EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems

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The Power to Increase Farm Income!

The Empowering Mountain Food Systems (EMFS) program has launched in our region! We are part of N.C. Cooperative Extension and receive additional funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. Our goal is to offer financial, technical and business support to regional farms and food businesses. We are working with numerous regional partners including the Southwest Commission, Tri-County Community College, Southwestern Community College, Haywood Community College, Western Carolina University, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), NC Biotech Center, Center for Agriculture and Food Entrepreneurship, tenBiz, regional tourism authorities, and many more.

Farming has a deep history in the region. There are historic farms that have been in production for generations and farmers who are new to the region. This project seeks to assist these farms as well as food businesses, for example, businesses focused on products such as jams, jerky, and granola, or service providers such as processors, distillers, and distributors.

The recently released 2017 USDA Agriculture Census report shows promising news for farming in the region. The census showed 802 beginning farmers and increases in almost all categories since the 2012 report:  a 23% increase in direct to consumer sales, a 13% increase in livestock operations, a 15% increase in production of vegetables, melons, potatoes, and sweet potatoes operations and a 32% increase in production of fruits, tree nuts, and berry operations. The census shows a marked 52% decrease in agritourism operations. EMFS is working to address agritourism opportunities in the region supplying training and financial support to increase this regional market potential.

To continue supporting this economic growth in agriculture, EMFS hosts a dedicated regional extension agent, Lisa Gonzalez, in the EBCI Cooperative Extension Center. Lisa specializes in local foods and will work with each county extension office, farmer’s markets and food business to bring her ten years of experience with Cooperative Extension and her farming background to our region. Lisa and other team members will connect farmers and food businesses to equipment grants and loans, training and coaching programs, resources to increase agritourism, and strategic growth and marketing opportunities.

Existing farmers who are ready to scale up from direct marketing to diversified operations, for instance, expanding to wholesale markets or adding a value-added product line are key targets for EMFS support. Additionally, we seek farmers and food businesses for whom strategic financial management improvements, investments in machinery and processing equipment or even adding a farm apprentice to ramp up production would have a significant economic impact. We are fortunate to bring on local farmer and educator Christina Newhouse from Murphy, NC to manage the apprenticeship program. Christina has deep connections to the industry, region-wide and is currently seeking mentors for host sites. The apprenticeships are available year-round and apprentices are paid NC State employees. View the application.

EMFS is ready to work with farmers and other food businesses to determine their needs and provide services and investment to help them get to the next level of growth and income.

EMFS will be holding a series of Making More Money on the Farm events this winter, as well as sharing a regional food system assessment, hosting webinars, and providing educational materials and lectures at area schools. Look for Lisa, Christina, and Laura Lauffer, the Project Director, around the region, or check in with Chumper Walker at the EBCI Cooperative Extension Center, to learn more. We are excited to work with you and look forward to meeting you soon!

Learn more about all the EMFS resources, events, and services at Empowering Mountain Food Systems. If you’re a business interested in services, please check out our Business Development Resources page.