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Grants for mountain farm diversification awarded

WNC AgOptions announces 2016 awardees

MILLS RIVER, N.C.—Diversifying farmers in western North Carolina are receiving support to offset the risk of expanding and trying new ventures. WNC Agricultural Options awarded 33 farm businesses a total of $177,000 in $3,000 and $6,000 grants at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River. Farm projects include a poultry house conversion to an aquaponics greenhouse, cold storage for a multi-plot urban farm, and improved Fraser Fir seedling production to deter root disease.

Seven of the farm business received $3,000, and 26 received $6,000. The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission is the exclusive financial supporter of WNC AgOptions, which aims to build sustainable farming communities in the mountain region by providing resources directly to farmers.

"The WNC AgOptions program has proven success stories," said Bill Teague, Chairman of the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. "We continue to be amazed at how these producers utilize these funds to ensure their family farms grow and remain profitable."

After raising broiler chickens for 13 years, Paula and Dale Boles of JB Farms in Caldwell County are ending their contract with poultry companies and converting their chicken houses to greenhouses to grow tilapia and a variety of vegetables. Using an aquaponics system, fish and plants grow in symbiosis since fish provide fertilizer through their waste and the plants' nutrient uptake cleans the water for the fish.

"We realize this first house will involve a lot of trial and error, and it may take several growing seasons to learn this new business before we are operating as efficiently as possible," Paula Doles said. In the meantime, income from 25 acres of soybeans helps pay for the new venture's expenses.

Sunil Patel of Patchwork Urban Farms in Asheville is adding cold storage space to his multi-plot urban farm to improve the efficiency and marketability of his Community Supported Agriculture venture. He is renovating a root cellar to be a walk-in cooler for produce storage using CoolBot technology, which can transform a room cooled with an air conditioning unit into a cold storage facility.

"Being a multi-plot farm, the logistics of harvesting from multiple sites all in one day become difficult with a limited labor supply," Patel said. "With centralized cold storage, we will be able to harvest things while doing general farm work at sites rather than having to make special trips for harvest. Cold storage will also allow us to lengthen the available storage time between sales."

The walk-in cooler is at Pearson Garden, owned by Bountiful Cities Project, a non-profit organization that is incubating Patchwork. Patel farms a total of one acre, spread over 10 sites within Asheville. He aims to integrate growers, landowners, workers and neighborhoods into a viable food system.

Read more on the WNC AgOptions website.