Western North Carolina is a special place for agriculture. We have a unique geography that works for a variety of specialty crops and livestock, a proud agricultural heritage and a market that eagerly supports a local food economy. In response to — and to encourage — this industry, there is a wealth of local resources. Here are a few that have been helpful to the farm businesses that work with Mountain BizWorks.
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and FromHere.org: ASAP connects local farmers with marketing and grant opportunities, and hosts FromHere.org, a community website that lists calendar events and free classifieds. (Go to www.asapconnections.org.)
Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training and Apprentice Link: These are both Organic Growers School programs. CRAFT provides year-round training for farmers and their interns, such as on-farm training and networking, farm tours and a resource handbook. Apprentice Link helps folks interested in starting a farm by helping them find a local farm where they can work and learn for the season; it also helps experienced farmers find farm help and networking opportunities. (Go to http://farmers.organicgrowersschool.org.)
North Carolina Cooperative Extension: A partnership between county, state, federal government and universities, the extension service offers numerous programs implemented by county field faculty and supported by university-based specialists. Agents educate the public through meetings and workshops, field days, personal consultations, Web and videoconferencing. They also provide publications, newsletters, social media interaction, videos and other educational materials. (Go to www.ces.ncsu.edu.)
Blue Ridge Food Ventures: This 11,000-square-foot, shared-use kitchen incubator and natural-products manufacturing facility offers support in product development, guidance through the maze of regulations governing safe production of food products and dietary supplements, advice on packaging and label design, and much more. Enter their new contest — The Big Tasty (deadline Monday, Oct. 15) — with prizes worth $10,000 in cash and services to help you make it to market! (Go to the advantagewest.com page at http://avl.mx/k2.)
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: This organization provides free access to online annual reports and publications with topics such as the Farm Bill, Conservation, Local and Regional Food Systems, Food Safety, and more. The latest addition is the “Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding.” (Go the “Publications” tab at http://sustainableagriculture.net, or http://avl.mx/k3.)
ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: ATTRA is a program developed and managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology, which provides technical assistance through its website, publications and other media, addressing current topics in sustainable agriculture. Program specialists are available for specific technical questions and support. (Go to https://attra.ncat.org.)
The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook: Author Richard Wiswall shares advice on how to make your vegetable production more efficient, better manage your employees and finances, and turn a profit. (Available at http://www.malaprops.com.)
Ashley Epling is a program manager and business developer at Mountain BizWorks. To learn more about Mountain BizWorks’ services for food producers and other rural enterprises — including loans, classes and coaching — contact Ashley at (828) 253-2834, ext. 27, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mountain BizWorks supports small businesses in Western North Carolina through lending, consulting and training. For more information, visit mountainbizworks.org.