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WNC Ag grants offer funds for farm diversification

Intent to apply deadline Nov. 16; application deadline Dec. 1
Randy and Megan Smith want others to know exactly what a difference $6,000 can make to a farmer. The Smiths expanded their pasture poultry operation via a $6,000 grant from the WNC Agricultural Options grant program earlier this year.
“The 2011 AG Options grant funding allowed us, with little money up front, to start an intensive yet all-natural pastured poultry production system. We could have achieved this but it would have taken several years for us to get to this point,” Randy Smith said. “We can now continue to build on our first year’s success and further increase production for many years to come. The grant gave us an excellent foundation for building our farm business.”
Those same funds are coming available again through the 2012 round of grant funds.
These funds allowed the Smiths to expand their farm efforts by adding two pastured poultry pens to Smith’s Sweet Grass Farm in Green Creek.
The Smiths already sell their products to CooperRiis Healing Community but intend also to sell to individuals, families, restaurants and schools. Moving in that direction, the Smiths also used a portion of the grant to purchase processing equipment, refrigeration and freezer space.
Madison County Extension Director and WNC Ag Options steering committee leader Ross Young said successful farming requires farmers to take on challenges.
“The WNC AgOptions program helps this region’s farmers balance that risk by providing financial assistance as well as hands-on guidance with a new venture,” Young said. “The goal of this program is to discover farming practices that are innovative and have the potential of helping other farmers in the future.”
In all, WNC Agricultural Options will award $150,000 benefiting 35 farm-related businesses and groups in 2012. Individual farmers proposing diversification projects will receive grants of $3,000 and $6,000. Three select farmer-led groups meanwhile will receive up to $10,000 to solve distribution issues related to processing, packaging and even marketing.
Applications for the two grant opportunities are available at www.wncagoptions.org and at the local cooperative extension centers. Interested applicants must contact their local extension agents by Nov. 16 to notify them that they intend to apply. The application postmark deadline is Dec. 1.
Farmers in Polk as well as other Western North Carolina counties and Cherokee Indian Reservation are eligible to apply for the funds, which originate solely from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.
For more information, visit www.wncagoptions.org, www.ces.ncsu.edu, www.tobaccotrustfund.org, www.wnccommunities.org or www.ncfarmgrants.org.