Posts Tagged With: farmland

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.

Categories: Farmland Preservation Program | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sandy Mush Cycle to Farm 2014


SAHC’s Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese, climbing Doggett Mountain during the 2013 Sandy Mush Cycle to Farm

It’s harvest time again —And, time for the second annual Sandy Mush Cycle to Farm! This year’s ride will take place on Saturday, October 11. Along the route, riders will pass pass through the scenic Sandy Mush landscape (enjoying views of 6,000 acres protected by SAHC).

This year, SAHC is sponsoring the safety stop at the Reeves Homeplace, where we are currently working on a new farmland conservation easement. The safety stop will be positioned before riders climb to the summit of Doggett Mountain.

As with all Cycle to Farm events, created by Velo Girl Rides, the Sandy Mush location provides participants with a tour of local farms by bicycle, stunning scenery of this beautiful area, tasty food samples crafted by the farms, and products for sale at every farm (including at the Finish, Addison Farms Vineyard).   And, of course, the Fabulous After Party!

CTF_by_VGR_horiz_brownIn addition to the farm stops, this is a fully supported ride with bike mechanic support at the start, support and gear vehicles on the course, event ambassadors to ride along and keep you on course, Fire/EMS personnel on the course, and a well-marked route.

Click here for the full event schedule, including packet pickup.

There are two Routes to choose from:

“Doggett Challenge” – Approx. 70 miles through beautiful country on (mostly) low-traffic roads

  • Challenging route with plenty of climbing (To the summit of Doggett Mountain!)
  • Approximate total elevation gain 6,300feet
  • See the route and elevation profile at RideWithGPS

“Metric Century” – Approx. 56 miles through beautiful country on (mostly) low-traffic roads

  • Less climbing, but still challenging
  • Approximate total elevation gain 4,600feet
  • See the route and elevation profile at RideWithGPS

Register Now: NOTE Registration for this event will close when all 200 spots are sold or at midnight on October 1, 2014, whichever comes first. For more info or to register, visit:

Call for Volunteers: As a Sponsor, SAHC is helping to recruit volunteers for the Sandy Mush Cycle to Farm. Click here to sign up for a position at our safety stop, and/or contact to let us know you’re volunteering on behalf of SAHC.

Land Conservation along the Cycle to Farm Route



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Community Farm/Discovery Trail Hike

SAHC's Community Farm in Alexander, NC, situated with a stunning mountain backdrop

SAHC’s Community Farm in Alexander, NC, situated with a stunning mountain backdrop

It was hot –  but not too hot – just the kind of bright summer sun you imagine plants loving to soak in.

On National Trails Day/Land Trust Day (June 7, 2014), we led a group of curious members, landowners, and local families on a two-hour tour of SAHC’s Community Farm in Alexander, NC. This first Saturday in June starts off Outdoor Month, and was given special designation to recognize the economic importance of trails across the nation as well as the land conservation work of local land trusts. It was a wonderful day to enjoy the 1.5-mile Discovery Trail and to showcase the many exciting programs going on at our Farm.

talking and pointing

Community Farm & Food Assistant Yael Girard (left) explains in detail about the many projects at the Farm.

We were led by Community Farm and Food Assistant, Yael Girard – with a little humor, a lot of detail, and an enthusiastic, jovial attitude. After meeting at the recently improved parking area and checking out the trail maps, our group of around 25 embarked on a pleasant walk down the mulched trail at the top of the pasture. With a sweeping view across the farm, Yael pointed out the newly installed livestock fencing, stream restoration area, and shortleaf pine restoration project. Then, we moseyed on down to the lower end of the stream, where native grass plantings in the riparian buffer had grown tall enough to tickle as we filed by.

The best part of roaming around the Discovery Trail for this tour was comparing the memories of past hikes, volunteer days and workshops on the property — the change is incredible! Yael explained how we had graded the stream banks to repair the incised, narrow canyon along the stream (created by years of erosion). We won’t lie to you – this project required some big earth-moving machinery – but the miracle is that we replaced the kudzu-covered tiny canyon with beautiful, sloping creek banks covered with native trees, bushes and grasses. On this day, the trail through the stream corridor was lined with tall silvery stalks, and many of the young native trees and shrubs planted in the stream buffer area were growing strong, too.

crossing stream

Crossing the stream.

We crossed the stream near one of the riffle-pools – features installed to promote aquatic life. Yael commented that  a naturalist has been examining aquatic organisms in the stream and was astounded by the rebound of growth since restoration construction finished last fall.

“You wouldn’t have expected to see stream life at this extent so recently after the construction was completed, so it’s surprising as well as gratifying to see it bounce back so well – and a testament to the planning and work done by Altamont Environmental and Riverworks,” Yael said. “I’ve already seen tadpoles, frogs, salamanders out in the stream – it’s pretty neat.”

Then, our tour continued up a rise along one of the steepest, most open parts of the trail and through the shortleaf pine restoration area. Here, SAHC contracted with the US Forest Service to plant over 25,000 seedlings. Yael paused to explain how we had found native shortleaf pine seedlings growing in this area and embarked on a restoration project to help re-establish this native tree species, which has been on decline in North Carolina.

jim houser looking at sign

New interpretive signs along the trail help explain the many projects ongoing at the Community Farm.

“As the trees mature, this restoration area will provide excellent habitat for native wildlife, too,” she explained. One of the recently installed interpretive signs for the Discovery Trail tells the how and why of the shortleaf pine restoration project.

We continued up the slope to the other access point for the trail. As the group looked out over the Farm, Yael pointed to the plowed field where the first of our new Farmer Incubator Program participants will be launching her own agricultural endeavor. Then, Yael pointed out the off-stream water tanks and new livestock fencing, important features that help create safe and healthy pasture for future beginning farmers while keeping cattle, sheep, or goats out of the stream we have just restored.

“If you look closely, you can see large blue balls floating in the top of the watering tanks,” said Yael as she pointed at one of several tanks installed across the pasture. “These floating balls help keep the water fresh for livestock. The balls float at the top of the water, supplied from a well below, and form a kind of light seal. It’s easy for livestock to push the ball down, then the water flows up. This keeps a lot of insects and debris from getting into their water. We researched programs across the country to find the best agricultural management practices for the Farm. One reason many farmers love these tanks is because, when it’s freezing outside, only a thin coat of ice can form on top of the ball. Livestock can break it fairly easily to get at fresh water underneath, and it’s better than having to go break up a huge tank full of ice.”

stream restoration area

Thank you to all who joined us for the Farm Tour. If you haven’t seen it yet, stayed tuned for the next hike!

With the bright sun almost directly overhead, our group continued down to check out the “before” and “after” photos on the stream restoration interpretive sign. Then, we followed a winding walk across a “hardened crossing” (another feature to prevent future erosion issues), up a section of pasture, and through the woods to the end of the Discovery Trail loop.

Thank you so much to all who came out to tour the Community Farm for Land Trust Day — and, if you didn’t make it yet, check our events at for upcoming hikes. We will be hosting more Farm tours in the future!

Click here for more photos.

Categories: Hikes, Our Community Farm | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preserving Farms – And “A Way of Life”


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 for more information.

Categories: Farmland Preservation Program, Land Protection Updates | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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