Farmland Preservation Program

Farming In the Shadow of Crabtree Bald

kirkpatrickThis month we protected 32 acres of farmland in the shadow of Crabtree Bald in Haywood County. Located along Rush Fork Creek and adjacent to NC Scenic Byway 209, the farm contains prime agricultural soils and has been in the same family since the late 1700s.

Currently used for cattle grazing, the land has been used for various crops over the years, including tomatoes, corn and hay. It is now permanently protected for agricultural use under conservation easement with SAHC. Fertile soils on the property include prime farmland (Saunook loam), soils of statewide importance and of local importance.

“We appreciate the landowner’s commitment to improving water quality by using agricultural best management practices,” said Hanni Muerdter, SAHC’s Stewardship and Conservation Planning Director. “Fencing livestock out of Rush Fork Creek and providing alternative water sources protects water quality downstream.”

Conservation of this tract helps protect tributary streams of the Pigeon Watershed from sources of sedimentation and other types of pollutionRush Fork Creek flows across the farm into Crabtree Creek, in the Pigeon River watershed.

Psignrotection of the farm also adds to a significant protected landscape within the Newfound Mountains and preserves pastoral views along Rush Fork Road (also known as The Appalachian Medley), a rural NC scenic highway.  The property adjoins a 625-acre NC Farmland Preservation Trust Fund Easement property, held by the NC Department of Agriculture. The vast connectivity of all farmland and forested land in the general vicinity of the property is important for agricultural viability of the region as well as plant and animal diversity.

We are grateful for funding from the NC Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and Brad and Shelli Stanback for making this farmland conservation work possible.

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Garrett Cove – 101 Acres Protected

The western ridge of the property overlooks Crabtree Bald in Haywood County.

The western ridge of the property overlooks Crabtree Bald in Haywood County.

We purchased 101 acres in Garrett Cove, filling a gap in the network of more than 10,000 acres SAHC has protected in the vicinity of Sandy Mush. Settled by the Garrett family over 150 years ago, the cove is part of the cultural legacy of rugged and self-reliant individuals who homesteaded in the Newfound Mountains of the Southern Appalachians.

Located near the Buncombe/Haywood County border, this tract has been a conservation priority in Sandy Mush for several years. It adjoins three other SAHC-protected properties, and our purchasing and owning it adds to the network of protected conservation land in this historic farming community.

Six headwater streams originate on the property and flow into Sandy Mush Creek (classified as Trout waters by the NC Division of Water Resources). The tract contains Appalachian oak forest, as well as some notable rock outcrops that include a cave site. Elevations rising to 4,400 ft provide beautiful views into Haywood County and Crabtree Bald.

Vance Garrett

Vance Garrett

SAHC is proud to have purchased the Garrett Cove tract from Vance Garrett. Vance is a Sandy Mush landowner, naturalist, and local historian. His grandfather purchased the property over 100 years ago, and since then his family has used it for cattle grazing and enjoyment of nature. Vance is pleased that SAHC will protect this lovely piece of his family’s legacy in perpetuity.

Portions of the tract are currently used for cattle grazing through a license agreement with a neighboring landowner. We are working with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to complete a Conservation Plan for the property, which includes providing alternate water sources for the cattle to help restore water quality onsite and downstream.

We plan to own and manage the property as a preserve for the long-term. “We thank Brad and Shelli Stanback for their generous donation to SAHC, which made this important acquisition possible,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein.

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Reeves Homeplace Farm

The higher elevation mountain pastures are used in summer, where cattle flourish because of lower temperatures, rich native blue grass, and less insect pressure.

The higher elevation mountain pastures are used in summer, where cattle flourish because of lower temperatures, rich native blue grass, and less insect pressure.

“This project represents five years of hard work by the land trust, the landowner, and the agencies involved,” said Farmland Program Director William Hamilton. “This farm is representative of agriculture in Western North Carolina, and we are thrilled that the Reeves family will be able to continue owning, living and farming on this land in the future.”
Located in the Little Sandy Mush community amidst a scenic landscape of family farms, the property was part of a US land grant that once encompassed a much larger area. Landowner Betty Reeves is a 6th generation member of the Reeves family to farm the land, and she wanted to protect it with an agricultural conservation easement so that that it would be a resource for current and future farmers.

Lower elevation pastures of the Reeves Homeplace Farm are used in fall and winter.

Lower elevation pastures of the Reeves Homeplace Farm are used in fall and winter.

“People are always going to need healthy food to eat, and if we use all the land for development, we won’t have anywhere to farm,” said Betty. “When you think about it, we’re not getting any more land.”

Betty had worked the land alongside her husband, lifetime farmer Burder Reeves, who passed away a few years ago. Both Betty and Burder have been inducted into the NC Mountain State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame — Betty in September 2015 and Burder in 2010. Continuing the family tradition, one of their daughters, Robin, manages a diverse enterprise on the farm today, producing cattle, hay, and pasture-raised broilers and turkeys.

“Developers have offered substantial sums for this place, but Daddy never wanted it to be sold,” recalls Robin. “He wanted it to stay in the family, and wanted to see it continue to be used as farmland.”

Protecting the land also protects water quality in the French Broad River watershed.

Protecting the land also protects water quality in the French Broad River watershed.

The recently protected property consists of distinct parcels, each necessary for the farm operation: a lower-elevation farmstead in the valley and a high-elevation mountain field used as summer grazing pasture, rising to 4,544 ft. above sea level.  The cattle graze on the mountain pastures from May to October, flourishing with cooler temperatures, less insect pressure, and nutrient-rich native blue grass.

Conservation of the Reeves Homeplace Farm also protects water quality in the region, including Fall Branch, a significant tributary to Little Sandy Mush Creek.

“We are grateful to the partners involved who helped make this happen,” said Hamilton. “Their programs provide necessary financial incentives for a landowner to permanently restrict their land from subdivision and development.”

The historic Reeves family home was built with bricks produced on the farmstead.

The historic Reeves family home was built with bricks produced on the farmstead.

The Reeves Homeplace Farm conservation project was made possible by funding from the USDA — Natural Resource Conservation Service Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program; the NC Department of Agriculture — Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund; and a generous private donor. The project brought the first federal and state funds specifically for the purpose of purchasing an agricultural conservation easement to Madison County.

“SAHC is proud that we serve the community in this way,” added Hamilton. “ We competed for grants across the nation and the state to bring these resources to Madison County to protect this historic valley farm and scenic mountain grazing land.”

Part of a Farming Family

Robin and Betty Reeves (L to R)

Robin and Betty Reeves (L to R)

Robin and Betty Reeves are as incredible a pair of ladies as one will find in the hollers and hills of Sandy Mush. Robin considers herself lucky because as a teenager she was able to raise produce – like green beans – to sell to Ingles grocery stores for “spending money” instead of getting a job in fast food.

Robin continues the family tradition of raising cattle on the farm.

Robin continues the family tradition of raising cattle on the farm.

“Selling to Ingles as a teenager gave me confidence and the foundation to realize that I could succeed in a farm business,” she said. Her first forays into farming came even earlier. Starting around age 11 or 12, Robin showed cattle through 4-H at the Mountain State Fair, with the support of her parents. She quickly demonstrated a talent for it and regularly won awards until she aged out of the competition at 21.

“You have to do all the handling yourself,” she recalls, “Gentle them, groom and feed them, and get them calm enough to show in an arena, with the loudspeaker blaring and all the people and noise.”

Betty and Robin are still very much supporters of youth programs like the Future Farmers of America and 4-H. Betty emphasizes that it is important for our future to have both “people and the land to farm.”

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Protecting Farmland in Fairview

This year, SAHC protected 30 bottomland acres along the Drovers Road Scenic Byway in Fairview.

This year, SAHC protected 30 bottomland acres along the Drovers Road Scenic Byway in Fairview, including portions farmed by Bel Aire Farm and Flying Cloud Farm.

This year, SAHC protected a bucolic stretch of land along the Drovers’ Road Scenic Byway in Fairview. We placed 30 acres of fertile bottomland into conservation easements to safeguard the scenic vistas of the valley and working, productive agricultural land. The three adjoining tracts contain high percentages of nationally significant, prime agricultural soils, with portions actively farmed by Flying Cloud Farm and Bel Aire Farm.

“My Fairview farm holds special memories,” said landowner Popsie Lynch. “The land has been in my family for over 150 years. Over the years, this place provided home, livelihood, sustenance, and recreation for family and friends alike, offering opportunity to experience the outdoors and the beauty and tranquility of the mountains.”

Landowner Popsie Lynch is pleased that her land, which has been in the family for over 150 yeras, is now protected for future generations.

Landowner Popsie Lynch is pleased that her land, which has been in the family for over 150 yeras, is now protected for future generations.

These Fairview Bottomland tracts adjoin lands already in conservation easement with SAHC and near more than 1,500 protected acres in the region. 85-93% of these parcels contain nationally significant prime agricultural soils, primarily Statler loam, Toxaway loam, Rosman fine sandy loam, Rosman loam, and Dillard loam.  The concentration of nationally recognized prime soils on the parcels is extremely important.

Prime soils in the Appalachian Mountains are a rare and threatened resource — only 2% of the land mass consists of prime soils, and much of that has already been converted to some other use. Prime soils take thousands of years to form through the geologic processes of flooding, freezing and thawing. Because of these soils, the Fairview Bottomland farms qualified for highly competitive federal and state conservation funds.

The protected tracts contain a high percentage of prime, fertile soils.

The protected tracts contain a high percentage of prime, fertile soils.

The project was initiated by SAHC Fairview Project Director Mike Green, who moved to the area with his wife Sydney in 2005 and became inspired by the unique conservation values embodied in the lands along this stretch of 74A. Mike’s volunteer efforts and experience gave SAHC the capacity to pursue conservation on relatively small parcels by grouping tracts together in order to protect an uninterrupted landscape along the NC Scenic Byway.

“Ordinarily it is difficult to complete conservation easements on small parcels of 5-10 acres,” says Green. “Funders generally prefer larger parcels, and the amount of work – surveys, appraisals, creation of baseline reports, drafting the conservation easement, etc. – is the same as for larger parcels. The Fairview bottomland farms competed with farms across NC for federal and state conservation funds, but because of cooperative land owners and the packaging of projects in groups of 30 acres each SAHC has been able to permanently protect 60 acres of prime soil working farms in the Ashworth Creek basin over the past five years.”

The Fairview Bottomlands conservation projects were made possible with generous contributions by Fairview residents and others in WNC who wanted to support the permanent preservation of the valley, donations by the landowners, Buncombe County, and the Federal Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program of the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The conservation easements also protect 2,170 linear feet of Ashworth Creek and frontage along the NC Scenic Drovers Road Byway.

The conservation easements also protect 2,170 linear feet of Ashworth Creek.

These agricultural conservation easements also protect 2,170 linear feet of Ashworth Creek and frontage along the NC Scenic Drovers Road Byway. Having a well-vegetated, forested buffer along Ashworth Creek protects water quality and provides important wildlife habitat, including corridors or aquatic species, small mammals and migratory songbirds.

“We treasure the unspoiled beauty of the valley and surrounding mountains, the prime soils that continue to nourish crops and pastures, and the fields, streams, and woodlands that are home to varieties of plants and wildlife,” continued Lynch. “I am so grateful to the Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy for helping preserve our magnificent mountain landscapes and rich agricultural resources. Doing so requires effort and commitment, and deserves support from us all. I am thankful to know that the views through this valley will remain as magical in the years to come as they are today, thanks to the work of SAHC.

AnnieandIsaiahPerkinson“A crucial element of any great farmland preservation effort is the people who work the land,” said William Hamilton, SAHC Farmland Program Director. “Isaiah and Annie Louise Perkinson of Flying Cloud Farm grow organically produced vegetables and fruits on two of the recently protected tracts. Their presence and hard work on the land is a testament of why protecting these tracts for continued agricultural use is important.”

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Ivy Creek: 102-acre conservation easement in Madison County

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The farm at Ivy Creek is permanently protected for future agricultural use.

Chancellor Emerita of UNC Asheville Anne Ponder and her husband Chris Brookhouse have protected their 102-acre property in Madison County with a conservation easement, preserving pastoral and forest land for future generations.

“A convergence of truly great Asheville folks led us to establish a conservation easement on our property in Madison County.  Last year we were inspired by the creation of the McCullough Institute at UNC Asheville, created by the late Charles McCullough and his wife Shirley Anne to research conservation and sustainability. At an event announcing the Institute, financial advisor Michael Andry of Wells Fargo Private Bank introduced me to Carl Silverstein — and our conversations turned to action.

IvyCreek_mapI worked with Carl, Michael, and Farmland Director William Hamilton to place 102 acres of our property, acquired in 1995, into a conservation easement. My husband Chris Brookhouse and I knew that if we didn’t protect our farm and forest land now, its beauty and proximity to Asheville could provide an irresistible opportunity for future development.

Born in Asheville, I have had the great good fortune to return to this remarkable place, becoming chancellor of UNC Asheville in 2005. The natural beauty of our mountains is an asset for the environment, for prolonging the biodiversity of flora and fauna in our region, for preserving farm land, and for the sanity and grace that a walk in the woods or a view of the blue hills gives us. Because we placed our property in a conservation easement, generations to come will have the advantages which this natural beauty  affords.

We are grateful for each of the people we worked with along the way, as we pursue a  stewardship plan for our conservation easement in the years ahead.”

— Landowner Perspective by Anne Ponder

The conservation easement also protects water quality in the French Broad River watershed.

The conservation easement also protects water quality in the French Broad River watershed.

Visible from the French Broad River, Ivy Creek farm is characteristic of Madison County’s rural landscape, with open pasture ridge tops and steep wooded slopes. The tract is approximately 30% pasture, grazed by cattle, and 70% forest, with a variety of forest types and mixed hardwoods.
The property contains seeps, springs, streams and water courses of high water quality, including Ivy Creek and unnamed tributaries of the creek, which flows into the French Broad River. Permanently protecting the tract preserves water quality, future agricultural use, open space, and wildlife habitat on a parcel that could otherwise have become a fairly dense development.

Concerned about this potential for future development, the landowners donated the conservation easement and made a gift toward future stewardship of the tract.

“We are grateful to Anne and Chris for their foresight in realizing the potential vulnerability of this property, and for proactively working with SAHC to protect the scenic value as well as water and agricultural resources of the farm,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein.

Conservation of the Ivy Creek farm was made possible by a Mountain Revolving Land Fund Mini-Grant from the Conservation Trust for NC and a gift from private donors, to cover the transaction costs of the project. Anne and Chris will continue to live and farm on the property, with the peace of mind that it has been permanently protected from development.

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Preserving Farms – And “A Way of Life”

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52 acres of Watalula Farm in Leicester, NC were recently placed under agricultural conservation easement.

Over the past few years, the terms ‘local food’ and ‘farm to table’ have gained greater and greater prominence in our daily conversations. What you may not hear as frequently, however, are some of the underlying concerns for farmland conservation – namely, that local food production requires both local farmland and successful farmers, and that not all farmland is created equal. These concerns are an integral part of the story behind two recent farmland conservation projects completed by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC).

SAHC recently created conservation easements on two tracts of important, working agricultural lands in northwestern Buncombe County totaling 88 acres. The newly protected 52-acre Watalula Farm tract in Leicester and 36-acre portion of Duckett Farm in Sandy Mush each contain prime agricultural soils.

SAHC Farmland Program Director William Hamilton explains, “Only 2% of the land mass in Western North Carolina consists of nationally recognized prime soils.  In most places, this land is also the most threatened by development, and a good bit of it has already seen a change in land use. As a land trust working in the Southern Appalachian mountains, we recognize that preserving rich bottomland must be a high priority.  It is vital that we preserve this natural resource to secure our food supply into the future.”

Anne Grier of Gaining Ground Farm, working the land they lease at Watalula Farm.
Anne Grier of Gaining Ground Farm, working the land they lease at Watalula Farm.

Watalula Farm – 52 acres
Landowner Will Jeffers purchased the farm in 2011 from the previous landowner, who had grown up in the area and  shared his desire to keep the land available for farming. An insightful young professional and graduate of Warren Wilson College, Jeffers learned that the property had come up for sale from his friends and neighboring farmers Anne and Aaron Grier of Gaining Ground Farm.

“After living in Asheville for a number of years and feeling helpless as countless farms were developed, we always dreamed of viable ways to preserve land for agricultural use,” says Jeffers. “Thanks to an open dialogue between the seller, SAHC and neighboring farmers this dream became a reality with the preservation of Watalula Farm.  We hope the story of this farm’s placement into conservation can be an example for future efforts.”

Gaining Ground Farm leases the pastures at Watalula Farm for their herd of Red Devon cattle.

Gaining Ground Farm leases the pastures at Watalula Farm for their herd of Red Devon cattle.

Jeffers leases land at Watalula to young farmers of Gaining Ground Farm and First Blossom Farm to keep the land agriculturally productive. Gaining Ground Farm leases some of the bottomland and the pastures on Watalula, producing vegetables and local beef for local tailgate markets, local restaurants, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs).

“We can produce a lot more and do better crop rotation by leasing and using the Watalula land in addition to the land we already lease as Gaining Ground Farm,” said Anne Grier. “It has been especially helpful in improving our ability to sell to local restaurants. And, with the new conservation easement on the Watalula Farm land, we have a sense of security that the land will stay available for us and for others to use for farming now and in the future.”

According to Hamilton,”This farm has been a constant agricultural contributor for the last one hundred years.  It has and is continuing to provide local jobs for the community. As needed, it has evolved to survive the changing economics of agriculture, and the new farmers will continue to seek economic viability through direct marketing of produce and meat to the local market.”

This critical 52-acre property consists of 80% important agricultural soils (including 21% “prime” – nationally significant soils). A section of Newfound Creek also flows through the farm. The tract adjoins the Snelson Farm conservation easement preserved by Buncombe County.

“This is a great farmland preservation project,” says Hamilton. “The farm has all the right components: valuable soils, a great water supply, and beautiful scenery, all located within 10 miles of downtown Asheville. There was a significant threat of development, and we are proud to be able to preserve this innovative, highly productive, sustainable, and forward-thinking family farm for the future.”

Duckett farm – 36-acre tract

The rich bottomland of the Duckett tract is currently used for winter grazing lands and hay.

The rich bottomland of the Duckett tract is currently used for winter grazing lands and hay.

This 36-acre tract is a portion of 330 acres of family farm owned by Bill & Mabel Duckett, of which 260 acres have already been protected under conservation easement with SAHC. The Duckett farm is a 4th generation family farm operation located in the remote Big Sandy Mush area of Buncombe County. 

“Bill’s 36 acres is situated right in the middle of the Sandy Mush Valley,” says Hamilton. “This parcel is especially good because 26 of the 36 acres are recognized nationally as prime soils.  Prime soils take thousands of years to form, and usually consist of a balanced combination of sand, silt, and clay.  They can be cultivated year after year and never suffer from erosion if managed well. “

Presently, the bottomland tract is used for hay and for winter grazing land for cattle; it was used for row crops in the past. Duckett practices a historic tradition of wintering cattle on bottomland in Sandy Mush valley and driving them up to summer grazing at higher elevations, including his land at Chestnut Gap, which is also protected by conservation easement with SAHC. The pastures connect to a remarkable network of protected lands in the Sandy Mush valley and the Newfound Mountains.  While the cattle are at summer pasture, the newly protected conservation easement area is planted with hay, an erosion-minimizing practice encouraged by the farm’s Buncombe County Soil and Water conservation plan.

The recently protected 36-acre conservation easement on Duckett farm land (outlined in red) lies in the heart of Sandy Mush.

The recently protected 36-acre conservation easement on Duckett farm land (outlined in red) lies in the heart of Sandy Mush.

Remarking on the recently completed conservation easement, Bill Duckett said, “I’d like to see the land stay in farm use and not be developed, and that’s what my boys wanted, too. It’s good for the area to have more open land. This program works well for someone at my age. I can’t farm like I used to, and it can serve to help me retire. That’s something all farm families have to face, eventually – a way to change over to the next generation.”

Duckett’s children are interested in continuing the farming tradition of the land, although they do not have plans to take over farming as a full-time operation. Placing the land under conservation easement is a way for the current generation to continue the traditions of the past and ensure that the farm’s rich, agriculturally important soils will not be lost in the future. 

“Most farms are passed down — they didn’t happen in one generation,” continues Duckett. “It takes more than one generation to put a farm together. It’s more a way of life than just property, not something you want to sell and see disappear. I’d also like farmers to be aware of the farmland preservation program – and the fact that there is funding available to preserve farms through the Farm Bill. It’s not something that you’ll be forced into, but it’s nice to know that it is available.”

The Duckett farm tract of 36 acres is 100% open agricultural land, and 73% of soils on it are classified as “Prime” – Nationally Significant.  26% of Duckett Bottomland Soils are classified as “Statewide Importance” – State Significant. The tract is bordered by Sandy Mush Creek, which flows into the French Broad River.

NewSAHCfarmlandconservation projectsSAHC successfully applied for Federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) funds to protect the prime agricultural soils on both these tracts. We also secured funding and support for the projects from partners at the local, state, and national level, including Buncombe County, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina – Farmland Forever Fund, North Carolina Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust, and the US Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service. The landowners also made generous contributions to make completion of the projects possible.

“These are both incredible successes for local farmland preservation efforts,” sums up Hamilton. “The high occurrence of prime soils and the continued use and expansion of agricultural operations on these tracts made them priorities for conservation. We are grateful to the landowners for working to preserve their lands, and to our partners for providing critical funding for these projects.”

If other farm landowners  are interested in working with SAHC to preserve their land for agricultural use, we would be happy to help with the process. Contact William Hamilton at 828.253.0095 ext. 211 or william@appalachian.org for more information.

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All A-swarm: Wild Honeybees Find New Accommodations on Our Community Farm

Disturbed wild honeybee swarm on the farm.

The other bees gather around the queen to protect her.

From our blog posts earlier this year, you may have already gathered that we have A LOT going on at our Community Farm in Alexander, NC. Last week, we added one more aspect to this multifaceted project site — beekeeping. Farm intern Yael Girard came across a disturbed wild honeybee swarm while out scouting the planned route of our interpretive trail. Luckily, Yael had the experience and equipment to act quickly to save the colony. Here is her account of the day:

“Lost in the reverie of walking through the wooded property at the SAHC Community Farm, I may not have noticed the swarm had I not walked directly into it. I came into a clearing and found myself in the eye of a bee hurricane. The recently disturbed queen had not yet found a place to land, and the other bees were chaotically following her around the open space.

Queen bees are not the best flyers, being quite a bit larger than the workers and drones, and will usually try to limit their time in the air. Since she is the very life force of the hive, the rest of the bees will rush to protect her. When she landed, I watched the other bees surround her to form an undulating pendulum on a nearby tree branch. Once this buzzing blob had been established, the bees were fairly docile and hesitant to move. With their home destroyed, they sent out a few scouts to find a new location, but this can take some time. On a temperate day in late September with nights that fall into the fifties, and with no established hive and no honey stores, they didn’t have much of a chance at survival.

Setting up the new accommodations for the bees.

Setting up the new accommodations for the bees.

Yael suited up for bee rescue.

Yael suited up for rescue.

Since I had some experience with keeping an apiary, I decided we might be able to save the colony if we put them into a man-made hive. This can be a challenging process because you are dealing with thousands of individual creatures that act as a unit. The goal is to move the group as a whole without the queen flying away; once the queen goes, the whole swarm goes.

When handling my hive at home I rarely wear the standard bee keeping equipment, but given the fact that I was not familiar with the behavior of this hive, I suited up. This consists of long sleeves, long pants, a netted helmet, and gloves. If you swat at the bees or crush them inadvertently, it can set off a chain reaction of territorial aggression — This is bad for you and for the bees. You may end up with numerous stings and each bee that stings you will die, since its stinger will usually be left behind along with some of its organs. When handling bees, it is important to stay calm and move slowly and deliberately to minimize the stress to the group.

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Relocating to the hive box.

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Enticing them into the hive box with a bit of honey.

In preparation, I set an open Tupperware tote under the hanging swarm, to serve as an in-between receptacle for transporting them to the hive box.  I gently grabbed the branch, snipped it, and lowered the whole thing into the bin. Then I put the lid on as quickly as possible and duct-taped it shut to avoid any intrepid bees from making a getaway and/or stinging me while I carried the bin up to the new home site.

We set up the new hive on the edge of a beautiful hayfield with picturesque sunsets, a nice breeze, and access to lots of forage. Having a clear flight path and plenty of nearby flowers and water will give the bees a much better chance of survival. Unfortunately, after being jostled and jumbled a quarter mile, the swarm was not in the happiest mood. So, when I opened the box, the queen made a run for the nearest tree. After they recreated the blob formation, I was able to cut the branch and then introduce them into their new home. As an added enticement, I dripped some honey from my hive onto the frames. Despite some confused flying around, the majority seemed to get the idea and pile into the hive. The best part is that no one was stung in the process.

Success - the hive's new home.

Success – the hive’s new home.

This is a difficult time of the year for a colony to be without a home. Usually the bees would have built up honey stores throughout the summer and would be have no trouble surviving a winter without foraging. However, our bees have lost all their hard work in the move and, therefore, we will need to assist them through the winter.  I have taken several frames from my hive that are mostly full of honey and several where the comb is drawn out to get them started.  In addition, we will cook a syrup of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water and feed them until spring. With a little luck, we might be able to sustain them until the flowers start blooming again and they can survive on their own. It is exciting to think that someday there may be SAHC Community Farm Honey from this wild hive.”

Categories: Conservation Field Journal, Farmland Preservation Program | 6 Comments

Protecting Scenic Views, Historic Lands, and Clean Water at Hickory Nut Gap

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View from recently protected parcel at Hickory Nut Gap.

We love the tranquil drive through Fairview along the Drover’s Road Scenic Byway. At the crest of Hickory Nut Gap, the sight of Sherrill’s Inn overlooking this scenic route recalls the 1800s, when the Flying Cloud stagecoach carried mail and passengers from Rutherfordton to Asheville, and herd drovers stopped here to rest before journeying on through the gorge.

Recognizing the historic and natural treasures of this area, we were thrilled to protect 173 acres along the Drovers Road Scenic Byway (US 74A) this past December, through conservation easements on three adjoining parcels. These conservation easements ensure that the land will be preserved forever, securing important views, habitat, and water resources right on the Eastern Continental Divide.

The three adjoining parcels are located on the Hickory Nut Gap section of the Drovers Road Scenic Byway (Highway 74A) in Fairview and are visible in the distance from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The parcels also share a long boundary with our Hickory Nut Gap Forest conservation easement, and are close to and visible from the publicly accessible Florence Preserve and Bearwallow Mountain.

“Two sources of public funding plus private donors made this project possible,” said Michelle Pugliese, SAHC’s Land Protection Director. “We also very grateful to the landowners for their commitment to protect this incredible area on the Scenic Byway — an intersection of cultural, historical, clean water, and scenic resources.”

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New conservation easements protect views along the Drover’s Road Scenic Byway (74A), right at the Eastern Continental Divide.

The project was one component of a North Carolina Scenic Byways Land Conservation Initiative grant awarded to land trusts throughout the state to protect significant scenic, cultural, and historical assets along scenic byways. These new conservation easements reflect SAHC’s ongoing commitment to preserve resources along the Drover’s Road Scenic Byway.

The new conservation easements together preserve Tater Knob, one side of Ferguson Knob (the other side is protected by a previous SAHC conservation easement), and both sides of a section of Ashworth Creek, a beautiful, healthy stream passing through Fairview.

Preservation of Ferguson Knob, center, is complete with this project.

Preservation of Ferguson Knob, center, is complete with this project.

High quality Appalachian rich cove forest is located on a portion of the recently protected acreage.  Rich cove forest is a type of plant community found in narrow valleys, broad ravines and slopes where rich soil and abundant rainfall foster a diverse mixture of moisture-loving trees and herbaceous plants. The deeply shaded, rugged terrain associated with this plant community type is characterized by steep slopes, fallen logs, and scattered boulders, supporting a dense canopy of tall, mostly deciduous trees.

The second public funding source for this project was the North Carolina Department of Justice’s Environmental Enhancement Grant (EEG) program, which funded seven conservation projects in western North Carolina through Blue Ridge Forever’s Conserving North Carolina’s Mountain Headwater Steams Project.

“With two miles of headwater streams running across this property and flowing into the French Broad River basin, the long term impact of this conservation project on water quality is undeniable,” said Valerie True, coalition coordinator for Blue Ridge Forever. “Our mountain streams serve as a sort of water-fountain for the region, and projects such as this will have a lasting impact on clean drinking water across the southeast for generations to come.”

In the future, sections of these new conservation easements will become part of a regional trail being planned to connect public trails in the Fairview Valley and Hickory Nut Gorge area.

Categories: Farmland Preservation Program, Land Protection Updates | 2 Comments

Fairview Bottom Lands – Local Farmland for Local Farms

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View of the Fairview Bottomlands project area in the foreground, with the Drovers’ Road Scenic Byway.

In early December, we closed on three adjoining projects in the lush Fairview valley, securing 28 acres of prime farming bottom land for agricultural use in the future. The parcels lie alongside the Drovers’ Road Scenic Byway, below a twisting ascent up the Hickory Nut Gap. Together, these projects help ensure the protection of the scenic quality of this rural landscape, as well as the availability of rare prime soils for present and future farmers.

“It was important to us to ensure the agricultural future of this land and scenic value of the valley,” said Annie Louise Perkinson of Flying Cloud Farm. “Protecting the land means it will continue to be available to provide fresh vegetables and flowers to local communities in the future.“

Self-service stand at Flying Cloud Farm, located just off the scenic byway.

Self-service stand at Flying Cloud Farm, located just off the scenic byway.

Flying Cloud Farm, managed by Annie Louise and Isaiah Perkinson, operates on a large portion of the recently protected land. These new bargain-sale conservation easements protect parcels that contain 100% prime or state important soils. The tracts are contiguous with 400+ acres of already protected conservation land, and include vital portions of full-time, successful working farms operated by young farmers of Flying Cloud Farm and Hickory Nut Gap Farm.

Flying Cloud Farm fall crops.

Flying Cloud Farm fall crops.

“Preserving the use of this part of the valley for farmland and for beauty is important to us as a family, and we would not have been able to do that without the help of SAHC,” said Dr. Will Hamilton, owner of a portion of the protected acreage.

Water quality protection was another important factor in the recent project. In creating the conservation easements, landowners also took additional steps to protect a significant riparian area along Ashworth Creek. These landowners voluntarily agreed to exclude livestock from this portion of the creek, which will help protect stream life and water quality.

Categories: Farmland Preservation Program, Land Protection Updates | 1 Comment

Jammin’ at the Gott Farm

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Gott Farm with White Rocks and Camp Creek Bald in the distant background

Last Thursday, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) staff members enjoyed another sensational day at Peter and Polly Gott’s idyllic farm. Tucked away deep in Madison County, the 218-acre Gott Farm is surrounded by Pisgah National Forest on two sides, there are abundant springs, wet coves full of wild edibles, viable soil for farming, and breathtaking views. Their farm is truly an ecological gem.

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Peter and Polly Gott with dog Katie

Our visit started out with a tour of the Gott’s log cabin, which Peter meticulously made using hand tools and historic methods. The precision and perfection of Peter’s craftsmanship was exhibited in every other building on their property as well. Peter’s tools were impeccably organized and the woodsheds were stacked so systematically, you would think the logs were books in a library. After a tour of Polly’s old art studio (which Peter also made) and their sauna by the river, the staff headed to the top of their property to enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking White Rocks and iconic Camp Creek Bald.

The real fun began after lunch when the instruments were pulled out for some old-fashioned music making. Peter led the charge on his banjo, while SAHC’s Emily Bidgood and Margot Wallston piped in on the fiddle, Jamie Ervin played the guitar, and Hanni Muerdter strummed on the mandolin. Peter’s daughter and grandsons brought it altogether with a rendition of “Bury me Beneath the Willow.” The celebration culminated with SAHC staff dancing their socks off. Peter called each dance and his daughter Susie played on the fiddle. It was a grand ol’ time.

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Peter and SAHC crew playing some tunes

Visiting the Gott Farm has become a tradition that all the staff look forward to every year. When the trees start blooming and the flowers are out, everyone knows it is time to visit the property again. “Peter and Polly are two of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Their generosity towards others and love for their land is pervasive in everything that they do.” Said SAHC Membership Director, Cheryl Fowler.

“It was also nice for our staff to see and experience the fruits of our labor firsthand. Because we do much of our work sitting in front of desks everyday, it’s easy to sometimes lose track of the bigger picture and forget why we protect these pieces of land.”  Said SAHC executive director, Carl Silverstein. “After a trip like today, it reaffirms for SAHC staff on a personal level, why we continue to protect land that has so much conservation and sentimental value.”

Categories: Farmland Preservation Program, Special Events | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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