Welcome! This site contains work samples, client information and business philosophy of Megan Riley, owner of M R et cetera, LLC. If you're looking for M R Gardens, our edible landscaping, garden coaching and plant nursery business, see www.mrgardens.net.

Change—Uncovering the next direction

Megan Riley, Owner of M R et cetera LLC, touches on upcoming changes—to her business and possibly all businesses.

It's the winter/spring of 2018 at the time of writing this article, and I’m helping the WNC AgOptions coordinator transition away from using M R et cetera services to produce the program’s mini-web articles and press releases. We’re discussing a new schedule so that the AgOptions website keeps its quality without M R et cetera's extra support during the program’s busy season. Since 2008, I’ve written descriptions of the awarded projects, as listed here for 2017 grantees. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, especially because I got to know about the innovations in farming in western North Carolina. However, other parts of my business have grown to the point that they need my focus.

It breaks my heart to part ways when the coordinator reminds me how valuable my services have been—she uses segments of the articles not only in media relations throughout the year, but also in reporting to the funder. The recipients’ farms also get an extra PR boost, and other farmers can learn about new farming methods and strategies by reading the website. I truly believe in the importance of mission-driven organizations telling their story in a compelling, clear way, so I am leaving the option open to return to this kind of work in the future.
M R Gardens passive solar greenhouse
The majority of my communications work for the last seven years has been for M R Gardens. That includes press releases that led to articles in the Asheville Citizen Times, Laurel of Asheville and Mountain Xpress online and in the print edition. I also wrote a series of articles for WNC Woman Magazine about edible landscaping, as well as secured a loan with Natural Capital Investment Fund with a business plan that I compiled. On top of designing landscapes, garden coaching and operating the plant nursery, I’ve also been maintaining the website, eNewsletters, online store; working with graphic designers to produce signs, brochures and flyers; and trying to keep at least some social media presence. (Most M R Gardens customers are not frequent social media users and find us via old-fashioned road signs). I think the communications has helped the business create a firm foundation in the community, and could go many directions based on this footing.

Unexpectedly, another business idea—outside the realm of M R Gardens but vaguely related—has formed. InnerSynastry: Harmonics of the soul—which helps in balancing all aspects of ourselves through sounds of the celestial cycles. As I explored astrology as a hobby, I discovered I have a unique ability to help people untie metaphorical knots in their inner selves by playing recordings of planet frequencies. This may seem completely out in left field (unless you spend a lot of time with me and you realize I’m out in left field a lot, even if I always get back to home base before I actually swing the bat). Funny enough, it’s right in line with what I’ve been thinking ever since I decided to expand my services to mission-driven (or in the M R style, “Mission Rich”) businesses rather than just non-profits.

This conversation is a long one, which I do hope to write about someday, but I’ll start here: I suspect that the personality traits that currently lead to success will soon be changing, and are already changing for some of us in a big way. It’s important that leaders in the community, even business leaders, be more in touch with their intuitive and receptive side, without detracting from their active and driven side. They have a perfect balance between humility and confidence, as well as self-preservation and compassion for the needs of the collective. As a result, we often need to uncover parts of ourselves that have long been buried as a result of them not being suitably respected in our culture, and that often means going through a pretty deep healing process. If we don’t initiate the transformation, then often an event happens so that we’re forced to.

An astrological sound session is just one method of many for those on a healing journey, but a very intriguing and unique one. There seems to be something here, so I’m exploring it. My hope is that if we're proactive in exploring the inner realm through sound—praying for "grace and ease" while we do—then life will deliver us less jarring upsets to teach us the lessons that we need to learn. 

The M R et cetera website (which I've taken offline until I have time to rethink it, but here's the former home page) stayed pretty much the same since we established it in 2010, even though my thoughts about turning ideas into reality have been evolving. (We completed it just when static websites created with Dreamweaver started going out of style, and websites that can more easily be changed by the user were just becoming popular.) I listed on the “Ideas to Action” page the structures clients need to have to see projects come to fruit. On that list were a "proper structure, thoughtful management, the right players, a realistic timeline, thorough records and reports," among other components. That was based on my experience with helping organizations with firm footing in the previous years.

I do still feel these structures are important to mature (or even adolescent) organizations. However, until I started M R Gardens, I did not realize that there is a whole other aspect to a start-up business, especially one that is future-oriented and dependent on creating value for a customer base that is only just emerging. Sometimes you have to go with your gut and follow your intuition, taking step by step without the full picture of how it's going to work realistically. That may not be a good approach if you’re investing a lot of money, but it could be if you’re starting small and the work you’re doing adds value to your life in ways other than monetary. In our changing climate, businesses are forming that first started as hobbies but are now valued enough by a large enough audience that they can integrate into society.

Again, this is only just the beginning of the conversation. I could go on, and will someday, once I am certain that my insights are indeed aligned with our current reality. But if any of what I’ve said here rings true to your experience at all, and you’re trying to get something off the ground but are finding old methods of business aren’t well suited for you, I hope you’ll check out InnerSynastry, and just see where it takes you. There may be aspects of yourself that need attention so a new balanced self can emerge.

EVENT: InnerSynastry—Harmonics of the soul

NOTE POST-EVENT: You can still try out InnerSynastry in individual or group sessions. See www.innersynastry.com

Asheville Sound Healing Meditation Series at UNC-Asheville presents:

InnerSynastry: Harmonics of the soul
Balancing all aspects of self with sounds of the celestial cycles
With Megan Riley

Thursday, February 15
3:30 to 5:00 p.m.
UNCA-Sherrill Center Health and Wellness Department
Room 468

Download the flyer here.

Event is free to UNCA campus community and open to general public with donation. Please RSVP to info@wncmretc.com or 828.333.4151 by February 14. For maximum benefit, a personalized service for $15 is highly recommended. Please see below.

Our aim is balance on this rather intense day of a solar eclipse in Aquarius—at the very opposite degree of the “Great American Eclipse” in Leo last August. So if you felt a shift in your life back then, this Aquarian eclipse may be related. It’s about making sure the passions of our hearts are aligned with society’s needs, and is a prime time to gain insights about new structures and systems for the benefit of all.

We’ll listen to sounds associated with key planets that are affected by the eclipse. Using the law of octave, mathematicians have determined frequencies for each of the planets. It is possible to convert the whole solar system into sound based on an equation that uses the elliptical orbits of planets. Megan has discovered that she can play these planet frequencies, in varying volumes and combinations depending on what is going on in the sky now and at the time of the person’s birth, to help bring balance to the person’s life.

All you do is sit in complete receptivity, with attention on your breath while Megan DJs the sounds. At the minimum, participants report calming sensations and a meditative experience that is deeper, visual and less filled with mental chatter than when sitting alone. At the most, they experience major positive changes in their lives or deep purges soon following sessions. Still others gain valuable insight in their next direction in life. Each person’s reaction is very unique, but the aim is increased balance. Considering no other astrologer or sound healer (that we know of) is using these frequencies in such a unique combination, InnerSynastry is indeed experimental but at the very least intriguing.

Megan draws on five years of study in astrology, as well as her experience as the owner of a plant nursery—caring for thousands of babies, each with their unique needs; and making slight adjustments to their environment based on their feedback. That is essentially what she is doing with InnerSynastry—adjusting conditions ever so subtly so that people can grow to their full potential.

This event is sponsored by UNCA Health and Wellness Department and Ashevillesoundhealing.com.

Personalized service for Feb. 15 event

We've found that in group settings participants have varying reactions based on their relationships with the planets, which we can discuss if we have your birth chart. This service also helps ensure that the experience is as comfortable as possible for your unique disposition.

Please send to info@wncmretc.com your birth information (date, time, and place you were born) so we can discuss why the sounds of the planets have a unique effect on you. Go to our online store to contribute $15 for this personalized service.

What does InnerSynastry mean?

Synastry is a chart that astrologers create to explain the dynamics between two people with the aim of helping them understand each other to become better companions. InnerSynastry is about becoming better companions with ourselves.

On a deeper level, as we become more and more aware that we are all intimately connected subconsciously, to say that any of us have a birth chart that is separate from others is only half the truth. When we harmonize our own inner dynamics, we are in fact working on our synastry, i.e. our relationships, with all who surround us.

Astrology is simply a language for describing the seasons in an extremely complex and in-depth way, well beyond spring, summer, fall and winter. In gaining a feel for the “seasons” we were born in as well as the ones we’re currently in, we can better understand ourselves as well as find more grace and ease. With the use of sound, InnerSynastry can be useful to all types of people, regardless if they resonate with astrology. The point of this work is to help clients transition to a society that favors balance, equity and harmony.

Megan also offers individual sessions in person if you're in the Asheville area or via video if not. Contact info@wncmretc.com or 828.333.4151 to inquire about scheduling an appointment. We're currently offering a special of 3 sessions for $75.

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.

Lessons from WNC farmers

Megan Riley, Owner of M R et cetera LLC, reflects on a driving force behind her mission-driven business, M R Gardens.
Since 2008, I have been involved 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.
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.  

On a mission

... to learn about mission-driven businesses

Megan Riley, Owner of M R et cetera, summarizes her research into social entrepreneurship—business for the common good.

When I heard the words "as you climb the corporate ladder" from my professor's lips this past summer, I had to smile. I looked around the classroom at the MBA students thinking, how in the world did I end up here?
Graphic by Johann Dréo
If you would have told me 10 years ago that I'd be sitting in an MBA class one day, I never would have believed you. In 2002, as a graduate student of an environmental education program, I was becoming aware of corporations' impacts on the planet and human health. I was starting to become a conscious consumer—buying products that positively impact ecosystems and avoiding businesses with unethical practices. I wouldn't have expected to ever be learning how to work for corporations. Yet that's what I was doing this past summer.
Like many good things in life, I did not seek this. Business—an emerging form of it—found me.


In the last few years, I've been surrounded by business owners who are trying to align profit with public good. Many of the WNC AgOptions recipients I worked with are improving the land, producing healthy food, and improving animal welfare, all the while trying to build successful businesses. Also, whether I am in North Carolina, Ohio, New York or the UK, I find myself in brainstorming sessions with friends, family and other colleagues who want to make a living by using their talents and passions for the common good.
     In part inspired by them, I'm adding mission-driven businesses to the clientele of M R et cetera, which has primarily served non-profit organizations in the past. I'm realizing that if society is to make significant and holistic changes, our entire economy needs to center around sustainability and health. Philanthropy, while an important piece of the picture, will only get us so far. Our visions of sustainability—where we are stewards of the Earth so that future generations have resources to sustain them—won't be complete unless everyone is earning an income in ways that betters communities and ecosystems.
But I have a few questions. Is it possible to live a healthy, balanced life while also running a business? Is it possible to live values of compassion and collaboration while operating in the competitive, aggressive business environment? Are traditional business models suited to address sustainability, so that our lifestyles encourage life rather than destroy it?

Back to school

Graphic by Ramblersen
This summer, I took advantage of an educational opportunity to see if I could find answers to my questions. An AmeriCorps allotment that I earned volunteering for the program in 2004 would expire this year if I didn't use it to pay for university-level classes. I had a difficult time narrowing down exactly which classes I wanted to take, so when I finally signed up, I found myself enrolled in four different universities.
Among my 12 classes this year—"Introduction to Entrepreneurship" with University of North Carolina at Asheville as well as "Business Sustainability in a Global Economy" through the MBA program at Appalachian State University. Both classes scrunched a semester's worth of material into five-week summer sessions—so we covered a lot in a short period of time.

2012 WNC AgOptions recipients

Recipients trying new production techniques, reaching consumers directly, and preserving multi-generational farms.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, January 26, 2012

MILLS RIVER, N.C. — Three farm groups and 23 farmers throughout Western North Carolina were awarded $150,000 in WNC Agricultural Options grants to increase profitability of their diverse farms. They celebrated Wednesday, January 25 at an event at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River.

The 2012 recipients are expanding the delivery of healthy vegetables, poultry and meat directly to consumers, demonstrating the viability of medicinal plants and other alternative crops, and experimenting with products such as tilapia, Kalura romaine lettuce and a unique hybrid hazelnut. The grants help sustain such historic farms as a third generation dairy farm in Marion that has sold milk since 1927 and a Haywood County trout farm founded in 1948.

"Western North Carolina is one of the most diverse agriculture regions in the United States," said Ross Young, Madison County Extension Director and WNC AgOptions steering committee leader. "The WNC AgOptions program has served this region for eight years, contributing to the success and sustainability of agriculture as a leading economic industry."

The grant program has been funded exclusively by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission since 2003. "The Commission is very pleased to fund and support the WNC AgOptions program for another year," said Bill Teague, Chairman of the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. "We expect to see some unique projects, because WNC farmers have shown they are resourceful, innovative and committed to making their farms successful."

The three community groups each received $8,000:
  •  The Jackson County Farmer's Market in Sylva will open a community commercial kitchen for farmers to process, preserve and package foods. Classes in cooking, nutrition and food safety and sanitation will also be offered at the venue;
  •  The Appalachian Botanical Alliance, which aims to demonstrate the viability of medicinal herbs as an alternative crop, will research the quality of locally grown medicinal plants and construct a climate-controlled warehouse and packaging space for growers;
  •  The Independent Small Animal Meat Producers Association will advance the opening of the Foothills Pilot Plant in Marion by supplementing labor and supplies. The plant will process poultry and rabbits for farmers, providing them with a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection stamp that will allow them to reach new markets.
Four individual farm businesses each received $3,000 and 19 received $6,000. This year's recipients will:
  •  Partner with farmers and food producers throughout the region to create a distribution system for weekly boxes of vegetables and local food products to cooperative members;
  •  Manufacture fresh cheese spreads as a means of diversifying a 3rd generation dairy farm directly across from Linville Caverns, which is the only dairy farm left in the valley north of Marion;
  •  Establish a nut tree orchard in a county where no commercial nut orchards exist;
  •  Create a greenhouse aquaponics system for symbiotic leafy greens and tilapia fish production;
  •  Construct a greenhouse for hydroponic strawberry growing;
  •  Expand the production of an uncommon romaine, Kalura, that is outstanding in all attributes—size, rapid growth, heat tolerance and shelf life;
  •  Grow one acre of yellow onions on land that has been in tobacco since 1890;
  •  Construct an on-site meat processing and storage facility to better meet customer demand for pork, chickens, rabbits and turkeys;
  •  Establish a mobile pollination trailer to transport bees to farms in the Western North Carolina region to help successfully pollinate crops while also producing honey and other bee products;
  •  Improve water quality of rainbow trout ponds with the purchase of an ozone generator, resulting in increased production to satisfy high demand;
  •  Practice Managed Intensive Grazing, a method of rotating cattle and maintaining grass pastures for optimal health of the soil, plants and animals;
  •  Enhance a farm's capacity to respond to online ordering for home delivery of meats, chickens and vegetables.
Read more.

WNC farmers featured in 2012 calendars

Proceeds benefit program that aids mountain region's diversifying farmers

ASHEVILLE — The photographs and stories of more than fifty Western North Carolina farms are featured in a 2012 wall calendar that can be purchased at select Asheville stores and some N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers in the region.

Each year, WNC Agricultural Options produces a calendar highlighting grant recipients who received support from the program, which assists farmers who are diversifying or expanding their operations. The calendars celebrate the diversity of mountain farms, build a sense of pride among recipients and educate other farmers about potential ventures.

"The calendar has been a great tradition of ours, and we always receive such a nice response from just about every person who looks at one," said Project Manager Jen Ferre. "It gives people an inside look at interesting farm projects in beautiful, hidden-away areas of our region."

This year, WNC AgOptions leaders are distributing the calendar widely to the public for the first time
as a way to expand the number of people reached, as well as capture much-needed funds in a tight budget year. To continue to offer educational materials such as the calendar, the program is raising funds for production costs.

The calendars are currently available at the French Broad Food Co-op, The Fresh Quarter Produce in the Grove Arcade, and Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe. Call (828) 649-2411 for a list of Cooperative Extension Centers that are carrying the calendars.

The 2012 calendar features such unique projects as microgreens, canned bamboo shoots, goats used to clear invasive vegetation, and Black Perigord and Burgundy truffles. It also celebrates the mountain region's long-time traditional products such as Christmas trees, milk, berries, honey and beef. One Cherokee Indian Reservation grower expanded her crawfish pools and sold canned and frozen wild greens, all traditional Cherokee foods.

"The calendar is an important reference in our changing agricultural economy," Ferre said. "We are delighted to have a practical and attractive way to share the stories of innovative, creative, hard-working farmers."

The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has exclusively funded WNC AgOptions since 2003. In partnership with the West District of N.C. Cooperative Extension, the RAFI-USA Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund managed the farmer grants in 2011. WNC Communities will administer the program in 2012.

For more information about the program and partners, see the following: WNC Agricultural Options: www.wncagoptions.org; N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers: www.ces.ncsu.edu; N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission: www.tobaccotrustfund.org; WNC Communities: www.wnccommunities.org; Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund, RAFI-USA: www.ncfarmgrants.org.

Studio Zahiya: A business that changes lives

Megan Riley, Owner of M R et cetera, shares her experience writing for dance instructor Lisa Zahiya.

Dancers can never really see themselves dance. Sure, they can look in the mirror or watch themselves on videotape. Some dancers can even feel energy exchanged between themselves and the audience so they are clued in to what the audience is feeling. But ultimately, dancers will never know what it's like to be in their own presence. A good dance performance involves a kinesthetic and emotional involvement that a videotape or a mirror cannot fully capture.

The same can be said for well-run mission-driven businesses. The owners are often standing too close to the mirror to be able to assess and articulate the multifold impacts they are making on the community. Furthermore, small business owners who are their own marketing directors can feel awkward bragging about themselves. Busy with the work of their businesses, they have limited time to fully articulate their contributions to people's lives.

I approached dance instructor and studio owner Lisa Zahiya to help her with her marketing, but not because she needed advertising assistance. She's a natural social networker with a circle of 2,000+ online followers and a talented graphic designer with beautiful promotional materials.

However, after a couple of years of taking Lisa's dance classes, I realized that so much more was happening in her classes than dance instruction. I recognized what a special person she is and what an impact she is making on many lives. As people become increasingly fed up with unscrupulous business practices, the base of customers who are attracted to such community-minded businesses is growing rapidly. I told her she might benefit by articulating the impacts of her business in her marketing materials.

Photo courtesy of A Portrait of You.
So she agreed to let me interview her dance students and write profiles about their experiences.  The dancer's stories confirmed that Studio Zahiya is a mission-driven business with numerous positive impacts. Lisa's commitment to a non-competitive class environment, her excellent teaching abilities and her sense of humor and thoughtfulness supported many women through powerful transformations. 

  • Therapeutic Benefits of Dance
  • Improvements in Body Image & Self Confidence
  • A Fun Education – in Dance and Culture
  • Community and Family Connections
  • Inspiration