Category Archives: FOA Breakfast Series

The What and Why of Agritourism

This month’s Friends of Agriculture Breakfast featured a presentation by Annie Baggett, the Agritourism Marketing Specialist for the N. C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.  This blog will touch on the benefits of agritourism that were discussed, as well as some tips for starting your own tourism venture on the farm.

Agritourism is defined as:

“Any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, or natural activities and attractions. An activity is an Agritourism activity whether or not the participant paid to participate in the activity.”

-NC General Assembly 2005

 

The Benefits of Agritourism:

Below are some graphs illustrating some of the many benefits provided by agritourism .  These graphs were part of a study from NC State, assessing the benefits of agritourism for both farmers and vistors to the farm.overalleconomic_benefits

10703581_778405158867681_6709118970483886343_n

socio_cultura

As you can see, allowing visitors to your farm has numerous economic, environmental, and sociocultural benefits.

Agritourism allows farm ventures to…

1) Be Profitable:

  • Farmers can even out their revenue stream
  • Maximize farm resources
  • Create post harvest revenue
  • Diminish the impact of catastrophic events (droughts, floods, crop failure, etc.)

2) Provide Education for the Public on the Benefits of Agriculture, and in turn:

  • Increase direct sales
  • Gain new customers
  • Enhance service to existing customers
  • Show the value of the farm product, so customers understand pricing

3) Preserve Family Farms and Way of Life

4) Create Future Farmers

5) Build Community Vibrancy

 

Maybe you are a farmer, and you’re wondering…where do I start???

First consider what you have and who you know!

  • What grows on your farm that could be made into a tourism activity??  Do you have livestock?  Berries for picking?  Value added product you make on site?  Do you have an old barn that could be used as a venue for special events?? etc.
  • What makes your farm special??  Maybe you are the only farmer producing….heirloom squash?  Or maybe your farm has an old barn that has a unique family history?? for example.  Outlining the key things your farm provides and what sets you apart is a great first step.
  • Did you know that there is a Polk County Farm Tour you can take part in??  ASAP also hosts a farm tour each year.  Look around at all the possibilities to advertise your farm and your product.

Next be sure to look at the safety of your farm.

  • Make sure that there are no considerable safety issues on site.
  • Make signs for electric fencing, fill large holes, etc.
  • If you have any concerns, your insurance agent can help answer questions.

Consider a Marketing Strategy

  • Think about a way to brand your farm or your farm product
  • Take pictures of the farm
  • Think about yourself as the face of the farm, and how you want to portray your venture.

got

North Carolina has a statewide campaign and it offers many free advertising services to farmers across the state!!

Here are some ways to advertise your farm to the 7 million tourists visiting NC Welcome Centers annually:

  • Join the Got To Be NC website for free!  You get to create your own webpage to advertise your farm.  For more information visit:  http://www.ncagr.gov/NCproducts/CatSubDirectory.asp?CatNum=1011
  • Your farm can potentially be advertised at the Raleigh and Mountain State Fairs, the Southern Farm Show, or the Got to Be NC Festival
  • Regionally a few programs are being developed for 2015:
    • Passport programs (specifically for distilleries across the state)
    • A food preservation program

 I hope this was helpful.

Get out there and show people the hard work you put into providing food for our community!!

Relocalizing Food for Resiliency (Pt. 3)

“If you’re going to change a community, start with food, it transcends all ideologies” -Chuck Marsh

Above is a picture of Geneva, Switzerland.  The country began a program of “foodscaping”  to provide families with low-cost healthy produce from their own back yards.  Growing food provides not only food, but it is therapy, and there is a lot of research to back that up.

When a garden is brought into a home it increases fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and overall health.

Home garden promotion is just one step in a multidimensional process of relocalizing our food system.

This blog is the final post of a 3-part series covering our December Friends of Agriculture Breakfast, and will conclude with a discussion on the actual process and steps needed to relocalize the food system in Polk County.

foodscales

 The first step is to begin in the garden.

As you can see above, a food system has multiple scales, and each will require tweaking as the process continues.  Once home gardens become established you can move to neighborhoods, the town, the county, the region, the state, etc.

Some ideas could be:  Establishing small orchards in neighborhoods, planting fruit trees in town centers, or planting 1/4 acre plots at schools, hospitals, retirement homes, etc.  for in-house use and education.  The list can go on and on.

The trick is to model the food system after ecosystems by designing for:

  • Adaptability
  • Interdependence
  • Cooperation and mutual support
  • Diversity
  • Redundancy
  • Stability
  • Energy Conservation

Neighborhoods and homes could establish small-scale vineyards, orchards, herb gardens, vegetable gardens, small livestock shelters, and maybe even aquaculture.

It is very exciting to think the changes that could occur within our community if our food-system were to be rebuilt.  This of course will require re-skilling residents on growing food as well as cooking.  Thirty-five percent of Americans don’t even own a frying pan!

The trick is to understand that relocalizing food will not occur overnight and will require trial-and-error.  Failure is to be expected, but should not be a hindrance to progress.  Polk County will be working towards this in the upcoming years, so keep an eye out, exciting things to come.

As Chuck said:

“Have fun.  Savor the journey toward an abundant future.”

Relocalizing Food for Resiliency (Pt. 2)

The last blog emphasized that despite grocery stores shelves being packed full of products, and millions of dollars being distributed for food assistance programs, our world is actually quite food insecure.   Limited access to nutritious, affordable food is leading to rampant health problems and decreasing our societal knowledge of where food comes from.   The first step is acknowledging the fact that food insecurity is a real problem for Polk County, as discussed in part one.  This blog is part two of our series, and will discuss how we assess what we need in order to “relocalize” our food system.

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”
Joel Salatin

Just as Joel Salatin emphasizes above, it is clear that we must begin to address food system issues from the ground-up, rather than depending on outside agencies to be the fix-all solution.  In order to begin building a resilient local food system, we must first understand what our nutritional needs as humans are.  Then we must address the nutritional gaps in our local food supply and how to fill these at various scales within the community.

As humans we need: about 2,300 calories a day in the form of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; additionally we need vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and medicinal plants for healing.  All of these nutritional needs come from vegetables, herbs and spices, root crops, grains, animals and animal products, oils, nuts, fruits, berries, mushrooms, and products made from the above.  In order to build a resilient system, we must grow all of the above, and also produce value-added products.  That seems like a lot to tackle!  But if addressed at various production scales, it is actually quite feasible if the community is willing.

The first step is to identify regional staples that can be reliably produced in large quantities each year.

One example in Polk County would be sweet potatoes, or apples.  Next you ask:

  • “How many pounds of apples, sweet potatoes, ________, do Polk County residents consume in a year?”
  • “How many pounds do we currently produce…How many pounds are imported?”
  • “How can we increase local production to meet demand?”
  •  “How can we make these local products accessible in all markets?”

Other regional staples for Western NC include: potatoes, onions, beans, corn, pumpkin and squash, cabbage and greens, eggs, fruit, nuts, berries, wild plants and game, and small and large livestock.  Establishing a steady supply of products that are easily grown in your region is a first step towards stabilizing the food system.

 After we establish regional staples, we must look at growing the most nutrient dense foods.

The trick is to grow things that provide the most nutrition per square foot of production.  Some examples include: Cranberries, which are high in nutrient content and used to be native to NC, muscadines and paw paw which both provide cancer fighting potential and grow wild in our region.

We must also consider growing grains such as millet, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.  Additionally nuts have lots of potential to provide economic support to farmers, since now a large percentage of nuts produced in California are being shipped to Asia (70% of almonds are being shipped!).  Locally we can produce almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and pecans.  Seeds are also nutrient powerhouses and flax, sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds could all be produced locally.

In terms of fats we must be able to produce oil and also obtain some from animal products.  Grapeseed oil has great potential in our region where viticulture provides grape skin waste that could be processed into oil.  Oil presses are not a high-cost equipment, and could be used on a co-op scale.  Other important nutrient powerhouses we can produce locally are mushrooms, herbs, goat’s milk and cheeses, as well poultry and eggs.

It is also important to grow Antioxidant Super Foods

Elderberry is a great example of a product that is native to this region and also possesses many medicinal properties.  Muscadine grapes, as mentioned above, are also a great source of antioxidants, boasting a higher antioxidant content that blueberries!  Vegetables such as kale, asparagus, red peppers, red cabbage, beets, etc. are also so called “super foods.”

 Muscadines Black

 

One we establish what we need to grow, it is important to understand how  we can grow enough food to support our community.  To do this we must:

Identify and plug local nutritional food gaps.

Chuck Marsh stated that the two hardest nutrients to provide at a local scale will be oils and minerals.  Mountain soils are old and typically lack many minerals, but can be re-mineralized with proper soil management techniques.  Oils on the other hand will require large scale supply of products, as well as the machinery to process and package.  Typically grain is grown in the cereal belt, but in order to address food security, we must promote grain farming for human consumption.  Finally non-grain staples and value-added products will be needed, which opens up the opportunity for local economic development and diversification.

The whole goal is to cut out the intermediaries who, by shipping the food 1000’s of miles, and spending large amounts of money on advertising, distort the true cost of food while also depleting the health of citizens.  By cutting out the middle-man we can provide great nutrients per dollar and rebuild our local economies.

This will not be an overnight change, nor will it come without its challenges  One insight I gained from the discussion is that we cannot learn or grow without challenges.  Challenge builds character and inner strength.  Working as a community to address food security will not only improve the physical health of citizens, but may also promote emotional and spiritual well being.  The final blog will discuss how we can begin to work towards filling the gaps in our system.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time…

Relocalizing food for Resiliency (pt. 1)

This month we were fortunate enough to have a presentation by Chuck Marsh at our monthly Friends of Agriculture Breakfast.  Chuck is the founder of Useful Plants Nursery and is the senior partner in Living Systems Design, a permaculture and restorative land design consultancy.  Chuck is currently working with Groundswell International to develop local initiatives to address rural childhood poverty and malnutrition through permaculture based garden projects.

At the breakfast we discussed how to rebuild community resiliency and nutrition through local food projects.  Because we covered so much, this blog will be broken into three separate posts.  First, we will cover food security issues on a global, statewide, and regional scale.  Next we will discuss key ingredients needed to develop a regionally “resilient” food system.  We will conclude with a discussion on how our county can begin to address food insecurity and build a resilient local food network.

Chuck began by stating there is a…

“critical need for local and regional food system design strategies to address the challenges we face from a fragile, risky, even dangerous corporatized modern food system”

A resilient food system is one that has the “ability to thrive and respond effectively to change.”  Our diet today consists of foods that travel on average 1500 miles, often being picked 7 days before even arriving at the store.  If shipments are hindered, our grocery stores only hold enough food to support a community for 3 days!  That itself is quite alarming, but doesn’t even touch on the issues we now face with health and access.

Food Insecure:

“lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food”

Globally, food security faces many challenges.  For one, there is global competition for fuel, a resource that is unpredictable in its cost and availability for the future.  Additionally there is declining soil quality and productivity, increasing food and transportation costs, climate instability, reduced food diversity (increasing food vulnerability), and declining nutrient content of available foods.  Food grown in depleted soils and shipped long distances loses many of the valuable vitamins and minerals our bodies need.

Nationally, North Carolina was rated the 1st in local food insecurity in the USA, sourcing less than 5% of our food products locally.   One in four kids face hunger issues in NC, and one in three children are obese.  With our state’s strong agricultural heritage there is no reason for our communities to be malnourished or hungry.

On a regional level, food insecurity in Western North Carolina has some alarming statistics.

Based upon the 2011 Gallup Survey on Food Insecurity in 100 US Metropolitan areas, the Asheville Metropolitan Area  was the 7th worst in the nation in 2010.  In 2011 this area was rated the 3rd worst!  One in five people in Western North Carolina are food insecure (that’s approximately 106,000 people).  Poverty rates are soaring in Western NC, with the largest increase occurring in Polk County with a 73% increase from 2007-2012.  In 2010 44.9% of students in Polk County were eligible for free lunch.  Obesity rates in our county are also rather high, with 14.5% of children and 23% of adults being overweight (source: USDA).  In a county with a population around 20,000, nearly 3,000 receive Federal Food and Nutrition Services (DSS 2012-2013 annual report).  SNAP Redemptions for 2012 amounted to $88,659.95!  Yet even with federal assistance, 14.2% of Polk County residents are food insecure (source: Feed America),  Thermal Belt Outreach served 9,145 Polk County residents in 2013 alone!  Clearly there is a gap in food access and affordability.  Educating residents on how to grow even a small portion of their food at home while simultaneously scaling up local farm production and variety could begin to fill these gaps.

Other countries have addressed these issues, for example: Geneva, Switzerland; Angola; and the Ukraine.  Our own country used to be very food secure, with home food production intensifying during times of crisis; for example, Victory Gardens during World War II.  Is it because many do not realize the fragility of our food supply?  Or are we as a society, losing touch with our food and agricultural heritage.  We could not live without farms, and it is time for citizens to step up and make the changes they want to see, rather than being dependent on a broken food system.  Chuck’s presentation showed that addressing food security will require re-skilling, education, and community champions, but it is feasible.  Research shows that working in gardens can decrease depression, help with ADHD and Alzheimer’s patients, increase overall health, and lead to social bonding, neighborhood improvement, and increased volunteerism.  Creating a  strong regional food system would not only help to alleviate hunger in our region, but it could give us our identity back, empower citizens, and build community.

Adventures in Jelly Making

I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina, in Hickory, but for some reason I never tasted a Muscadine until my recent move to Polk County.  Now when i’m hiking or driving I notice that these things are everywhere!  Living on an Americorps budget makes free food from nature very, very exciting.  Last weekend on a crisp Sunday morning I harvested seven and half pounds of these grapes from a wild vine by my house.  I was so excited, but then I realized, what do I do with these???

The answer: Jelly

My first attempts at jelly were successful, I followed all the steps of boiling the jars, adding the pectin, etc. etc.  But I realized I could of saved myself some time and effort, after helping process 46 more jars for the upcoming Friends of Agriculture Breakfast.  So, for those of you out there who have not made jelly, or given the wonderful Muscodine a chance, i’m dedicating this blog one of my new favorite hobbies: Making Jelly!

Step One: Harvest Your Grapes

You want to pick grapes that fall easily off the vine.  When it comes to making jelly, the softer the better.  For a small batch you are going to need about 3.5 to 5 pounds, it’s better to have too many than not enough, because you can always save the juice, which is really tasty.  Make sure you wash the grapes before you begin to make the jelly.  You don’t really need to worry about taking off the stems, unless you’re a perfectionist, the juice will be strained to keep out the seeds, skins, and stems.

Muscadines

Step Two: Prepare Your Jars

First fill a canning pot halfway with clean water, enough to cover the jars with 1-2 inches of water, and get it started to boil.  While waiting for the water to boil, wash all your jars with soap and hot water.  You can also place them in the dishwasher if you would like.  After the jars are washed and the water is boiling, place the jars in the pot and let them sanitize for ten minutes.  When they are done, take jar grabbers and place the jars top-side down on a clean rag and out of the way.  This way bacteria won’t fall into the jars.  Some people place them in an oven, top-side down, at about 170* until they are ready to use them, but the hot sugar works as a preserver, so this really isn’t necessary.  You will also want to boil your lids.  You can re-use rings, but never lids.  These can be left in the hot water until you’re ready to use them.

boiling_jars

 Step Three: Prepare Your Grapes! 

warning…this is the longest part of the process

Boil the washed grapes in water until the skin just begins to split, this helps you extract the juice and pulp.  Another way to tell they’re ready is if the grapes begin to float.  Once the grapes are boiled you have several options, some will mash the grapes then strain the juices with a cheese cloth, but this seems pretty daunting.  There are lots of neat tools out there to utilize!  We used a tool that Dawn calls a “Berry Crusher Mill” and her great Aunt called a “Do Hicky.”  I looked it up and it is just called an Old Fashioned Food Colander/Strainer.

It looks like this:

old_fashioned_fruit_mill

This handy tools allows you to grind the grapes to a pulp while the juices fall out into a bowl or pot below.  We used a big pot, since we were making a large batch.  When I made jelly at home we used a steamer, but I think this method gives you a lot more juice per pound of grapes.  If you don’t have one of these, don’t go spending your money, get creative!

grape_juice

Now, you are ready to get cooking!

Step Four: Make Your Jelly

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/4 qt. (5 cups) prepared juice (about 3 1/2 lb. fully ripe grapes)

  • 1-1/2 cups water

  • 1 box of pectin (or 6 tablespoons if you have a large jar)

  • 1/2 tsp of butter

  • 7 cups sugar, measured in a separate bowl

*you can use less sugar if you would like, the recipe I used for my jelly at home only used 5 cups of sugar, but it was a more runny consistency.

ladle_juice

We used a recipe from Kraft for Concord Jelly: http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/surejell-concord-grape-jelly-60879.aspx

Stir the pectin into the juice in a saucepot.  Add the butter; this helps reduce foaming.  Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.  Stir in the sugar.  Return to a full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam with a metal spoon.  We transferred our jelly into a metal pitcher to make it easier to pour into the jars.

There are no pictures for this part, because once you get the jelly cooked, you want to move quickly so it doesn’t set before you can it.

Fill the jars to within a 1/4 inch of the tops.  Be sure to wipe around the rim to ensure that there is no residue, otherwise they will not seal properly.  Once you have put the lid and ring on, flip the jar upside down and leave it alone for at least 1 to 1.5 hours.  With jelly/jam you don’t need to process the jars, since the sugar is so hot, it acts as a preserving agent.  (However, this is an old process, and may not be considered “food safe”)  

If you do want to process the jars, you boil them for 5-10 minutes.  10 minutes is a good safe processing time.  Processing simply means, putting the jars back in boiling water after they have had their lids placed on them.

jars_upsidedown

You can flip the jars right side up after about 2 hours, and they should be good to go!

Step 5: Enjoy your jelly!!

These can make great gifts, or can be stored for jelly year-round.  What’s great about home-made jellies and jams is that you can avoid all the weird things they put in store-bought; such as high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial food coloring.  Additionally you actually save money in the long-run, and it is a great way to involve your kids in a fun after-school activity.  (Just be sure you are wearing aprons or clothes you don’t mind getting stained).

So has you interest been peaked??  There are still muscodines to be harvested and jelly to be made, you just have to go out there and do it!

jelly_jars2

We will be using them to decorate the tables and our plates at our next Friends of Agriculture Breakfast on:

October 15th

7 am

4-H Center in Columbus

*If you’re interested in saving a little money, we also have coupons for pectin at the ag-center, thanks to our Ball Canning Grant.  Stop by Mon-Fri 9:00-4:30 to pick some up.

 

Author: Sydney Klein  (AmeriCorps Project Conserve Member at the Polk County Office of Agricultural Economic Development)

Brewer’s Grain for Fodder & Cattle Alliance

After our Friends of Ag Breakfast last week there were a couple of great ideas put forth about feed for animals. Comparing dry weights versus wet and more. Two great resources came out of breakfast and are listed below!

To help you find access to brewer’s grains, connect with the WNC Brewer’s Grain Alliance

Running cattle? Check out the Mountain Cattle Alliance for help with marketing and selling your stock wholesale.