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Listening Project:

Mountain Partners in Agriculture
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

2002 Organizational Description

Partners in Agriculture began in 1995 as a W.K. Kellogg Foundation funded project to: “Build partnerships among farmers, rural leaders, agribusinesses, agricultural organizatons and land grant universities. With support from this partnership, communities can begin to develop agricultural systems that benefit rural life by being both economically and environmentally sound. This is often called ‘sustainable’ agriculture.”

The partnership was a collaborative effort of the following organizations:

  • Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
  • Land Loss Prevention Project
  • Norht Carolina AT&T State University
  • North Carolina Coalition of Farm and Rural Families
  • North Carolina State University
  • Rural Advancement Foundation International
  • Rural Southern Voice for Peace

Four communities were selected as model sites to conduct this work. The primary contribution of Rural Southern Voice for Peace was to enable the four communities to conduct Listening Projects that revealed local citizen concerns, fears, hopes, ideas and priorities for sustainable agriculture.

Mountain Partners in Agriculture (MPIA) was one of the four sites and is recognized as a model of success.  MPIA is a western North Carolina community-based collaborative focused on sustaining farms and rural communities through an integrated action program of farmland protection, sustainable production and processing systems, and effective promotion through marketing and education programs. Mountain Partners in Agriculture is also involved with community-based policy development that intersects the program components.

The vision of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project is sustainable, community-based food and fiber systems throughout the mountains of western North Carolina. Local consumption of locally grown foods, produced with healthy practices is central to our mission.

Background and Context

Three main issues resulted from the Mountain Partners in Agriculture / Rural Southern Voice for Peace Listening Project interview survey conducted during late 1995 and early 1996. The most significant issue, according to the farmers and community residents interviewed, is the increased pressure on farms and farmland from the cyclic effects of sprawl and increased taxes. Those interviewed felt the best answer to this destructive cycle was an effective program of farmland protection and conservation. Recognizing the uncertain future of Burley tobacco production, local farmers also expressed concern over - finding alternative cash crops and increasing farm profitability. Finally, farmers voiced the need for adding value to farm commodities and were particularly enthusiastic about developing specialized markets.

These problems are clearly interrelated. Reduced production profitability heightens the effect of increased taxes and development pressures. The lack of adequate markets curtails the implementation of alternative crop production. These issues were further explored during numerous community meetings held during the winter of 1996/97. As a result of the initial survey response and continued community dialogue, the following four main goals evolved:

  1. Marketing Promotion
  2. Sustainable Production
  3. Farmland Protection
  4. Policy Development

The Rural Southern Voice for Peace Listening Project provided the foundation for successful program activity during the past five years. The issues areas identified have become the core action components of the ASAP work program.

On October 1, 1999 the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project was launched. This multi-year initiative is examining the current food production and distribution system, and is taking a proactive approach to developing and implementing policies and programs that will help create regional community-based sustainable agriculture and food systems. Our overall marketing and educational programs serve all of western North Carolina through collaboration with MAIN, NCCES, NCDA and projected collaboration with HandMade in America and Blue Ridge Mountain Host.


Events and Initiatives Sponsored and Numbers/Profiles Served

Farmland Protection- research, develop, and demonstrate methods of retaining productive farmland threatened by sprawl and rural growth.

  • The ASAP initiative is examining the problem of farmland loss and is developing policies and programs to address the issue.  MPIA, in collaboration with numerous supporting agencies and organizations, provided a forum for farmland preservation issues and practical techniques during the first western North Carolina conference on farmland preservation. This event took place in October of 1999. Over 100 participants, representing farming, planning, elected and public officials attended the conference.
  • ASAP has produced and is updating a regional guide booklet on farmland preservation techniques and methods. Over 250 copies have been distributed to farmers, rural landowners, extension agents, planners and elected officials.

Sustainable Production and Processing Systemsdevelop sustainable production and value-added processing systems; focused education, training, and mentoring programs.

  • Since 1998, Mountain Partners in Agriculture through the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project has provided financial, technical, and marketing support to 32 farming operations in the French Broad River basin of the mountains of Western North Carolina. ASAP has also provided support to the agriculture education program at Madison High School and to the Madison County Bee Keepers Association.  The ASAP Transition Program is demonstrating that through farmer-to-farmer mentoring, the experience and innovation of mountain growers, involvement of the local Cooperative Extension Service, the provision of small financial grants, technical assistance and support networking, sustainable and organic production is feasible and profitable and well-suited to the diversity of growing conditions in the mountains. ASAP has demonstrated that large-scale organic vegetable production is a practical option for burley tobacco producers transitioning into alternative farming systems.
  • Twelve of the ASAP Transition Program participants, including 8 burley tobacco growers, have become certified for organic vegetable, organic burley tobacco, and organic apple production; and have gained access to the expanding, organic market through membership in Carolina Organic Growers, Inc. (COG), a farmer-owned marketing cooperative. COG has also received technical, marketing and leadership support through ASAP.
  • ASAP conducted six field days during 2000 with about 20 farmer participants at each field day. Three farm field days during 2001 focused on organic tomato, organic broccoli and organic apple production and marketing, with over 100 area growers and extension agents attending. The organic tomato ASAP field day occurred on the farm of Don Smart, the current president of the Western North Carolina Tobacco Growers Association.  Don Smart is one of the largest burley tobacco growers in the state, and is the largest organic vegetable producer in western North Carolina.
  • ASAP is providing direct support for four demonstration farms for on-farm research and demonstration of sustainable practices.
  • ASAP, in cooperation with the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, the NC Cooperative Extension Service, and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, has developed the “Sustainable Mountain Farming Program”, a series of courses and workshops for new and experienced farmers interested in sustainable agriculture, organic certification and alternative production systems. The experience from this initiative will help develop appropriate sustainable farming programs at other community colleges in the region. These efforts are being coordinated with local high school agriculture education programs and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. Over 150 participants have been served by the Sustainable Mountain Farming Program.

Promotion - Marketing - provide direct marketing opportunities through the promotion of existing markets and establishment of new marketing opportunities and cooperative ventures.
ASAP is expanding and strengthening existing regional market opportunities through:

Carolina Organic Growers Marketing Cooperative (COG).  Based in Asheville, Carolina Organic Growers is a marketing cooperative owned by 35 farmers (a third of the certified organic growers in North Carolina). COG has been instrumental in the success of the MPIA sustainable transition program by providing steady and expanding market opportunities for new growers. In addition, members have played a key role in providing technical assistance and mentoring new growers. Two of the MPIA producers became primary contributors to COG commodity offerings and have recently joined the COG Board. The ASAP project will continue to support COG through the funding of critical needs relating to new member recruitment/training and market expansion.

“Get Fresh – Buy Appalachian”. ASAP has developed a buy local food campaign with a focus on institutional and retail markets

  • Appalachian Harvests 2000, October 25 at the Grove Park Inn, presented ASAP to the community, over 550 people attended.

MPIA convened a regional round table on marketing at Appalachian Harvests. NC Dept. of Agriculture representatives, NC Cooperative Extension Service agents, area grocery store produce managers, and farmers participated. A total of 20 participated.

  • ASAP is assisting in the development of 5 county-scale tailgate markets in Madison, Buncombe and Henderson Counties.
  • The ASAP web site has been developed and has been featured by the Mountain Area Information Network approximately 2-3 times per month. ASAP is linking “Get Fresh” efforts with MAIN’s Blue Ridge web marketing efforts and is receiving volunteer and technical assistance from MAIN. The ASAP web site has the most comprehensive description of tailgate markets in WNC and highlights ASAP and other sustainable agriculture events and initiatives. There are 800 monthly web site visits/ 2000 pages viewed.
  • ASAP was selected as the September 2001 “Friend of Earth Fare”. As the Friend of Earth Fare and in celebration of National Organic Month, ASAP coordinated 2 major gourmet food-tasting events at Earth Fare. Organic meals were prepared by professional chefs with assistance from culinary arts students from A-B Tech. Over 250 meals were served and many more people dropped by to talk and listen to the ASAP “Get Fresh” message and the musical entertainment.
  • Ten restaurants, including Grove Park Inn and The Biltmore Estate complex, are participating in the Get Fresh campaign.
  • Grocery stores participating in the ASAP Get Fresh (buy local food) campaign include: French Broad Food Cooperative, Earth Fare, Trout Lily Market and Fresh Market. Negotiations are currently in process with Harris Teeter and Ingles.

Mountain Partners in Agriculture has convened and coordinated four roundtable meetings with representatives from regional organizations in western NC to explore collaborative efforts regarding rural sustainability. The most recent meeting included 8 WNC recipients of Golden LEAF, Inc. receiving support for 2001 and a total of 24 representatives of  21 regional organizations.

Approximately two dozen newspaper articles, editorial columns and information notices have appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times,
Hendersonville Times-News, and the Mountain Xpress during 2000-2001. Electronic versions have been featured on the ASAP and
MAIN web sites. WLOS television covered Appalachian Harvests and conducted several on farm interviews.

Policy Development - create policies supportive of sustainable farming, local marketing, and farmland protection initiatives.
MPIA organized and initiated a community-based process for developing appropriate policy initiatives to eliminate barriers to, and create opportunities for, sustainable agriculture. Activities on this four-year initiative began in 1998. ASAP participated in the February 2001 workshop sponsored by the Henry A. Wallace Center’s Agriculture Policy Project, funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, which released it final recommendations in May 2001 and which are expected to have a direct bearing on the 2002 Farm Bill.

Information about Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project: www.asapconnections.org.

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