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A Jump Start for New North Carolina Farmers

PHOTO: Ann Grier of Gaining Ground Farm farms land protected by agricultural conservation easement through the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. Photo courtesy of SAHC.
PHOTO: Ann Grier of Gaining Ground Farm farms land protected by agricultural conservation easement through the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. Photo courtesy of SAHC.
January 26, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. - As the interest in locally-produced foods grows, an increasing number of young people are looking to make a living farming the land.

Allison Kiehl, farmland stewardship and sustainability director with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, says there is a great need in North Carolina to have a successful flow of farmers producing local foods.

But she says there are many challenges including the high price of land, which often is prime for development.

"Agriculture is one of the biggest economic producers in our state," says Kiehl. "Farmers are aging and in a lot of cases they don't have children that want to take over the farm, and sometimes the best option is to sell to development."

The conservancy's Farmer Incubator Program is initiating new agricultural businesses in North Carolina by offering new farmers access to land and equipment at reduced rates. Kiehl says farmers in the program also are given support, training and tools to help them run their businesses.

Land outside of Asheville protected by a conservation easement by the conservancy is also helping young farmers. Gaining Ground Farm is leasing the land, and owner Anne Grier says they've doubled their production and expanded their Community Supported Agriculture Program.

She says it provides stability because they can plan out what and how much they need to grow for the year.

"The people pay ideally between now and March for produce that they'll be getting from May until October," says Grier. "It just helps us know what to grow in what volume, so it's just a very secure thing."

The incubator program has allowed Matt Coffay, farmer at Second Spring Market Garden in Asheville, to expand their CSA year round. He says they have more greenhouses for use, which has increased their winter food production. Aside from providing fresh, local food, he says the CSA is building community.

"CSA is the pinnacle of story building with food," says Coffay. "You're able to actually build a relationship between an individual member of a CSA and an individual farmer, and that relationship can last for years."

The incubator program was launched last year, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NC