Success Story: WNC AG Options Awards Grants to Farmers
Farm diversification remains a key element in sustaining family farms in rural WNC. Madison County, NC that once boasted over 2000 family farms supported by Burley tobacco, now has only 2 tobacco farms in operation. As a result, many farmers have transitioned into other commodities while many others are still searching for the appropriate commodity mix that best fits their operation. Similar statistics exist across the entire Burley tobacco growing section of WNC. NC Cooperative Extension led by Extension Agents in the West District partnered with WNC Communities to administer an annual mini-grant program called WNC Ag. Options. This program provides financial and educational resources to farmers trying alternative farming enterprises. The NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission is the sole funder of this program. A stringent application process is completed by every farm interested in the program. A team of 20 review members that are professionals in the agricultural arena review the applications and assign a numerical score. This score determines who is awarded the mini-grants. In February 2018 the WNC Agricultural Options program awarded 43 farm businesses grants totaling $229,000 to assist in farm diversification and expansion. Nine of the farm businesses received $3,000, one received $4000 and 33 received $6,000. Projects increase the economic sustainability of farm businesses as well as provide demonstration to other transitioning farmers.