Friday, December 18, 2009

Snowy Afternoon Reflections on Grant Writing at a Land-Grant Institution

Several people have sent me emails recently asking if I am okay because I haven't posted anything on the blog since December 3rd.  So I thought I'd take a few minutes on this very snowy day to tell you a little bit of what it is like being a faculty member at a land-grant institution right now.

First, I had to post a picture I just took of my chicken tractor because living here in North Carolina it is not often that I see it covered in snow!  Last winter, the ladies came out into the little bit of snow we had, but I've not seen any of them walk out into the open today.  They are staying nice and toasty and dry in their coop and little greenhouse area. 

Back to what I've been up to.  As most of you know, the public universities have all experienced tremendous budget cuts over the past five years or so.  Most of the faculty I know working in the agriculture disciplines haven't had operating budgets in years.  So the faculty have to write grant proposals or work out contracts with companies to conduct their research and extension programs.  I feel fortunate that to have been fairly successful in these efforts, although it does come in waves.  I write proposals all the time, and sometimes a high percentage of them are funded and other times I have a dry spell.  Right now there are some really good federal grant opportunities, so everyone is frantically working to meet early January and February grant deadlines.  Since most universities shut down for about ten days for the holidays, the time is even shorter than it appears.

Recent grants I've been awarded:
Through the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, I received a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant to create an organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC.  The grant is for one year and most of the funds will be used to hire someone to survey farmers and researchers about their needs, visit other successful university research farms, create a land plan, start the organic certification process, develop guidelines for use of the land, start promoting it, and oversee at least a few initial projects.  While that person is doing all that, I'll be trying to get funding to really get the program off and going.

I am a co-PI on a project funded by the US Forest Service to Land of Sky Regional Council on Cooperative Marketing of Non-Timber Forest Products.  It is a two year project that has brought together a wonderfully diverse team of people.  The project is unique in that we will be employing people in the non-timber forest products industry who are unemployed or underemployed to do most of the project.

I am a co-PI on a small one year hops project led by Rob Austin and Deanna Osmond in Soil Science and funded by the Golden Leaf Foundation.  Rob will establish a hops research project in Raleigh looking at varieties and different fertility regimes.  Here in the mountains I'll be working closely with our existing hops growers to collect soil and tissue samples to build a data base to help us figure out fertility requirements, and disease and insect samples to build a data base on those problems.  We hope this project will give us sufficient preliminary information to create a proposal for a much larger grant.

Proposals that are pending:
I am a co-PI on a multi-state proposal to Southern SARE to continue training our extension agents in organic agriculture.  I am just completing a similar project right now and it has been very effective and rewarding.

Proposals I'm frantically preparing right now:
What I am spending all my time on now are three proposals to big federal programs on specialty crops and organic agriculture.  They are all very large, multi-state, multi-institution projects.  One is on broccoli, another on Chinese medicinal herbs, and the last on organic tomatoes.  Unless you have done one of these before, you can't imagine the amount of work, number of forms, and cooperator letters that need to be pulled together.  The budgets are very complicated, and we are required to come up with matching funds.  Some of those matching funds can be in the form of the value of the time and effort supplied by farmer cooperators.  So, if I ever ask you to be a farmer cooperator, which many of you have been, I will now ask if you can put a dollar value on the time you will put into the project.  That is a huge help if you can provide it.

So that is what I am up to right now.  It does take a lot of time, time that I think could be better spent conducting research, writing up research results, writing information for farmers, and visiting farmers.  So if you know of someone who would like to support my program so I can do those things instead of grant writing, I'd love to speak with them.  Until I find that generous contributor, I'll be spending a lot of time writing proposals to support my program to help you, our farmers. 

That said, I still think I have the best job at NC State University.  I work with the greatest group of farmers in the world, the friendliest industry contacts, and the most fun crops.  I mean, how can it not be fun working with hops, truffles, ginseng, and organic heirloom tomatoes!!!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Growing in High Tunnels: Featured at Specialty Crops School on March 5, 2010

The 2010 Northern Piedmont Specialty Crops School will be held on Friday, March 5 at the Person County Extension Center, 304 S. Morgan Street in Roxboro, NC.  The school is designed to explore the art and science of growing and marketing specialty crops, and will feature many ideas for specialty crop growers to be successful in their ventures.  This year’s school will feature Growing in High Tunnels to gain earliness in the spring, and to extend the season in the fall. The talks will be given by leading experts in their fields.

Steve Moore, with the NC State University Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro will start the program by discussing design, construction, and thermal performance of high tunnels.

Dr. Lewis Jett, West Virginia University Vegetable Specialist, will discuss growing tomatoes and specialty melons in high tunnels.

Dr. Reza Rafie and Chris Mullins of Virginia State University will describe their experience with growing red raspberries and blackberries in high tunnels.

Carl Cantaluppi will give a brief update of his variety trial results with asparagus and seedless table grapes.

The school will be held in the auditorium of the Person County Extension Center, 304 S. Morgan Street, Roxboro, NC. For directions, go to:  The cost of the one-day school is $25.00 for the first person of a family or business and includes lunch. The cost is $15.00 for each additional family member or business associate, which also includes lunch. Pre-registration is needed to guarantee a seat and lunch.

Photos from Carl Cantaluppi's brochure for the School.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Southeastern Vegetable & Fruit Expo is Next Week!

Kingston Plantation-location for the 2009 Expo (Photo from NCVGA website)

The 2009 Southeastern Vegetable and Fruit Expo will be held December 1st and 2nd at the Embassy Suites Resort, Kingston Plantation, Myrtle Beach, SC.  This will be the 24th Expo and it promises to be a wonderful educational experience for all fruit and vegetable growers.  There will be tracks on all the major commodities as well as ones devoted to transitioning to organics (led by yours truly), water quality and traceability, local food production and marketing, and nutrient management.  The program, directions, and hotel information are all available on the NC Vegetable Growers Association website.  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cane Creek Asparagus & Company

Goodies from the Cane Creek CSA.  Photo from their website.
Glenda Ploeger and her husband Robert run a delightful little family farm in Fairview, NC just outside of Asheville.  Even though I have never visited the farm personally, I have followed its progress through the years as it has developed from growing asparagus primarily for sale to restaurants to now being a premium CSA farm with a regional reputation.  They are one of the few CSA's I know that can say that is the only way they sell their produce! They grow over 60 varieties of vegetables on six acres and obviously do so with great care and attention.  Just read the multitude of reviews from their CSA customers; they love the service and the produce.  Glenda and Robert supply  their customers with newsletters and recipes and have a nice little feature on their website; a vegetable identification guide with pictures of all the vegetables and their names.  Gives you a good idea of what you will get if you purchase a share in their CSA!  They are entering their tenth year as a CSA, growing their food in an intentional, sustainable manner, using an integrated pest management strategy.  I suggest you check out their website.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Broadwing Farm & Naturalbath Cabins

Photo of Poplar Cabin from Broadwing Farm Naturalbath Cabins website
I have known Pete and Mary Dixon of Broadwing Farm in Hot Springs, NC for probably twenty years.  Theirs was one of the first organic farms that I visited when I moved to North Carolina.  Pete and his family have been growing organic vegetables and herbs for a very long time.  A fixture at the tailgate market in Asheville, they were one of the first organic farms to seriously get into making value-added products.  They have branched out into blackberries and some flowering nursery plants.  They also run a successful agritourism business by renting out three cabins with hot tubs filled with the natural hot springs water famous in their community.  They produce their crops using what most of us would consider organic production methods, but they are not certified organic.  It is a beautiful place to spend a leisurely weekend anytime of the year. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Grow Your Own Heirloom Apple Trees

Through my daily conversations with people from all over the country, I've learned that most people are completely unaware of the amazing diversity of fresh farm products that are available in North Carolina.  Even though there are all kinds of wonderful websites, food guides, and local food programs, not everyone knows about them.  So, I'd like to help at least reach the folks who read my websites, blogs, tweets, etc.  Periodically, I plan to highlight a farm that I know of.  This is the first of what I hope to be a long series.

Big Horse Creek Farm
Specializing in Antique and Heirloom Apple Trees

Ron and Suzanne Joyner.  Photo from their website.

Today I would like to start with Big Horse Creek Farm located in the high country of Western North Carolina in Lansing.  I can't recall when I first met Suzanne and Ron Joyner, but last October they helped with our organic extension agent training.  They provided delicious apples for our enjoyment and participated in a panel discussion on organic farming.

Suzanne and Ron run a very specialized nursery offering grafted antique and heirloom apple trees.  Their goal is to preserve the wonderful old varieties from the past for future generations to enjoy.  They have a HUGE master list of varieties with wonderfully colorful names.  Their website provides good information on the varieties they have for sale, the rootstocks used, and detailed information on how to grow the young trees.  There is a detailed organic spray program and instructions on how you can collect scion wood from an apple tree that you want so they can propagate it for you.  One year old trees are very reasonably priced at $20 each, with discounts for large orders.  There's lots of great information on their website, so plan to spend a little time there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

WNC Ag Options Dinner Was Amazing!

Skipper Russell's lettuce field.  Photo by Megan Riley from website
Last night I had the honor of attending the WNC Ag Options Celebratory dinner for the 2009 grant recipients.  What an amazing event that was!  Megan Riley, program manager, MC'd the evening.  First she told the story of how she collected the food for the dinner earlier that week from current and former WNC Ag Options grant recipients.  This was illustrated with beautiful pictures from the farms.  Then four of the grant recipients told their stories of their experiences this past year fulfilling their grant obligations.  Two of them were local hop growers that I have worked closely with, one was a vegetable grower who is now producing large scale lettuce, and another put up a solar powered greenhouse.  Then everyone got a chance to say a few words about what they did with their grant money.  It was very inspiring to hear their stories and see what a difference a little bit a money can make in peoples' lives.

Then we got on to the good part.  Eating.  The food was prepared by two local women who, with some help from Megan, spent several days peeling, chopping, and cooking.  Pies, cornbread, and some delicious jelly and jam were also provided by one of the grant recipients.  We started out with hot cider, crackers, and lots of yummy cheeses from Spinning Spider Creamery.  The main dinner included beef stew and an incredible chicken pot pie, collards, roasted vegetables, a delicious kale "quiche-like" casserole, spiced beets, and cooked apples.  It was all very good, and there were enough leftovers for all of us to take some home.

What a great way to celebrate a successful project and honor all the grant recipients for the hard work they had done all year.  My hat is off to Megan Riley, Rob Hawk, and Ross Young who lead this project, and all the other Extension personnel who are, and have been, involved in organizing and administering this mini-grant program for our local farmers.

You can read more about the program and all the grant recipients from this year and previous years on the WNC Ag Options website.  If you want to apply for one of these grants, you have about another week to submit your letter of intent.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lots of Great Agriculture Events Coming Up

I've recently discovered that if you are a regular blogger, tweeter, and Facebooker, and you don't post for a few days, people get very concerned.  It's really nice to know I've missed!  Thank you.  I apologize for not posting for a week, but as is the case for most of you, I'm trying to do the jobs of several people at one time and sometimes I just can't keep up with it all! 

Today I just want to remind you that there are a whole bunch of events coming up in the next two months related to agriculture, farm protection, hops, organics, and fruit & vegetable production.  I've posted a bunch of them, particularly for the western part of the state, on our events calendar at  So check it out; here is your opportunity to meet with the experts and other farmers doing just what you might want to do.

Because there is so much interest in hops right now, I do want to remind you that there will be a hops production meeting on November 18th in Waynesville.  Here are the details:

November 18, 2009Hops Production Meeting

1:00 to 5:00 pm

Camp New Life at the Mountain Research Station

Waynesville, NC

Are you interested in growing hops? We've pulled together a group of horticulture experts, hops growers, and other knowledgeable individuals to explain what is involved in growing hops, what the current and projected market situation is, our best estimates of the economics of local production, and how we can all work together to grow the WNC hops industry. Several local commercial hops growers will share their perspectives after a year or two of production. For more information, contact or Meeting fee is $5; pay at the door. Cash only, please. Please RSVP to the Haywood County Extension Office at 828-456-3575 or Directions:

Friday, October 30, 2009

Biochar Webinar Nov. 3-Someone Please Attend for Me!

After a season of doing some research on a biochar product, I am very intriqued by the whole concept and want to learn more.  I just got a note about a biochar webinar (that's an online conference; do it from your computer) to be held next week.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend.  But I know there are many of you out there who can.  So here is the notice from John Bonitz in Pittsboro, NC.  Note, you have to preregister. 

Please mark your calendar for this lunchtime webinar next Tuesday, Nov 3 from 12-1 pm ET. Details follow my signature.

Biochar is a technology offering the potential for carbon-negative renewable energy plus benefits for agriculture. It is a way to sequester carbon in soils while boosting fertility, improving drought resistance, or increasing friability and drainage.

The potential benefit here in the Southeast is massive. Our landscape is a patchwork quilt of woodlands next to ag-lands, and the residues of forestry can be charred and deposited in adjacent fields. While no-till agriculture may offer 1 or 2 tons per acre per year of carbon offsets, imagine 10 times that with biochar, plus increased soil productivity.

Please forward, especially to soil scientists. (Biochar needs to be tested in many different soil types across the Southeast.)

Thank you, John Bonitz, Farm Outreach & Policy Advocate
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, P.O. Box 1833, Pittsboro, NC 27312
Phone: 919.360.2492 ,

Webinar: Introduction to Biochar
November 3, 2009  12 – 1pm ET

The webinar will address the questions of:
– What is biochar?
– How can it be used for soil amendment and carbon reduction?
– What are the opportunities for agriculture and forestry?

Presentations will be given by:
Julie Major, Agriculture Extension Director, International Biochar Initiative
Joseph James, Founder and President, Agri-Tech Producers

The webinar is free, but pre-registration is required. To register, visit:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Keeping Your Farm Workshop

Picture provided by Melinda Roberts
November 12, 2009

Keeping Your Farm Workshop

8:00 am - 4:00 pm

Weaverville Town Hall, Community Room
30 S. Main Street, Weaverville, NC 28787

You're invited to a free workshop where we will discuss updates on issues affecting farm and forest landowners. Topics of discussion will include tax information, insurance and financial options, forestry management plans, conservation easements, value added and new enterprises, and farm transition programs. Commissioner David Gantt will discuss the Buncombe County Strategic plan and the goal to sustain farming livelihoods. Lunch will be provided. On November 13, 2009, one on one consultations will be available at the same location. To register, contact Erin Bonito at the Buncombe Co. Cooperative Extension office at 828-255-5522. Registration will be cut off at 100 people, so call soon!

Tim Will of Foothills Connect Wins 2009 Purpose Prize

Tim Will.  Photo from the Foothills Connect website
Congratulations, Tim!!  Tim Will, founder of Foothills Connect (, has won the 2009 Encore Purpose Prize.  This prize is given to social innovators over the age of 60 who are making a positive impact in society in their second careers.  Tim's mission was to bring broadband internet to rural Rutherford County.  He chose agriculture as the means to help make that happen.  Working with chefs in the Charlotte area, he developed a demand for locally grown food.  Chefs and other buyers can purchase this local food through a website where the farmers post what they have available.  Check it out at  Rutherford County and the surrounding area have been hard hit during this recession.  Tim has provided a way for some of these people to make an income.  He has also provided a program for folks to learn how to grow organically through an 8-week sustainable agriculture program.  Once again, congratulations, Tim!  A fine example of what an individual with a dream and a lot of tenacity can accomplish.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Time is Running Out to Submit Letter of Intent for WNC Ag Options Grants

Mountain farmers eligible for funds to diversify operations in 2010
WNC AgOptions' Intent to Apply deadline: November 23

Grants totaling $225,000 are available to western North Carolina farmers who are diversifying or expanding their operations in 2010. WNC Agricultural Options will award approximately 45 farmers in 17 counties and the Cherokee Reservation $3,000, $6,000 or $9,000 each.

Managed by the N.C. Cooperative Extension County Centers in the West District, the WNC AgOptions program works with producers who demonstrate ways to increase farm income to other transitioning farmers, particularly tobacco growers. WNC AgOptions partners with RAFI-USA's Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund to run the program, and the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission sponsors it.

"The partnership we have with the WNC AgOptions program is very valuable to us," said William Upchurch, Executive Director of the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. "Our experience has shown that participating farmers utilize these grants for innovative, resourceful and profitable enterprises that can make a huge impact on their farming operation."

Interested applicants should see the agricultural agents at their local Extension Centers by November 23, and can visit to download an application. Projects should increase the sale of farm products and lead to the long-term sustainability of the farm business. The postmark deadline for applications is January 8.

Recent recipients are transitioning from commercial to direct markets, extending their growing seasons, or developing value-added processing systems so that they will have a product to sell year-round. Funded projects include: a germination chamber for vegetable and flower starts, a refrigeration truck for transporting lettuce, and materials for hops production.

"This grant opportunity is an excellent resource to help offset the financial risk for farmers wanting to expand their operations or diversify into crops they may not be very familiar with," said Ross Young, Madison County Cooperative Extension Director. "The success of small family farms is the focus of this project. By providing financial assistance, this project is enabling farms to create more sustainable farming enterprises, which will have a long-term effect on the economy as well as farm land preservation."

Established in 2003, WNC AgOptions is entering its sixth funding cycle. Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include: representatives from N.C. Cooperative Extension program, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services– Marketing Division, HandMade in America, Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project, former WNC AgOptions recipients and other leaders in agribusiness.

Winner Announced for Farm Prosperity Project Survey Drawing

Photo by Agatha Grimsley
In August, I sent a request out for farmers in our region to take a survey for the Farm Prosperity Project. Over 100 of you did so. Thank you so very much!!!! That has been a big help in determining the impact of our program and how to design new ones in the future.
There was an incentive to encourage you to take that survey. It is my great pleasure to announce that Charles Henn, of Henn's Plant Farm in Fletcher, was the winner of a $50 gift certificate to Lowes. Thanks Charles!

All the of information that was developed from the Farm Prosperity Project is being posted on the new webpage. We are just getting all our "stuff" formatted for that site, so check back often. It should be complete by the first of the year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Visit to Salem College

This year, the theme for Salem College's Cultural Events is "How Will You Change Tomorrow?"  And yesterday, I had the great honor to be a featured presenter in that series.  What a marvelous day I had!  First of all, it was THE perfect fall day.  The air was clear and crisp, the skies bright blue, and the fall colors were outstanding.  I truly enjoyed the two and a half hour drive from Mills River to Winston-Salem.  If you've never been to Old Salem or Salem College, I recommend a visit sometime.  The old Moravian village and the campuses of Salem College and Salem Academy are just beautiful.  I love the big old brick buildings, the white clapboard houses, buildings with two story porches, the brick walkways, and all the large old trees.  There is so much history, but it's not like a museum because there are students and faculty and life all around.  Check it out sometime.

In the morning, I gave a lecture on my goldenseal research in the Chemistry department.  The room was packed with students and faculty who appeared to be quite interested in the subject (hopefully they weren't just there for the pizza!).  My hostess for the day was Dr. Nita Eschew, an assistant professor in the Chemistry Department.  She arranged for me to spend some time with one of her classes, and I truly enjoyed getting to five of her students.  We talked in the lab and then had a delicious dinner together at the Old Salem Tavern.  The five young women were all so smart, funny, and inquisitive.  They shared stories about their international trips and internships and I learned all about bouldering and parkour (I'm not going to tell you; you have to look it up).

That evening I gave a lecture on the Science and Fun of Growing Woodland Medicinals in a small auditorium in the Fine Arts Center.  The audience was diverse and included farmers, lots of enthusiastic gardeners, faculty and staff, and an herbalist or two.  They had lots of questions after the presentation, ranging from the expected about how to grow some of plants I discussed to how to get a job like mine because I seemed to be having so much fun!  After a reception, complete with Moravian sugar cookies, I got to return to my "suite" which was more like a very large, and very nicely appointed apartment.  I couldn't believe that whole place was mine for the night. 

All in all, it was a wonderful day.  It's good to get out of our own little world something and interact with people in a different environment, and spending the day at a women's liberal arts college in a beautiful historic Moravian community on a picture perfect day was a refreshing change for me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Organic Research Program to be Established at the Mountain Research Station

The 2009 Organic Heirloom Tomato Workshop at the Mountain Research Station
Yesterday I was received notification that the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services through the USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has funded my proposal at $43,000 to establish an official organic research program for the WNC research stations!

Here is a short abstract of the proposed project:
Western North Carolina has a high concentration of organic farmers and a strong consumer base for their products. Although there is some organic research in WNC being conducted by a small number of faculty at NC State University, there is no recognized organic research program in the region to support the existing producers or new farmers getting into organic production. The objective of this project is to develop an organic research program for the western North Carolina research stations. The primary location will be the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville with smaller units at the two other mountain stations. The first phase of the program will be focused on a wide variety of organic horticultural crops that have strong local markets. The program will be research based, but will also be useable as a teaching tool for university, community college, and K-12 students. Similar existing programs across the country will be surveyed to learn from their successes and failures. Farmers, NC State research and extension personnel, NCDA&CS personnel, and relevant non-profits will be involved in the planning process. Within a year, we propose to have a program established and crops in the ground.  This program will provide the western North Carolina agricultural community with research based information on production of a wide variety of organic horticultural crops, resulting in increased farm income and expanded market opportunities.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hops Production Meeting
November 18, 2009
1:00 to 5:00 PM
Camp New Life at the Mountain Research Station
Waynesville, NC
Are you interested in growing hops? We've pulled together a group of horticulture experts, hops growers, and other knowledgeable individuals to explain what is involved in growing hops, what the current and projected market situation is, our best estimates of the economics of local production, and how we can all work together to grow the WNC hops industry. Several local commercial hops growers will share their perspectives after a year or two of production. For more information, contact or Meeting fee is $5; pay at the door. Cash only, please. Please RSVP to the Haywood County Extension Office at 828-456-3575 or Directions:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Farmland Preservation: Transfer of Development Rights Workshop

There is a great deal of concern about farmland protection in North Carolina and throughout the nation.  In recent years, the interest in and resources for farmland preservation have increased tremendously.  Here are a few websites to check out and the listing for a workshop that has just been announced:

NC Agricultural Development and Farm Protection Trust Fund:

NC Farm Transition Network:

Conservation Trust for NC:

Transfer of Development Rights: Using the Private Marketplace to Protect Farmland Workshop

November 13, 2009, 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM

Land of Sky Regional Council, 339 New Leicester Highway, Asheville, NC 28806

Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) is a planning tool which allows communities to keep farmland available for agricultural production while directing development into areas where growth is being encouraged. Guided by local government, a developer will pay a farmer for their development rights in exchange for approval to build more densely in an area that public services can be provided more efficiently. This workshop will explore TDR as a possibility for Western North Carolina by looking at how it is used in other areas and discussing how it might work here.

Agenda: TDR Overview – Judy Daniel, Planning Director, City of Asheville; 30 Years of TDR – Veronica Cristo, Rural Planner, Calvert County (MD); Can We Do It in NC? – Glen Bowles, Planner, Orange County (NC); Lunch; Buncombe County Panel Discussion with Holly Jones – Buncombe County Commissioner , Bert Abrams (invited) - Buncombe County Landowner in Sandy Mush, and Kevin Kerr (invited) - Buncombe County Developer; and a Breakout Group Discussion.

The cost is $15.00 to cover lunch and logistics. Register by email to or by mailing a check by November 6 made to: Land-of-Sky Regional Council (attn: Annie) to 339 New Leicester Highway Asheville, NC 28806. Sponsors: Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District, American Farmland Trust, Community Foundation of WNC Asheville Merchants Fund, Land-of-Sky Regional Council. Who should attend: planners, local government officials, real estate professionals, farmers, agricultural advisors, land trusts, and others interested in farmland protection and efficient growth. Continuing Planning Education Credits are being requested for this event. Map and directions at

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blackberry & Raspberry Food Safety Crisis Simulation

Photo by Tony Italia
I am publishing this notice I just received from Dr. Gina Fernandez in hopes of getting the word out to the farmers I work with who grow blackberries and raspberries.  Please call ahead to make sure there is room if you want to attend the November 16th meeting.

Hello Blackberry and Raspberry Growers (and others associated with these crops),

Two weeks ago I attended a Managing a Food Safety Outbreak workshop put on by a group of people at NCSU that call themselves the Fresh Produce Safety Task Force (FPSTF). The FPSTF asked me if the blackberry and raspberry growers would like to have this workshop put on for them. I said YES!

The workshop is an interactive program that will take you through a food safety outbreak involving raspberries or blackberries. They simulate how all the different agencies (CDC, FDA, CNN, etc) interject themselves into the incident and how quickly such a crisis evolves. I was very impressed. Bottom line is that we need to be prepared for a crisis, it may not be food borne, but something will happen and we need to have a plan in place.

I would like to have a meeting with a group of blackberry and raspberry growers Nov. 16, 10 am, Training Room in the Murdock Building, Kannapolis. We have the Training Room reserved from 9-1. (Presenters you can arrive early to set up, there is internet access there).

The room can fit up to 30 people, so if there is someone I have forgotten or left off this list, please let them know of this meeting. Also let me know if you plan to be there so we know how many people to expect.

Debbie Hamrick, from Farm Bureau will also be there and will update us on Food Safety legislation that is proceeding through Congress at this time.

The workshop would last about 2.5 hrs. So if we start at 10, that would give everyone time to travel to Kannapolis and get back home that same day.

FYI, they will present the same workshop at the Strawberry Expo Nov. 10 in the morning. You can attend this meeting for this day only if the date in Kannapolis does not work for you. See for more information on that meeting go to:

Gina E. Fernandez, PhD, Associate Professor/Small Fruit Specialist/Raspberry and Blackberry Breeding, North Carolina State University.  Phone: 919.513.7416.  Email:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Adding Cut Flowers to Your Crop Mix

Farmers across the state are growing cut flowers to sell along side their vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, eggs, and honey at tailgate markets and roadside stands.  Others are selling their flowers to natural food stores, restaurants, and for weddings.  Flowers can be lucrative, but in order to do them well, there is a lot to learn about varieties, timing, fertilization, and post-harvest handling.  Presentation of your flowers and marketing are just as important.  There are many resources available to help you, including excellent books (e.g.,, web based articles (e.g.,, and associations (e.g., 

An opportunity to learn about cut flower production in western North Carolina will be offered next week in McDowell County.  Here are the details:

October 22, 2009,  2:00 PM   Cut Flower Production Workshop
Extension Conference Room, 60 East Court Street, Marion, NC
Are you interested in adding cut flower production to your operation? Are you currently growing cut flowers and looking for the latest production information? The NC Cooperative Extension Service, McDowell Center is offering a program on cut flower production for small growers.

Craig Adkins, Extension Area Specialized Agent - Commercial Horticulture will be speaking on all aspects of cut flower production including, site selection, species selection, fertilization, pest control and more. Meredith McKissick, of Sweet Earth Flower Farm will be speaking about her experience growing and marketing cut flowers. Meredith has experience growing flowers and marketing them at tailgate markets and for weddings and other events. She will also be talking about 3-5 different annual cuts that can be easily grown for each spring, summer, and fall.

This program is free but pre registration is required by calling the Extension Office at 652-8104 or by emailing Jane McDaniel at by October 20th. For additional information please call 828-652-8104.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Farmers and Food Safety Issues

There has been a great deal of discussion this year about the new food safety rules the federal government is enacting.  Most of it has been grumbling and complaining about more rules and regulations to have to abide by, big expenditures that will need to be made to comply, and how this will all result in the loss of more small farms.  One thing I've noticed, though, is how few people have taken the time to really learn about what the risks really are and what they will need to do to comply.  Have you taken any classes to learn how to improve your own practices?

There are many resources available to you in North Carolina.  You can physically attend classes or get the information over the internet.  I urge you to take the time this winter to learn about this topic.  None of us wants to take the risk of making anyone sick.  And even though most farms I visit look like they are doing a pretty good job on the food safety scene, every now and then I see something a little scary that the farmer hadn't noticed.  We know so much more about food safety now than we did ten or twenty years ago.  Just think about your own kitchens.  Twenty years ago most of us had a single cutting board that we used for all purposes.  Now that we all understand the risk of spreading Salmonella from raw chicken to fresh vegetables, most of us have separate cutting boards for raw meat and raw fruits and vegetables.

Here are just a few opportunities and websites for you to get more information on improving food safety on your farm.  Most of the big fruit and vegetable conferences this winter will also contain sessions on fresh produce safety.

October 2009
Food Safety Classes for Fruit and Vegetable Growers
Watauga County Cooperative Extension Center
971 West King Street, Boone, NC
The New River Headwaters Area Alternative Agriculture Program will offer a series of classes to guide growers through evaluating and improving their own fresh produce food safety practices. Each class will meet from 6:00 - 8:00 pm and is free to all interested farmers. The dates and topics to be covered are:

October 20, Tuesday: Fresh Produce Food Safety Issues and Considerations for Small Farms.
October 21, Wednesday: Implementing Fresh Produce Safety Practices on Your Small Farm.
October 27, Tuesday: Developing a Fresh Prodcue Food Safety Plan for Your Small Farm
October 28, Wednesday: GAP Certifications and Food Safety Audits-Does Your Farm Need Them?

For more information, call The Watauga County Cooperative Extension Center at 828-264-3061.

October 29-30, 2009
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) Training
in Wrightsville Beach, NC. Conducted by North Carolina A&T Cooperative Extension. The workshop will begin shortly after lunch on Thursday the 29th and conclude after lunch on Friday the 30th. The Thursday session will be held in Wrightsville Beach at the Shell Island Hotel. On Friday, we will travel to two farms where greens are being grown for the wholesale market. We will discuss and demonstrate GAPs for production of greens on those farms. A final stop on Friday will be the Operation Spring Plant (our partner in this project) Prize of the Harvest packing shed in Faison, where we will discuss GHPs. We have scholarships available for farmers for lodging and meals. However, the number of hotel rooms we have booked is limited, so any farmers who want to attend need to reserve a “place” ASAP by calling Linda McCain at 336-334-7957.

November 18, 2009
Food Safety: From Production to Sales
from 9:00 am-3:30 pm at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems  in Goldsboro, NC. For more information visit the CEFS website:

NC Fresh Produce Safety:
NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Big Caution for Growers Buying Strawberry Plants This Fall!

Photo by Keith Tyson
I don't usually work with strawberries, but more and more of the farmers, organic and conventional, that I do work with are diversifying into strawberries.  Thus, when I saw these notices from our strawberry specialist, Dr. Barclay Poling, I thought it was important to pass them on to you.  There are two notices here.  The last one concerns organic growers.

October 7, 2009:
1) Phytophthora cactorum (Pc) has been identified in some Canadian (strawberry) plants and an agent in SC has reported this problem in plugs from 2 NC sources last evening. Growers in VA, NC and GA with infected stocks of Camarosa fresh dugs are replacing these plants with ‘cutoffs’ from northern CA. Cutoffs are being shipped now. Digging of CA cutoffs was slightly delayed (by about 1 week) due to lower than normal chilling hour accumulations in Northern CA in late Sept.
2) In certain areas (e.g. Arkansas, WNC and Tidewater VA) wet field conditions plagued growers during the bed-making and pre-plant fumigation, and any further delays in planting will be of critical concern, especially for Camarosa variety. Cutoffs from Northern CA would appear to be the best option at this stage for growers needing to replace Pc infected stocks of Camarosa fresh dugs without incurring additional plant costs. Plugs establish quickly, but virtually no Camarosa plug supplies are left at this time. Alternative suppliers of Camarosa fresh dugs may also be pursued by the grower. Check out NCSA’s PLANT SALES BULLETIN BORAD this morning at I noted there are Chandler plugs being offered at the moment by 2 NC growers.
3) Growers may wish to consider the option of a phosphite pre-plant dip for cutoffs being set in fields previously planted with Pc infected fresh dugs in late Sept/early Oct, or that have had a previous history of Pc in the soil. Phosphite recommendations found on p.2 of 2009 Strawberry IPM document on (revisions to this document for 2010 have been made, but the phosphite information remains unchanged).
4) It is not advisable to set cutoffs or plugs in the same planting hole as where a Pc infected fresh dug had been previously set – better idea to re-punch new holes in plastic bed
5) Growers are being “strongly advised” against using Ridomil Gold on Strawberry Plugs and would advise growers not to purchase plants from nurserymen who had violated the label that clearly states that this product is not to be used in nursery settings (under the resistance management section). Nurserymen use of Ridomil Gold can lead to resistance issues. The industry cannot afford to have Ridomil Gold become useless in commercial fruit plantings! Appreciation to Dr. Powell Smith, Clemson for providing these important reminders!
6) For Phytophthora and Pythium crown/root rots, mefenoxam (Ridomil Gold EC) is recommended for drip injection in sufficient water to move the fungicide into the root zone. Use proportionately less Ridomil Gold EC for band treatments (e.g., for drip applications). There is question about whether it is best as a pre-plant or post-plant treatment. Consult yesterday's morning advisory (10/5, 11 am) on how some growers use Ridomil Gold as a post-plant treatment.
7) Would this be a good time to re-visit the whole question, “Why didn’t we see this coming?” There are also important dimensions of this Pc problem that impact organic growers in a very serious way!

*Appreciation is expressed to Dr. Powell Smith, Clemson, for his contribution to this advisory (Point No. 5)and to Clemson CES Agent Andy Rollins (Point No. 1).

October 6, 2009:

Dear Growers and Agents -

Please realize that we are dealing with a pretty "dynamic" situation with Phytophthora cactorum, and based on the calls and emails I have received since 11 am, I felt it would be helpful to clarify the current situation as best I can at the end of the day (10/5/09) with points below (5 points). Then, this advisory concludes with more questions that have come in in just the last few minutes (answers will be forthcoming - where possible).

No. 1. Problems with fresh dugs - limited to an Ontario nursery
Unfortunately, some Camarosa fresh dugs from Ghesquiere Farms nursery in Simcoe, Ontario, have been found to be infected with Phytophthora cactorum. I am aware of one distributor for these plants who is taking action to get these replaced with cutoffs from California. I am not aware of any issues with the cutoffs from California. These cutoffs may be shipped a little later than planned as northern CA nursery areas have not had as much chilling in late Sept as usual.   I just spoke with Cal Schiemann, Agent, VA-Beach, and he confirmed that one of his largest growers in Virginia Beach, who had problems with Camarosa fresh dugs, is getting replacement cutoffs.

No. 2. Some tips from PEI diagnosed with Phytophthora cactorum, but this appears to be a limited situation.
I am not aware of any Phytophthora cactorum issues with fresh dugs coming from PEI. And, all reports that I have had today indicate that these fresh dugs are establishing very nicely. As reported this morning, there have been some tips from PEI diagnosed with Phytophthora cactorum by NCSU PDIC, but this appears to only be a limited problem at this time. These affected growers are getting direct assistance from their agents, regional agronomists and plant pathologists at NCSU.

No. 3. Precautions Needed In Wet Year.
As I also stated this morning, it would seem that PEI has had another “wet growing season,” and from that standpoint, a Ridomil drip injection would seem to be a good precaution, especially in this wet year we are also having in the Mid-South. Also, Sweet Charlie is especially susceptible to Phytophthora cactorum.

No. 4. Please note that Ridomil Gold is only being recommended for drip injection.
Remember, it is important to do drip injection of Ridomil Gold and NOT to apply as a foliar spray

No. 5. What can be done if you are an organic grower?
Thats' a tough one. Earlier today Sue Colluci wrote: "Dear Dr. Poling and Dr. Louws, Is there anything an organic grower to do if they suspect Phytophtora after they have planted? For future recommendations, would you advise a grower to treat plugs with Oxidate and possibly use something like Mycostop? What about copper products?  Any advice would be helpful!

Dr. Frank Louws answered:

I could not offer much information for an organic system with an established problem. The key will be to limit excess moisture - ensure optimum drainage of beds and between beds; do not let water collect in headlands or in the field. Oxidate has not performed well in our trials. I could envision that it would help to reduce any inoculum on the foliage (contact efficacy) for Botrytis. anthracnose and Xanthomonas (bacterial angular leaf spot) and Powdery mildew etc. Mycostop is a good idea - it could help; we also had success with Trichoderma (e.g. T-22 and other formulations for suppressing root rot pressure in the plug production phase. I would pro-actively incorporate these products into the plug mixture prior to plugging with a follow-up application in week 3 or so. We did a lot of this type of work with some success (i.e. better than nothing). This is not encouraging overall , but that is the state of things as I understand them. I have seen high risk plants (with known levels of Phytophthora) go into an organic system with less than predicted losses - so that was encouraging. Copper could suppress foliage based pathogens about 30% (compared to e.g. 90% for a selected fungicide). I am unsure about copper phytotoxicity in the plug production phase. I have not seen serious issues in the field production phase in NC. hHowever, we are conservative about its use during flowering and fruiting. These are thoughts from my experience. Ensuring disease free plants is the most important tool for our organic growers complemented with healthy soil systems, a systematic rotation plan and a clean water source.

Thanks for the great question."  FJL

Saturday, October 3, 2009

At the Southeast Women's Herbal Conference

What a great weekend we are having in Black Mountain, NC!  Camp Rockmont ( is a beautiful site for any event; towering mountains, glistening lake, green open spaces, and woods.  Delightful.  I am moderating the advanced track this year.  This is the first year this track is being offered and it is very popular. The room has been packed all weekend.  The speakers are outstanding and I have been impressed at how knowledgeable the women in the audience are.  I've picked up all kinds of new information to help me in my job and in my personal life.  Wish more of the conferences I attended were as pleasant to be at as this one.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Southeast Women's Herbal Conference: This Weekend

Picture from last year's event (from website)
If you are a woman, and enjoy being in the company of a lot of other women, and you want to learn about herbs, natural healing, yourself, and spirituality, you really should attend this conference.  Conference isn't even the right word for it; it's so much more than that.  It's held outside, at a beautiful camp with a lake; there is a big tent and a bazaar, great food, lots of color and music.  Personally, I always feel rejuvenated, cleansed, enlightened, and uplifted by this event.  "It’s a weekend for women to learn, connect, and deepen into the Wise Woman Tradition—simple living, earth-based healing, and local plants.”  Hundreds of women and 30 teachers, including internationally renowned herbalist Susun Weed, will come together in just a few days. So if you want to come, you need to sign up now!  For more info, take a look at their website,   Details:  October 2-4, 2009,  The Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, Camp Rockmont, Black Mountain, NC.

If you want to know why this is a women only conference, read the section on their website; it's a good explanation:


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fall is a Good Time to Plant Many Perennial Herbs

Planting bloodroot in the woods

Fall is an excellent time to plant a wide variety of perennial herbs.  These include woodland botanicals such as bloodroot, goldenseal, black cohosh, and wild ginger; sun-loving medicinal herbs such as Echinacea and valerian; culinary herbs such as thyme and rosemary; and aromatic herbs such as lavender.   Garlic isn't a perennial herb, but fall is the best time to plant it, too.  See for ideas, information, and links.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Late Blight Resistant Tomato Varieties Being Developed

Heirloom-type hybrid variety with late blight resistance

Heirloom tomato, 'Akers West Virginia' without late blight resistance
We did a harvest on our organic heirloom and heirloom-type hybrid tomato study today.  All the true heirloom varieties have succumbed to late blight.  Although I must say, 'Mr. Stripey' put up a good fight! Several of the heirloom-type hybrids that are under development in our tomato breeding program, however, are still going strong.  The two varieties I'm most excited about are currently known as NC08144 and NC08224.  They are large, pink-fruited 'Brandywine' types with early blight and late blight resistance.  They were the winners in our taste tests, are providing high yields of beautiful tomatoes, and as you can see from the pictures, are performing well in a late blight infested field.  All of these tomatoes are grown using practices that would be acceptable for certified organic.  Our late blight spray program is Serenade + copper, five days later Sporatec + Neem, five days later Serenade + copper, etc.  I don't like relying so heavily on copper because that could lead to soil problems in the future, but this is an unusual year.  We plan to do more studies on organic late blight control next year.  There were three other previous posts in this blog with pictures about this study in August.  This study was made possible through funding provided by Brandt Consolidated  This study is located at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC  Both Brandt and the research station have been very supportive of our organic tomato research program for many years. 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Organic Growers School-Farmer Education Committee Makes Plans

This evening, the Farmer Education Committee of the Organic Growers School ( met at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. on Coxe Ave. ( to plan how best to serve current and aspiring commercial organic farmers in the region in the coming year.  We will continue to support our new CRAFT program ( to provide a comprehensive training program in organic agriculture involving farmers, farm apprentices, and agriculture students.  We also discussed partnering more with the local Extension offices ( to offer more programing, e.g., on Conventional Farmers Transitioning to Organics and Commercial Blueberry Production.  For the Spring Event, which will be held on March 6-7, 2010 at the UNC-Asheville campus, we will develop one or two tracks specifically for commercial farmers.  If you have a topic you would like to see us cover, please drop me an email!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Time is Short to Apply for Cost Share Funds for Organic Certification

North Carolina organic farmers: You have until September 30, 2009 to apply for the cost-share funds for organic certification through the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Here is the website with the letter about the program and application form:
Don't let this opportunity slip by; up to 75% of your costs could be covered!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Information on Harvesting Flooded Crops in Western NC

Unfortunately, all I had to do was look back at my September 2004 emails to find most of this information for you! My heart goes out to all of you who are losing crops to flood waters at this time.

Harvesting Decisions for Flooded Crops

Crops intended for human consumption are considered contaminated if they have been covered with flood waters from rivers, creeks or streams. Growers should distinguish between rainwater that accumulates on a field because of excessive rainfall versus fields covered by flood waters from risen rivers, creeks or streams. Flood waters can carry potential contaminants from off-site sources. Fields covered by flood waters are distinctly different from fields where rainwater has accumulated in low areas. Standing waters often occur after heavy rain.

The present concern is for crops which have been in direct contact with flood waters from risen rivers, creeks or streams which may be contaminated with runoff such as human or animal waste, petroleum products, pesticides or industrial chemicals.

If the crop is in standing water from accumulated rainwater, not flooding from rivers or streams, keep in mind that most fruits and vegetables are subject to damage or decay if they are flooded for more than a couple days. In that case, the crop will either be in a state of deterioration, or it will not cure and store properly. In effect, these conditions will render most of the flood affected crop unharvestable or unmarketable.

Before cleaning up or destroying crops in flooded fields, check with your crop insurance and/or their local Farm Services Agency (FSA) representatives regarding exact documentation to certify losses, procedures for initiating claims, possible financial assistance.

If you have questions, contact your county extension agent, your local FSA or crop insurance representatives, or the Food and Drug Protection Division of NCDA&CS at 919-733-7366.

Here is information direct from the FDA on the topic:

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that certain foods exposed to flood waters, and perishable foods that are not adequately refrigerated, are adulterated and should not enter the human food supply. In addition, crops and other food commodities exposed to flood waters would not be acceptable for use in animal feed. FDA is also providing guidance in determining when food products can be reconditioned for future use. The information follows.

If the edible portion of a crop is exposed to flood waters, it is considered adulterated and should not enter human food channels. There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety. Therefore, the FDA recommends that these crops be disposed of in a manner that ensures they are kept separate from crops that have not been flood damaged to avoid adulterating "clean" crops.

Disposition of crops in proximity to, or exposed to a lesser degree of flooding, where the edible portion of the crop has NOT come in contact with flood waters, may need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Factors to consider in the evaluation include:

What is the source of flood waters and are there potential upstream contributors of human pathogens and/or chemical contaminants?

Type of crop and stage of growth, e.g., is the edible portion of the crop developing? How far above the ground does the lowest edible portion grow?

Were conditions such that the crop may have been exposed to prolonged periods of moisture and stress which could foster fungal growth, and possibly, development of mycotoxins?

Grains and similar products stored in bulk can also be damaged by flood waters. These flood damaged products should not be used for human and animal food.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables that have been inundated by flood waters cannot be adequately cleaned and should be destroyed. Fresh fruits and vegetables that have begun to spoil due to the lack of refrigeration should also be destroyed. These food items may be considered for diversion to animal feed under certain circumstances.

There is an excellent document on Salvaging Flooded Crops by Dr. John Rushing. I have posted it under "Late Breaking News" on both the and websites.

Two more articles that may be helpful:

A 2008 article from University of Wisconsin food safety extension specialists on harvesting flooded gardens:

A 2008 article from Purdue Extension:

Sue Colucci, area extension agent, has also posted some important information concerning flooded crops on her blog at

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Rain: Too Much at the Wrong Time

Here is the southern counties of western North Carolina, it has been raining for days on end.  About 3 am Saturday, the rain REALLY started coming down, and it has been steady ever since.  The French Broad River and other local rivers and streams are flooding.  There are many fields of tomatoes, peppers, nursery stock, hay, and sod totally under water right now.  The apple orchards, many of which suffered severe hail damage two weeks ago, are being further damaged by the excessive rain.  My heart goes out to these farmers.  Years of drought followed by one with excessive rain at harvest; it just isn't fair.

If ever there was a time to support your local farmer, this is it.  Please show up at the tailgate markets and road side stands and buy whatever local produce is available.  Let's try to come up with some creative ways to help these hard-working stewards of the land who provide food for table and help maintain the natural beauty of our region.

Extension agent, Sue Colucci, has a good post for farmers about how to handle their flooded crops at

See pictures of the flooding in my area at:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visit by Representatives from Ingles, Albert's Organics, and Appalachian Harvest

On Friday, representatives from Ingles Supermarkets (, Albert's Organics (, and Appalachian Harvest ( came to the Haywood County Extension office in Waynesville, NC to talk to growers interested in growing organic produce for them.  There were about forty people in attendance, including a number of well-established organic farmers.  Jim Ray, VP of produce operations for Ingles, described the commitment Ingles has made to organics. Ingles buys much of its organic produce from the other two companies represented at the meeting. 

Albert's Organics is a national distributor interested in buying a large variety of fresh produce from farmers of all sizes.  They are opening a new distribution center in Charlotte, NC next week; thus the interest in finding more local farmers to supply them.  One caution that was presented, however, was to not expect to get a large price premium for organic produce when you sell on the wholesale market.  The Appalachian Harvest presentation was the longest and of most interest to many people.  Appalachian Harvest is a program of the non-profit organization, Appalachian Sustainable Development.  It is a network of about 65 certified organic farmers in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina producing 30 fresh produce items.  The participating farmers all abide by certain quality standards, use uniform packaging and labeling, and are certified organic under a group certification.  The service costs the farmer 27% to 35% of the price they receive for their produce.

I thought it was a great meeting.  New market opportunities were presented for local farmers.  Some of the larger conventional farmers, in particular, might now want to consider transitioning to organics.  But the very frank discussion showed some of our smaller organic farmers that they are better off sticking with their established direct markets.  As Jim Ray said several times, "Take care of your current markets!"

If you are considering transitioning to organic production and want to learn more about it, plan on attending the new class that is starting on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at the Buncombe County Extension office in Asheville, NC.  See area extension agent Sue Colucci's blog for more information:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello

Cover from the 2009 festival brochure
I have had the great honor and pleasure to be an invited speaker at all three of the Heritage Harvest Festivals held at Monticello in Charlottesville, VA.  It has been great fun to watch a little (but brillant) idea turn into an amazingly successful annual event in a very short period of time.  The first two years, the event was held at Tufton Farm at Monticello.  Even with a hurricane last year, it was clear that the event had outgrown that lovely little site.  So this year, the event was moved to Montalto, a beautiful location high above Monticello.  With breathtaking views and bright sunny skies, it was a perfect venue for this important and fun event.

View from Montalto (photo by David Schwartz)
I understand that over 2500 people turned out for a day full of demonstrations, lectures, and hands-on activities all centered around the theme of sustainable gardening and preserving heirloom plants for the future.  The artisan cheese and heritage fruit tasting was very popular, and the lines so long, I never did get a chance to sample any of them.  But they looked good and smelled heavenly!  I did get to sample some of the dozens of heirloom tomato varieties on display and jotted down the names of several I plan to try in my own garden next year. 

View from the other side of the mountain! (Photo by David Schwartz)
There really was something for everyone at this event.  There were demonstrations and lectures on a wide variety of topics including cooking, medicine making, mushroom cultivation, traditional hunting methods, composting, permaculture, woodworking, blacksmithing, cider making, seed saving, and shape note singing, just to name a few.  Yours truly gave a presentation on how to grow medicinal herbs in your own backyard and led a hands-on workshop on propagating woodland medicinal herbs. 

Sampling of the heirloom tomato varieties in the taste test.
There were also lots of vendors set up under colorful tents.  They had a wide variety of products and services for sale including crafts, yummy food, seeds, plants, rain barrels, books, and skin care products.  There were also educational booths where you could learn how to grow plants and animals or how to get involved in local causes supporting farming and the environment.

Local farm products for sale at the festival
So, I strongly suggest that you mark your calendar for mid-September 2010 and watch the website that Southern Exposure Seed Exchange maintains for this festival at for the actual date.  It's a beautiful area and Charlottesville is a lot of fun, so if you don't live there, you will probably find It is worth the trip.
This event is organized by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Monticello


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Advanced Organic Horticulture Training for Extension Agents was a Success

Ray Christopher describing his farm to extension agents from four states
On September 5th, I told you about the Advanced Organic Training session we had planned for extension agents from NC, SC, AR, and AL this week (see below).  It's over now, and I think we would all agree, it was a tremendous success.  First of all, I have to say that the UNC Rizzo Center in Chapel Hill, NC was an incredible place to hold the three day training session.  We had a very difficult time trying to find an appropriate venue for our training.  We needed a place where we could all stay, eat, and learn together.  We looked at various camps, hotels, and college settings and they either weren't available when we needed them or we couldn't afford them.  The Rizzo Center is upscale, and we felt pampered, but most importantly, it met all of our needs.  The meeting room was comfortable and equipped with all the electronic technology we needed to teach and demonstrate using Powerpoint, videos, and the Internet.  The food was outstanding and much of it was sourced from local organic farms; some we visited on our tour.  There are small meeting areas scattered throughout that accomodated our seven teams that had to meet several times to work on their projects.  It was perfect.

The biodiesel bus that transported us in comfort all day
Our tour on Wednesday was more than we had hoped for.  The weather was sunny and warm, the biodiesel bus was comfortable, and the farmers openly shared their successes, challenges, and hopes for the future.  NC extension agent, Sue Colucci, provided a description of that tour on her blog

Haygrove high tunnels at Peregrine Farm
After several educational sessions this morning, we wound up the training with reports from the seven teams.  We had a fictitious farm scenario with seven problems that an extension agent might be asked to solve.  Each team was assigned one of the problems and had to work together to develop an answer.  The reports were creative, educational, and very entertaining.  I was impressed with how the everyone worked together and used what they learned over the past few days to formulate their answers.

Attendees discussing beneficial insects at the Student Farm at the CCCC campus in Pittsboro
At the end, the agents reported that they really liked the format of the training and that the farm scenario and assigned problems made for a good teaching tool.  They also liked having agents from different states all together to share experiences and knowledge, and they say we need to do this again in another 18 months or so.  Now the project leaders have to finish the development of a series of modules to be posted on a website to use as training tools and resources for all extension agents in the South.  This training was funded by a grant from the Southern SARE program.

Last tour stop was to ECO (Eastern Carolina Organics) where Todd was preparing to store winter squash

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Fun: My Chickens Are Molting!

It's the Labor Day and I'm not working and this post has nothing to do with alternative crops or organic horticulture.  But I went out to check for eggs in my chicken tractor a little bit ago and was shocked to find it full of feathers.  It looked like a chicken exploded!  I knew a few of them were molting, but right now the feathers are literally falling off the white one in the center.  Anyway, I thought it was funny and wanted to share.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Training Extension Agents in Organic Horticulture

For three days next week, Debbie Roos (, Tony Kleese (, Richard Boylan (Ashe and Watagua Co. Alt. Ag Agent), and I will be leading a three day session to train extension agents from NC, SC, AL, and AR about organic horticulture.  This is an advanced level training session to help build a core group of agents in each state to serve as resource agents on organic agriculture for other agents in their state.  All the agents attended a beginner level training last year in their own states.  This is all part of a Southern SARE ( funded project entitled 'Building Organic Agriculture Extension Training Capacity in the Southeast' led by Elena Garcia at the University of Arkansas.  We will base our training out of Chapel Hill so we can visit the following wonderful examples of organic and sustainable agriculture in North Carolina:  Peregrine Farm (, Timberwood Organics (, Benjamin Vineyards (, the Student Farm at Central Carolina Community College ( and Eastern Carolina Organics (

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Introduction to the NC Herb Association

Young adults "thinking" about herbs at the 2009 Wild Herb Weekend in Valle Crucis, NC.
There is a rising interest in herbs of all kinds; culinary, medicinal, aromatic, and ornamental.  People interested in herbs like to share their knowledge, learn as much as they can, and be around other "herbal folks".  If you are one of these "herb people", and you live in North Carolina or one of the surrounding states, you should check out the North Carolina Herb Association (NCHA).  It is a small organization of herb professionals, including growers, processors, herbalists, crafters, educators, and researchers, and herb enthusiasts, ie., hobbyists.  Every year the NCHA hosts Wild Herb Weekend at the Valle Crucis Conference Center (  That alone is a good reason to belong!  It is a magical weekend in a beautiful high country location.  Every year there is a wide diversity of topics covered, with workshops, walks, and lectures.  This year Richo Cech of Horizon Herbs ( and his daughters, Sena (author, illustrator, herbalist) and Nadja (natural products chemist), were speakers.  The association publishes a beautiful newsletter and has a great website.  Next summer, they will be one of the organizers/sponsors of the the first Piedmont Herb Festival.  And the website contains a wealth of good information.  The association exists to educate people about herbs, support research, and support the NC herb industry.  I have served as an advisor to the board for 20 years.  Check out their website at and consider getting involved.

Richo Cech leading an herb walk at the 2009 Wild Herb Weekend