Category Archives: Farmer Profile

WNC Ag Options

Congratulations are due for two Polk County farmers for grants received from the WNC Ag Options program.

First is Chauncey Barber, our esteemed ag teacher at the high school:

Secondly, is Steve Modlin of Old Mule Farm

Way to go!


It was a delight to visit Mike Odle, Vegetable Farm Manager at CooperRiis. The facility, located minutes away from the Mill Spring Ag. Center, is a healing community for individuals coping with substance abuse and mental illness.

“We offer a teaser of what farming could be,” Mike said. Mike joined the farm over five years ago, and his primary task is to make farm work accessible and engaging for the residents. Even though residents come to the farm with little experience, “it’s interesting to see people engage and what gets people going in that direction,” Mike says. Some residents ultimately leave wanting to pursue farming.

Mike implemented systems that help him direct work more easily. He color-codes beds, for example, sending people to the purple field or red field. He also thinks of the aesthetics, planting attractive perennials around the borders of the fields, and of the overall organization of farm activities.

“How do you get people funneled into growing and not distracted,” he asks. Improving upon basic tasks adds to what Mike calls the “flow” of farming. “We need to wash vegetables,” Mike says, “so how can we make that basic function better? That flow can equal thousands of pounds of something if you get it right and people fold into it.”

I was most impressed by the use of a farm in an institutional setting. There are many large institutions with the land for a campus farm, such as churches, schools, hospitals, continued care facilities, and factories. CooperRiis demonstrates that farming can be beneficial and therapeutic for both employees and residents of such institutions.