In January 2012, Maverick Farms, in partnership with Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development Program and the Valle Crucis Conference Center, is launching a new program for the High Country aimed at growing new farmers: the Farm Incubator and Grower (FIG) Project.
“In order to succeed, new farmers need access to training opportunities, credit, land, and equipment,” says Maverick Farms director and farmer, Hillary Wilson. The Farm Incubator and Grower (FIG) Program aims to provide those resources and reduce the initial cost of starting a farm enterprise.
FIG will provide low-cost land leases for vegetable, cut flower, herb, and pasture-based animal farm ventures as well as a shared equipment pool and mentorship opportunities for beginning farmers. The new FIG Farm is located in the heart of Valle Crucis, on the site of the former ASU Teaching & Research Farm, on land owned by the Valle Crucis Conference Center.
Maverick Farms director Hillary Wilson says that FIG will incubate two farmers each year; offer a year-round educational curriculum for beginning farmers that will be available to the public; continue to build and develop local markets and infrastructure for those new farmers; and connect FIG farmers with long-term low-cost land opportunities once incubated.
Christoff den Biggelaar, associate professor of agroecology at Appalachian State Uinversity, said that the ASU Teaching Farm has shifted from Valle Crucis to a site in Fleetwood, Ashe County. “We’ve spent 10 years building up the soil and the infrastructure at the Valle Crucis site,” he said. “We want to see it remain an educational farm, and we’re happy to work with Maverick to make that happen.” Tom Eshelman, the director of the Valle Crucis Conference Center, also likes to see the continued use of the land as a farm with an educational mission to remain true to its original purpose of producing food for the students and teachers of the boarding school established by the Episcopal Church there in 1848.
The initial launch of the FIG project will be funded in part by Appalachian District Health Department through their Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant. The Appalachian District Health Department doctors and nurses see many patients with disease that could be prevented through healthier diets, and they believe that policy and environmental level changes can reduce the rate of diet-related diseases in the Appalachian District. The health department aims to increase access to healthy, local food through the creation of community gardens, the establishment of a new farmers market and a local foods campaign, and to identify creative solutions to strengthen the local food economy. “Maverick Farms is proud to be working with the Appalachian District Health Department in working towards a healthier Appalachia for all with the launch of the FIG program,” says Hillary Wilson.
Inspired by other national farm incubator programs such as Vermont’s Intervale Center (http://www.intervale.org/), the FIG Farm is designed as a public space where plots are rented to beginning farmers who have access to a cooperative equipment share and washing, storage, processing, and distribution facilities.
FIG will offer a graduated system of support designed to give greater support to beginning farmers during the early stages and phased out support as the farm enterprise matures. Designated as “incubator farms” (years one through three), “enterprise farms” (years three to five), and “mentor farms” (years five plus), FIG will accommodate up to two new incubator farmers each year, and will work with enterprise farms to transition off the FIG Farm property to a long-term farm property that suits their needs.
The FIG project represents the culmination of a multi-year collaboration between a wide range of stakeholders in the High Country. After launching Maverick Farms in 2004 as a community-based, educational non-profit farm dedicated to preserving family farms as a community resource and expanding access to healthy food in the High Country by reconnecting local food networks, program director Hillary Wilson and her collaborators saw: a) an increasing influx of young people into the High Country who wanted to farm but lacked skills and experience; b) high land prices that made launching new farm projects impractical; and c) limited access to healthy food among the region’s low-income residents, caused partially by limited supply of locally produced fruits and vegetables.
About Maverick Farms.
Since its founding in 2004, Maverick Farms has maintained a strong educational focus. In our first season, we began a formal internship program in partnership with Appalachian State University in Boone, working with and training students from the school’s agroecology program. In 2006, after realizing our role as the de facto young farmer-training program in the area, we began to plan and organize a more formal, structured farmer training program.
Working with partners from Appalachian State University we began a pilot Farmer Incubator and Grower (FIG) program in 2007. During the pilot year, however, we realized an unanticipated dilemma: it was not fair to train new farmers without more stable markets and infrastructure for local food in the High Country. Thus, in 2008, we began planning and organizing a multi-farm CSA (community supported agriculture) to address the need for a stable, year-round market. With support from the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, and planning help from Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, the High Country CSA (HC-CSA) launched its first season in 2009 with 13 farmers and 50 members. In its second season in 2010, the HC-CSA had 25 participating farmers and value-added producers and 78 members. Additionally in 2010, High Country CSA was approved as the first rural multi-farm CSA in the country to accept EBT/SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps), making it a national leader in local food accessibility. We now run the High Country’s only year-round market available to everyone, and we accept EBT/SNAP; during the winter months (December through April, no CSA membership commitment is required, and people can order through the HCCSA website (www.highcountrycsa.org) twice a month.
Maverick Farms is now accecpting applications for the 2012 FIG Program!
Please click here for more information and application or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 828.963.4656 for more information