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Buncombe farmers win "slow food" sustainable-agriculture award

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11/21/2011 - Buncombe farmers win "slow food" sustainable-agriculture award
by Jeff Fobes - Mountain XPress

Jamie and Amy Ager of Fairview won the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association "Young Farmers of the Year" award. From the announcement from Carolina Farm Stewardship Association:
Durham, NC - The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) has named this year's sustainable agriculture award recipients. The awards were announced November 12 and 13 at the 26th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, NC, a gathering of over 1,250 sustainable farmers, agriculture advocates, foodies, educators, and experts.  These institutions and individuals have made outstanding contributions to the sustainable food movement in North and South Carolina and have helped make the Carolinas one of the fastest growing sustainable agricultural sectors in the country.
 

The award recipients are:

Farmers of the Year, John and Betty Vollmer, Bunn, NC (919-496-3076 ) - In the early 1990s, John Vollmer, a third-generation tobacco and small grain farmer, knew that the outlook for tobacco farming was bleak. Moreover, Vollmer had seen the number of farms dwindle in his area from about 250 in the 1970s to just 30. He realized that organic production might provide a means to keep the farm viable.  "My main goal was to keep the farm in the family for the next generation," Vollmer said.  So, John completely diversified into pumpkins, strawberries and organics.  Recently, John and Betty added organic blueberries and they are looking to expand into more organic varieties.  In addition to organic acreage, they have many improvements to soil quality, PH and water holding capacity by using compost and cover crops in their non-organic fields. Now that the family has grown, John's goal has been realized; the 4th and 5th generations are helping sustain the farm!  John has shared his inspiring story of how diversifying with organics saved his farm with conventional farmers, elected officials and the public and is one of the most respected and influential organic farmers in the region. John and Betty are honored for their important contribution to organic agriculture in the Carolinas.  

Young Farmers of the Year, Jamie and Amy Ager, Fairview, NC (828-628-1027 ) - Jamie and Amy Ager are part owners of Hickory Nut Gap Farm and operate Hickory Nut Gap Meats, the brand under which they market meat sales from the farm. The six children of James and Elspeth Clarke jointly own the land of Hickory Nut Gap Farm and in 2008 the land was put into a conservation easement with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. Protected for eternity, the land will be preserved as farmland and managed by the family.  Both Jamie and Amy are graduates of Warren Wilson College and they have three eager boys who enjoy moving cows and feeding baby chicks.  Jamie has spent the past few years revitalizing the farm's pastures and hayfields by developing an intensive rotational grazing system that keeps the livestock out of the creeks and springs.  Amy focuses on the marketing and accounting aspects of the farm while working out in the field as much as possible. Jaime and Amy are recognized for their outstanding commitment to sustainable livestock management and land conservation, as well as for providing an inspiring model for young farmers to imitate.   
 
Business of the Year, Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO), Pittsboro, NC (919-542-3264 ) - Born as a project of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association in 2004, ECO markets and distributes wholesale Carolina organic farm produce to retailers, restaurants and buying clubs.  ECO is completely farmer owned; 80 percent of their sales go right back to the growers.  ECO's customers get fresh organic veggies and fruits, along with the knowledge that they're enabling farmers to protect their family land.   ECO allows participating organic growers to profitably sell their products and supports efforts to improve production and packaging techniques. By pooling diverse harvests from several regions, they have been able to meet the demand for a steady stream of high quality, seasonal food choices throughout the year. ECO's mission also includes community education about the importance of choosing local and organic produce and helping conventional growers enter the expanding organic market, including assistance in the transition to organic farming.  ECO is honored for their commitment to helping sustainable family farms thrive in the Carolinas. 
 
Institution of the Year, Southern Exposure Seed Ex change, Mineral, VA (540-894-9480 ) - Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE) offers more than 700 varieties of vegetable, flower, herb, grain and cover crop seeds. They emphasize varieties that perform well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast and are specifically adapted to organic conditions.  Part of the SESE's mission is to promote seed saving and traditional plant breeding.  According to SESE's Ira Wallace, "We believe that preserving unusual heirloom varieties helps to preserve and promote that other endangered breed - the American small farm."  They are honored as institution of the year in recognition of their important work to provide a variety of seed saving equipment, as well as seed saving resources in their books and DVDs, to the agricultural community.  
 
Activist of the Year, Janette Wesley, Greenville, SC (janettewwesley@yahoo.com ) -  A Greenville, SC native, Janette Wesley serves as Convivium Leader of the Slow Food Upstate chapter.  With Janette at the helm, this active chapter has accomplished much to, as Janette puts it, "create a space for the 'feasting and living together' of those seeking and providing sustenance that is 'better, cleaner, and fairer' in Greenville and the Upstate.  The group founded one of the country's first Earth Markets, or farmers' markets that have been established according to guidelines of the Slow Food philosophy of Good Clean and Fair. These community-run markets are important social meeting points, where local producers offer healthy, quality food directly to consumers at fair prices and guarantee environmentally sustainable methods.  The chapter hosts dinners, events, and workshops throughout the year to support four community grants: Slow Food in School; Slow Food on Campus; The Ark of Taste and RAFT (Renewing America's Food Traditions).  Janette is being honored with this award for her tireless efforts to grow grassroots support for fair farm and food policies that affect the Upstate. 
 
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent of the Year, Paige Burns, Richmond County
(910-997-8255 ) - Since embarking on her Extension career in 2008, Paige Burns has worked with energy and enthusiasm to help farmers struggling to adjust to shifting markets.  In addition to serving as the local food coordinator in her role as Extension agent, Paige also worked to establish a Voluntary Agriculture District program in Richmond County. She has worked with both farmers and gardeners to make practical application of organic and sustainable practices appropriate for the Sandhills region and, together with fellow Extension Agent, Taylor Williams, she created an organic gardening curriculum to teach sustainable soil and pest management practices. Paige also worked with adjacent counties to launch the Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative, a food hub centered in Carthage, NC, and has worked tirelessly to promote the local food movement in the area. She teamed up with other area agents to host the first local food conference in Hamlet, NC. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Paige is that she has managed to do all of this while serving as interim County Extension Director for Richmond County.
 
South Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent of the Year, Blake Lanford, Horry County
(843-365-6715 Ext. 115) - In his role as the Regional Economic Community Development agent, Blake Lanford has worked extensively to promote agritourism throughout SC.  Agritourism refers to activities that may be pursued both on and off the farm to supplement traditional production processes and reconnect with the consumer public.  This type of business is of growing importance to small farm enterprises throughout the state. Typically, cooperative organization, marketing and training related to activities of agritourism have been limited in the Pee Dee region of SC, but Blake has helped to change that with the implementation of the Pee Dee Agritourism Passport program. The program incorporates Google Maps to enable residents and visitors to use the Internet to locate on-farm lodging, produce stands and other agriculture related businesses.  Also, a printed version of the map that folds to the size of a passport has been made available at area chambers of commerce, convention and visitor bureaus and welcome centers. The program is integrated with S.C. MarketMaker, a program managed by Clemson University that helps agriculture and seafood industries to reach new markets. Together, these two programs now connect all elements of the food chain - from farmers and fisherman to processors and distributors.
 
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Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) is a 32-year-old non-profit network of over 2,300 members that helps people i n the Carolinas grow and eat local, organic foods by advocating for fair farm and food policies, building the systems family farms need to thrive, and educating communities about local, organic farming. www.carolinafarmstewards.org .

The 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Conference was sponsored by: Live Oak Farms, NC SARE, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., the USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture and the National Center for Appropriate Technology. 

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