”
Yarn from the personal animals is available for purchase in the farm store, which is stocked with over 20 types of alpaca yarn, plus socks, scarves, vests, gloves, and more. Rankin also works with several co-ops of fellow alpaca farm owners and artisans around the world. They have some of these products in Sew Original in Boone, as well as the Great Train Robbery and Bayou Smokehouse & Grill in Banner Elk.
From mid-May to mid-October they will be offering a public tour daily at 2PM. The farm store will be open from 10AM to 4PM, Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4PM on Sundays.
Rankin says they have people from all walks of life visiting that are interested in learning more about alpacas, farming, and fiber.
“There is much more awareness about the importance of farming and more interest in learning about farming. There is also a movement of people searching for ways to reconnect with things that are tangible, real, and meaningful. Many people are finding this through farming.” Details: Applehillfarmnc.com
FARM WORKERS BY THE NUMBERS
3,770 farm jobs in Western North Carolina (2015)
18 WNC Counties: 2010 jobs – 3,587 / 2015 jobs – 3,770 (+ 5.1%)
NC total: 2010 jobs – 49.475 / 2015 jobs- 49,062 (- 0.8%)
U.S. total: 2010 jobs – 1,841,815 / 2015 jobs – 1,917,223 (+ 4.1%)
Industry Summary for Crop and Animal Production – Settings (2), QCEW, Non-QCEW, Self-employed
QCEW: Stands for Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages
Non-QCEW Employees: Attempts to cover jobs which fall under an employer-employee relationship but are not covered by QCEW. The major types of employment covered in this set include military jobs, railroad jobs, many nonprofit and religious workers, certain salespersons, miscellaneous Federal Government, and more.
Self-Employed: Covers people who, when responding to Census surveys, consider self-employment to be a significant part of their income or time spent working. Most people normally considered “self-employed” would fall into this dataset.
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