Posts Tagged With: SAHC

NPCA/Nature Valley Work Day

Around 33 volunteers offered services for the workday.

‘Thank you’ to the 33 volunteers offered services for the workday!

We hosted another successful volunteer workday in the Highlands of Roan, made possible by a generous grant from the National Parks Conservation Association and Nature Valley. Funding from this partnership has helped us accomplish land stewardship projects over the past several years.

Organized by our AmeriCorps Project Conserve Stewardship Associates and Highlands of Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett, 33 gracious volunteers gathered to get their hands dirty on our National Trails Tract.

Three teams worked on trail re-routing.

Three teams worked on trail re-routing.

 

After a brief introduction from Executive Director Carl Silverstein and Don Barger of the National Parks Conservation  Association, who manages the corporate relationship with Nature Valley, teams split up to hear safety talks and get to work on several critical projects on the property.

The main objectives of the workday centered around the vision for the tract to be used for hiking and camping enjoyment, and its capability of providing excellent habitat for the threatened Golden-winged Warbler.  One team of volunteers improved a scenic area near the property entrance, removing dilapidated and rotting structures to enhance the beauty of a picnic spot next to rushing Roaring Creek.

Trail improvements will help protect stream and habitat health as well.

Trail improvements will help protect stream and habitat health as well.

Also working to improve visitor accessibility to this gateway property, three teams of volunteers tackled a much-needed trail-rerouting.  The pre-existing trail loop, which leads to a breathtaking waterfall, contained gravel sections that were degraded and steep. The trail was unsustainable and eroding quickly.  With loppers and digging tools, the Nature Valley work crew re-routed a section of trail down a more gentle slope with a more sustainable tread.

Another team helped control some non-native, invasive plant species to enhance the quality of breeding habitat for Golden-winged Warblers. The beautiful sweeping meadows and mosaic of scrub and early successional habitat on the property naturally provide suitable habitat for these threatened neotropical migratory songbirds.

The crew enjoyed lunch in a meadow overlooking a scenic view of the surrounding landscape, including several other tracts that SAHC has helped to protect.  Trustee Jay Leutze highlighted major land protection efforts and successes in the area as everyone enjoyed the beautiful autumn weather.  Later, volunteers enjoyed hiking to the incredible waterfalls on the property to end a successful day.  It is our hope that visitors and Golden-winged Warblers alike benefit from the workday for years to come!

National Trails Tract

The aptly-named National Trails Tract is a gateway to the Roan area and central to an expanding network of conservation lands.  It is highly visible from the Appalachian Trail on Roan Mountain and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (which traces the route of patriot militia through VA, TN, NC & SC).  Because of the property’s connection to such important historic and scenic trails, its notable conservation values — pristine wild trout waters, bird habitat, and adjacency to Pisgah National Forest — it was identified as a high priority for conservation.  SAHC purchased the 113-acre property in 2008 to protect it from development and later transferred 73 acres to the state  of NC, retaining

40 acres for long-term management.

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Meet the Farmers at Our Community Farm!

Matt and Casara of Second Spring Market Garden, working land leased through SAHC's Farmer Incubator Program.

Matt and Casara of Second Spring Market Garden, working land leased through SAHC’s Farmer Incubator Program.

Matt Coffay and Casara Logan of Second Spring Market Garden are in the house! The greenhouse, that is.

We want to send a big welcome to these first vegetable producers in our new Farmer Incubator Program, and a thank you to all the volunteers who helped put up infrastructure so they can start growing.

Second Spring Market Garden offers Asheville’s first 52-week CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) supplying fresh produce year-round. They will be growing a variety of vegetables using organic methods and efficient four-season production with two heated greenhouses now in place on our Community Farm.

SAHC currently has two farm ventures — Second Spring Market Garden and a heritage breed Pineywoods cattle operation — participating in our Farmer Incubator Program. The program provides low-cost access to land and resources for new or expanding agricultural operations and is aimed at helping the next generation of farmers fill the gap left as aging farmers retire.

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“Without the Incubator, we’d probably still be looking for farmland,” says Matt Coffay.

“We’d spent several months looking for land,” explains Coffay. “We were selling out of produce each week with our existing markets and needed to expand up to about an acre-and-a-half of production in order to really be able to earn full-time incomes as growers.  Land access is one of the biggest challenges facing young farmers, though — especially in an area like Asheville, where relatively flat, inexpensive acreage is hard to come by. Plus, in terms of leasing a property, renting cheap land with no infrastructure (water, electricity, vehicle access, etc) makes starting a farm –which is already no easy task — even more challenging.”

Second Spring Market Garden offers local, pre-washed bagged salad mix year-round.

Second Spring Market Garden offers local, pre-washed bagged salad mix year-round.

“When we found the Farmer Incubator Program, we knew we’d finally landed at the right spot.  The folks at SAHC are assisting us with building the infrastructure we need in order to farm effectively on a small scale.  We’ve also been given access to land at a rate that’s affordable for us.  Without the Incubator, we’d probably still be looking for farmland.”

Casara Logan of Second Spring, which offers Asheville's first 52-week fresh veggie CSA.

Casara Logan of Second Spring, which offers Asheville’s first 52-week fresh veggie CSA.

Second Spring is now taking sign-ups for 2015 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. Paying for crop shares early in the year gives farmers some stability and provides up-front capital for supply purchases. Members of a CSA are then provided a weekly box share of the crop throughout the year.

“We’re really excited to be offering the first 52-week fresh vegetable CSA in Asheville,” added Coffay. “We believe that local food only really works if it’s available every week of the year.  Community Supported Agriculture really does create community, too: our customers get to know one another, and we always invite folks to come out and see where their food comes from (and even lend a hand on the farm if they’d like).  It also makes an enormous difference for us when people pay for their share at the beginning of the year, when expenses are high and income is low; so, we always ask that our members send in their payments as early in the year as they can manage. We’re also open to working out a payment plan for folks who can’t afford the full amount up front.  Check out our website today to sign up, or send us an e-mail for more info!”

Pineywoods cattle at SAHC's Community Farm.

Pineywoods cattle at SAHC’s Community Farm.

Also participating in the Farmer Incubator Program is Gina Raicovich with her herd of Pineywoods cattle, a resilient but now rare heritage breed. Her agricultural operation will involve breeding of Pineywoods cattle and grass-finishing for market (selling yearling heifers and grass-fed beef), utilizing 26 acres of pasture on the Community Farm with rotational grazing.

Last fall, Raicovich chose to lease land through the Farmer Incubator Program because it provides an affordable pasture lease with proximity to town, allowing her to keep a regular job while growing the herd.

Infrastructure improvements at the farm include off-stream watering tanks for livestock.

Infrastructure improvements at the farm include off-stream watering tanks for livestock.

“My lease at the SAHC Community Farm is allowing me to access land close to downtown Asheville so that I can easily grow a small herd while I continue to work full time and look for a more permanent land base for my operation.  Ideally I’ll grow my operation to a profitable size before it’s time to leave the farm and shoulder a mortgage on my own land.”

The  Farmer Incubator Program was introduced last year, and continues to accept applicants on a rolling basis. Funding for the successful launch of the program has been provided by the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, Southern SARE, US Department of Agriculture, and New Belgium Brewing Company.

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241 newly protected acres at Little Sandy Mush Bald

LittleSandyMushtop

SAHC recently purchased 241 acres containing the northern slopes of Little Sandy Mush Bald.

The view of Little Sandy Mush Bald, an iconic high elevation bald situated above rolling farms and coves, is prominent throughout the Sandy Mush community. Now, more of it has been permanently preserved for future generations. SAHC recently purchased 241 acres containing the northern slopes of Little Sandy Mush Bald. The tract also boasts some of the best northern hardwood forest in Madison County and adjoins two properties which had been previously protected with a conservation easement through SAHC.

Grateful_Union_Contextual_ForAngela“Our purchase and long-term commitment to conservation of this property rounds out the protection of this highly visible mountain bald,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese.

LittleSandyMush1The property rises to 4,800 feet in elevation at the summit of Little Sandy Mush Bald and is visible from the Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway (Highway 209). Little Bald Branch, classified as an Outstanding Resource Water by the NC Division of Water Quality, and three of its tributaries originate on and flow through the property. Additional forested communities on the property include Rich Cove, Acidic Cove, Montane Oak-Hickory, and High Elevation Red Oak.

“The eight members of the Grateful Union Family, Inc. who sold property to SAHC are an example of a group of people coming together with a common interest to share a piece of the earth, and making it work,” added Pugliese.

View from Little Sandy Mush Bald.

View from Little Sandy Mush Bald.

“Since 1979, they have shared this very special place, showing a commitment to their personal goals of living lightly on the earth and being good stewards of the land. It is rare to see this degree of cooperation among a group of people that stands the test of time. Now they have exhibited this same spirit of cooperation and passion to agree to sell the upper slopes of their land to SAHC so that it can be preserved forever.”

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“For Love of Beer and Mountains” partners care for Grassy Ridge

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SAHC and Highland Brewing Company “For Love of Beer and Mountains” volunteers

On a brisk fall morning in October, a boisterous group of SAHC and Highland Brewing Company staff (and guests) met at the corner of Roaring Creek Road and 19 East, eager and excited for the busy “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership work day ahead. The plan included removing invasive species and restoring habitat for Golden-winged Warblers (neo-tropical migratory songbirds that nest in the Highlands of Roan). Good company with cheery spirits, a gorgeous day on Grassy Ridge, and delicious food combined to create the recipe for a great workday!

The high elevation of the Southern Appalachians is extremely important habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler.

Volunteers spread out from the Grassy Ridge cabin to work on habitat restoration. The high elevation Southern Appalachians highlands provide extremely important habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler.

Marquette, our Roan Stewardship Director, gave a brief introduction of the Grassy Ridge area and the importance for Golden-winged Warbler (GWW) management before we began. The high elevation of the Southern Appalachians is extremely important to the GWW, a bird that faces such significant declines in population that it has become a proposed candidate for the endangered species. Western North Carolina has a special and important role to play in protecting the warbler because WNC is part of their migratory path and the southernmost area for breeding.

Creating prime Golden-winged habitat, in the brush.

Part of SAHC’s plan for the Grassy Ridge property includes Best Management Practices for Golden-winged Warbler habitat. Half of our partnership work day group focused efforts on creating and improving habitat by weed-eating blackberry and other thick shrubs. Encouraging the growth of native grasses and wildflowers creates the perfect habitat for the GWW. The other half of the group created ‘early successional’ habitat by stacking brush-piles. This creates the sort of open edge habitat that GWWs need to thrive; other rare animals, like the Appalachian cottontail, also love nesting and foraging in these brush piles.

View from the ridge.

View from the ridge.

It was a chilly day on the mountain, but that didn’t stop us from working hard and having a good time. Later in the day, a group took a hike up to the top of the ridge, where a 360 view of the Highlands of Roan could be seen. Standing just below Grassy Ridge and Round Bald we all took in the view of Yellow Mountain, Little Hump and Hump Mountain and Grandfather Mountain way off in the distance. The ridgeline eyesore, a multi-story block resort building located on Sugar Mountain, could also be seen in the distance. This was my first time witnessing the incredible impact the building has on the scenic viewsheds in the Roan. While its stark silhouette stands out against the curves of the mountains, I was reminded that its presence along the ridge now serves as a reminder of the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 and the importance of organizations like SAHC and their conservation efforts.

volunteers_cropped

The work day ended with a jovial atmosphere of camaraderie, and wonderful food!

As the afternoon slowly turned into dusk, Kristy and Marquette called for the group to put down their tools and come inside. A wonderful spread of homemade pickles, corn salsa and pepper jelly, cheese, and fruit, awaited us. Kristy’s famous vegan chili was on the stove and we all began warming up and filling our bellies with good food and drink. The workday ended and the night drifted into laughing and storytelling around the campfire before transitioning inside for the night.

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Year-round gardens growing in greenhouses

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Pulling the sheeting onto the new Community Farm greenhouses required teamwork.

If you have ever visited a nursery or a commercial farm, you have probably seen large “hoop houses” stretching out sometimes as far as the eye can see. Without these structures, farmers would be limited to growing only during the warm season, thus drastically cutting their production. These season extension devices can range from an unheated plastic covered tunnel too small to walk through, up to engineered glass buildings with automatic venting and precise temperature control. The main objective, however, is the same: to allow the propagation and growing of plants during the colder months of the year.

IMG_0794The SAHC Farmer Incubator Program was lucky enough to receive two of these hoop houses (also known as greenhouses or high tunnels) this fall. Cathy and George Phillips, of Early View Nursery, learned of our need for heated growing space and offered to donate two greenhouses. Although one of the donated houses was too small for our program, we were able to sell it in order to raise funds for other much needed improvements. The second new greenhouse for our Community Farm came through the TVA Ag and Forestry Fund grant that we were awarded this summer.

IMG_0772As you can see from the photos, the greenhouses that we have put up are steel hoops wrapped in a double layer of plastic. The double wall allows for an air pocket between the plastic, and greater insulation. The houses will be heated with propane furnaces and vented with fans that will be on timers. Putting these greenhouses together required work of numerous volunteers and real team effort. In fact, a group of volunteers will be coming out to the farm this Friday to put the plastic sheeting and final touches on the second greenhouse.

IMG_0771Thanks to everyone involved, Matt and Casara from Second Spring Market Garden will soon be able to produce vegetables to sell throughout the winter. This will greatly increase their sales and ability to compete in the local markets. When their time at the SAHC Community Farm is over, the greenhouses will be a resource for the next set of vegetable producers.

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New farm operation moo-ves into the Community Farm

Gina Raicovich watches her herd of Pineywoods cattle begin to settle on the farm.

Gina Raicovich watches her herd of Pineywoods cattle settle.

Last weekend, we welcomed Gina Raicovich and her herd of Pineywoods cattle to our Community Farm in Alexander, NC. Gina started and managed the 60-acre educational University Farm at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, and is now branching out in her own agricultural venture.

Pineywoods cattle are a threatened heritage breed that thrives in hot, humid climates and can graze on lower quality forage. Originating in Spain, Pineywoods cattle were once used across the Southeast, but now only around 1,000 remain.

The sun sets on heritage breed cattle at SAHC's Community Farm.

The sun sets on heritage breed cattle at SAHC’s Community Farm.

Gina’s agricultural operation within our Farmer Incubator Program will involve breeding of Pineywoods cattle and grass-finishing for market, utilizing 26 acres of pasture on the Community Farm with rotational grazing and the possible addition of goats as inter-grazers. She is passionate about conservation and rejuvenation of this unique heritage breed, and feels that her interests (and needs for the herd) align well with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s mission as well as the resources offered at our Community Farm.

We look forward to seeing these charismatic cattle flourish. Stay tuned for future updates!

 

 

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SAHC joins #GivingTuesday Movement

GivingTuesday_SAHC4Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has joined #GivingTuesday, a national movement to encourage spending with a purpose.

Taking place Dec. 2, #GivingTuesday comes on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to create a better world. It harnesses the power of social media, creating a national moment around giving, inspiring people to take collaborative action that improves their local communities by supporting the causes and charities most important to them.

“We are incredibly grateful for the supporters of our organization,” said Carl Silverstein, Executive Director. “Their passionate commitment to conservation provides us with the resources to continue our work, as well as leverage to obtain state and national funds for the preservation of critical mountain tracts.”

Contributions to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy can be made at Appalachian.org or mailed to SAHC at 34 Wall Street, Suite 502, Asheville, NC 28801.

Gifts to SAHC help preserve places to recreate — such as the three critical tracts along the Appalachian Trail corridor recently preserved near Hughes Gap, Rocky Fork, and Carvers Gap. Contributions also empower the SAHC to continue our farmland preservation efforts, including the creation of a new Farmer Incubator Program at our Community Farm. Money given also funds protection of clean headwater sources for local drinking water supply, as well as habitat for rare plants and animals.

“Some of the most important and innovative work happening today in land conservation is happening at an intensely local level,” said Rob Aldrich, director of community conservation at the Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization that counts SAHC among its 1,200 member land trusts. “Contributions to connect people from all walks of life to the land are what we hope this Giving Tuesday encourages.”

 

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Grazing on Top of the World

Fred, Ted, and Jay with Grazing Lease and Spear Tops

Ted and Fred Hoilman sign a grazing lease with SAHC representative Jay Leutze, securing the future of the Big Yellow Mountain herd into the future.

According to Ted Hoilman and his brothers, the Hoilman family has been grazing cattle atop Big Yellow Mountain for over 150 years.  “There was never a time we can remember when there weren’t Hoilmans up on the mountain,” says Ted Hoilman.  That grazing history has given conservation biologists a trove of species to study and made the Hoilmans invaluable partners for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

“We don’t make any money grazing cows,” explains Hoilman.  “But we were born cattle men.  We do it because it’s in our blood.  It’s our family history.”  These days that that history might be hanging by a thread, but keeping the Big Yellow herd intact and healthy is important for SAHC and our partners at The Nature Conservancy.

They say change is the only constant. Certainly, change is no stranger to our flagship landscape — the Highlands of Roan. Conservationists have long puzzled over the existence of the signature grassy balds that cap the mountains comprising the Highlands of Roan.  Were they always treeless?  If not, when and how did they become treeless? Will they continue to be bald?

There is a body of evidence supporting the conclusion that the balds have been bald for at least tens of thousands of years, and probably far longer than that.  These were, after all, very tall mountains at their birth, with summits well above what would constitute a “tree line.”  They have eroded down to their current elevation, well below the tree line, yet some of the mountains remain bald.  The current prevalent theory goes like this: tundra-like summits were grazed and browsed by very large herbivores.  Think woolly mammoths, then, later, bison and elk.  When Europeans settled the area they quickly harvested all the readily-available protein, the bison and elk, and replaced those wild animals with domesticated beasts of burden. Many of the rare plants that evolved with grazing and browsing in place have remained in the landscape – and do, in fact, depend on grazers to create the openings they need to survive.

Ted Hoilman, atop the grass bald of Big Yellow with his cattle herd.

Ted Hoilman with his cattle herd on Big Yellow.

Other balds where grazing has been suspended have grown in, losing the relic species that tell of a time when this region lay in the frigid lock of arctic air.  “Cows, sheep, and horses grazed all over these balds for a couple hundred years,” explains Jay Leutze, SAHC Trustee.  “But when many of these lands were transferred to public ownership, grazing activity diminished and eventually disappeared.”  Almost everywhere in the Roan, that is, except for Big Yellow.  And Big Yellow is the one bald still supporting a wide range of rare remnant species.  The connection between grazing and the persistence of plants in the landscape since the end of the last ice age seems apparent.

Recently, the Hoilmans, whose cattle herd grazes Yellow Bald, and their conservation partners were faced with a troubling challenge.  The owners of the winter grazing ground for the herd decided to sell their land.  Loss of winter pasture down in the valley could have meant the end of the Hoilmans’ ability to sustain the herd — and potentially heralded doom for rare species atop Big Yellow which depend on the grazers to maintain the open, grassy bald. Recognizing that the tract for sale contained myriad conservation values, SAHC moved with an appropriate degree of urgency to successfully purchase the property and secure the coveted pasture land.

“We were not only protecting a gateway into the the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area,” says Leutze, “we were protecting the Hoilman legacy and the biodiversity of the Big Yellow Mountain Preserve. Luckily the sellers were as interested in protecting their land and this legacy as we were.”

“We are grateful to have been able to secure that property – and happy to support an important part of local mountain culture,” continues Leutze, “We all benefit from having the Hoilmans’ cattle herd creating conditions that enable the bald’s globally imperiled plant and animal habitat to persist.”

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Alternative Fall Break — Emory Students and American Conservation Experience

Alternative Fall Break students from Emory University - making a difference!

Alternative Fall Break students from Emory University – making a difference!

When you think of a fall break from college, you might think of a ski trip, or going camping, or spending time with your family — but you probably wouldn’t think about doing volunteer work. The students of Emory University have different ideas. Over a September holiday weekend, they drove up from Atlanta to do just that. On Monday, Sept. 13th, SAHC welcomed 21 students to the Community Farm for an entire day of trail work and invasive plant removal. The students came from all grades and fields of study; including neuroscience, Arabic, and dance.

Installing erosion control devices.

Installing erosion control devices.

In addition to the Emory students, SAHC was lucky enough to have five representatives from the American Conservation Experience (ACE) along for the work day. ACE is a non-profit that provides environmental service opportunities through conservation corps, conservation vacations, and volunteer outings. Started in Arizona in 2004, the organization has worked with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service. This year, they started a branch in North Carolina lead by Adam Scherm. The organization specializes in trail building, invasive plant removal, fencing construction, and wildlife monitoring.

One group of students helped with work on the farm's Discovery Trail.

One group of students helped with work on the farm’s Discovery Trail.

The students split into two groups and worked on building erosion control devices along the trail and removing overgrown vegetation from the livestock fencing. As a team, they moved logs, dug drainage swales, and pulled multi-flora rose. Students exclaimed about how much they felt like they accomplished. At the end of the day, the group excitedly talked about how much they would like to come back again for next year’s fall break trip. Adam explained how the day was also valuable for his organization in that it “was a great leadership opportunity for Max and Lindsey,” two ACE AmeriCorps volunteers. SAHC hopes to continue building partnerships with these two groups at the Community Farm and throughout our properties.

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The Right Tools for the Farm

Weed wiper

Grassworks Weed Wiper

The cost of farm equipment is something that can make starting a farm feel impossible. Tractors alone can cost upwards of $30,000, and then there are all the implements and attachments that are specific to each agricultural activity. In order to assist farmers in having access to more equipment,  the Buncombe County Soil & Water District and Buncombe Cooperative Extension Service have each purchased several common tractor implements. Purchased through TVA Ag and Forestry Fund grants, these tools are available for local farmers to rent from the respective offices for minimal fees. Use of such equipment can result in higher farm profits by increasing efficiency and land productivity.

Shaver hydraulic post driver

Shaver hydraulic post driver

To help increase community knowledge of the program and show how each machine operates, SAHC, Buncombe County Soil & Water District, and Buncombe Cooperative Extension Service teamed up to provide an equipment demo day free to the public. The implements demonstrated included  were a weed wiper, a hydraulic post driver, a bed maker and mulcher, and a transplanter. On October 1st, 20 local farmers and agency personnel met at the SAHC Community Farm to see these machines in action.

The four implements demonstrated could increase productivity on almost any farm. The Grassworks Weed Wiper is a simple trailer-hitch attachment that can be pulled either by a tractor or by a pick up truck. It is unique in that it applies herbicide only the tallest plants, thus avoiding indiscriminate die-off. The Shaver hydraulic post driver cuts post setting time to just a few minutes. You do not even need to start a pilot hole! This makes the idea of building acres of fence-line a lot more manageable.

Rain flo transplanter

Rain flo transplanter

The bed maker/mulcher is for farmers that would like to either do unformed raised beds or are working in plasti-culture. With a few adjustments the machine can run hundreds of feet of even rows with both drip tape and plastic mulch. The Rain Flo transplanter is an excellent machine that both punches a hole for transplants and waters that space. The riders on the machine simply place the plugs into the holes as they roll by.

Bed maker/mulcher

Bed maker/mulcher

All of the farmers at the demo expressed interest in the machines and how having them available could increase their productivity and efficiency. Having these resources available as daily rentals will allow more farmers to experiment with different implements and farming techniques, without the risk of purchasing each implement alone.

For more information on renting this equipment, contact Buncombe County Soil & Water District and Buncombe Cooperative Extension Service.

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