"The recipient of this year’s Friend of Agriculture Award is MORE than a friend to the over 50 farmers and customers whose orders she coordinates, fills, bags, invoices, restocks, and troubleshoots every single week. She can also heft 30 lb boxes of pork shoulder in a 5 degree freezer with short sleeves without getting goosebumps.
Most days, you can find Shannon Carroll at the High Country Food Hub, a storage facility and online farmers' market that features over 500 locally raised and produced products, helping farmers unload and inventory their products, talking with customers about why local food matters and asking how their families are doing, leading a group of young interns and teaching them how to work with local food, or sitting alone in the space on her computer to make sure the online marketplace runs on time and products are updated. Without Shannon, our community wouldn’t have an innovative online marketplace. She goes above and beyond to help make the Food Hub successful. She was a key player in the creation of the online marketplace and is committed to helping farmers increase their income by providing affordable freezer, cold and dry storage space and connecting with new customers through the online sales platform.
Shannon grew up in the Piedmont and moved to Boone in 1983 after spending a year teaching Biology on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. She had 30+ years of experience providing leadership and support for instructional technology for Watauga County Schools when she retired in 2013.
When she’s not at the Food Hub, Shannon volunteers with the Lettuce Learn gardens at Parkway School, cooks a monthly meal for the Hospitality House (using products she purchases through the Food Hub), and is an active member of the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church. She also helps lead her husband's SunCatcher Passive Solar Greenhouse business that extends the growing season without fossil fuels and recently earned her Master Gardener certification. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, traveling to visit her sons, and going for long walks. It is my pleasure to present this year’s Friend of Agriculture Award to the Coordinator of the High Country Food Hub, Shannon Carroll."
We are excited to feature the outgoing and personable Charlie Brady as this month’s member spotlight! Charlie has been the Executive Director at Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) for just over a year. Before working at BRC, Charlie practiced law for nearly 30 years. Towards the later years of his law career, he did legal work for land conservancies, land acquisitions, and other resource conservation groups. Charlie grew up immersed in land conservation as his family was very passionate about clean water resources. This exposure at a young age has stuck with him to where he is today.
Charlie became a member last spring and is very active in the BRWIA community. He attends as many events as he can, and he particularly enjoyed the past farm tour and food hub open house. Charlie attends the events because he wants BRC and himself to support BRWIA’s work. He appreciates the mutual support between the nonprofits.
Charlie sees a connection between Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture and Blue Ridge Conservancy's work. Part of BRC’s mission is to work with willing landowners to protect land and water quality; agricultural resources are apart of that land protection emphasis. BRC has protected a lot of farmland with conservation easements which are designed to protect the conservation value to keep the land as a farm. This helps preserves the land as family farms and as scenic farmland viewsheds.
Charlie’s experience with BRWIA has encouraged him to get more involved with in the local food system. He passionately encourages others to become members of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. Charlie says "the work BRWIA is doing is very relevant and important to a broad spectrum of the people in our community".
This month's member spotlight is the inspiring, Melinda Brown, owner and operator of Never Ending Farm. Melinda farms 10 acres in Vilas where she raises pigs to sell to small-scale pork producers. She got her first pig when someone left a pig in a gas station as a joke. The owner of the gas station did not know what to do, so he called Melinda. She helped catch the pig and took it home with her where she raised it. That was her first pig, and from then on she started raising better quality pigs. Melinda also grows and cans nearly all her own vegetables. She jokingly describes her canned food "almost like fast food, but it's good food."
Melinda is the recipient of BRWIA's Direct-to-Farmer and Mary Boyer Sustainable Food and Agriculture Grant. She explains that "without the grants that I received from Blue Ridge Women in Ag, I would not have been able to continue my farming on the level that I do." She appreciates how BRWIA promotes workshops, does farm tours throughout the year, and all the resources and knowledge they offer on different aspects of farming and gardening.
She considers herself a self-taught farmer and believes it's important to encourage people to simplify their lifestyles and to (re)learn how to cook. Melinda is passionate about creating a local food system that supports a healthy community. She encourages people to start a garden even if it's tiny. Melinda is thankful for the support she has received from Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, and we are grateful for the leadership she brings to the High Country!
We are excited to feature the passionate Laura England as our member spotlight for September. Laura is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sustainable Development at Appalachian State University. Before teaching, she worked as an outreach professional in the non-profit sector dealing with environmental sustainability with a major focus on water issues. Laura recently became a founding board member for the Carolina Wetland Association and currently serves on the board of Valle Crucis Community Park. She inspires students in the classroom and has created positive impacts in her community.
When Laura was growing up, her parents emphasized the importance of service. For years, she volunteered for a therapeutic horseback riding program. The experience inspired her as an adult to always be involved in organizations whose missions she cares about.
Laura’s passion for local food can be seen through her backyard garden and her support of local farms and farmers, as she has been a CSA member for 15+ years. Laura's favorite BRWIA memory is of her family volunteering to help build the learning garden at the ASU Child Development Center. She explains “My son Gabe loved helping install the locust fence posts, build raised beds, and more.”
Laura became a member of BRWIA “because food that's healthful--for those who grow it, for the ecosystems where it's grown, and for the people who eat it--is something that we should all get excited about! I'm so grateful for the amazing work that BRWIA is doing in our community and the region, making our food system more equitable and sustainable. As a mother, I have a lot of concerns about the world that my kids are going to inherit. So it feels really good to support organizations like BRWIA that doing such hopeful work.”
We are thrilled to feature the charismatic Sydney Blume as our member spotlight for August. Sydney is a recent graduate of Appalachian State’s Sustainable Development department who now works as the ASU garden manager. She helps to apply the principles of Sustainable Development into all 3 sustainable gardens the university has to offer.
Sydney has been “impressed and excited with things happening through BRWIA since [her] first year at App.” She first became aware of the organization when she joined the “Farmers at the Round Table” club her freshman year because she was interested in connecting with local Watauga and Ashe County farms. As a graduate now interested in creating food security in the High Country, becoming a member of BRWIA seemed like the natural choice. As a BRWIA member, she now has free access to connecting with farms and learning from experienced growers through the CRAFT network.
This month's member spotlight is the extraordinary Allison Jennings, development Director for Watauga Habitat for Humanity and advisory board member for the Western Watauga Food Outreach project. At Habitat for Humanity Allison brings people together to build homes, community, and hope. She was naturally drawn to organizations that create community, which is why she loves BRWIA. Allison also has a background in food-service, having degrees in Culinary Arts and Hotel Restaurant Management.
Many people may not know this about her, but her family has lived in these mountains for more than eight generations. Allison's grandparents, Clarence Berry and Virginia Mast, met in high school in Cove Creek, and married, eventually settling in the Grandfather/Foscoe Community in the 1940s. She spent her childhood visiting her great Grandpa, Hardy Berry there, and her summers were filled with the abundance and gifts these mountains offer.
When asked about her childhood time spent here Allison says, "Summers in Watauga County are the greatest memories of my childhood. My sister, Betsy, and I along with the Townsend children would spend days roaming the mountains, picking plump blackberries that my grandmother would use to make the best blackberry jelly that would last all year. We would go across the holler and visit the Townsends, who would send freshly churned butter back to my grandmother. I remember vividly as Larkin Townsend made sweet sorghum molasses in the early fall and all the neighbors gathered to help, on a cool, dark autumn night. It was extraordinary food, and we were ordinary people."
This month’s member spotlight gives honor to the talented and magnetic Susan Owen. Susan has been a farmer in Watauga County for 34 years. She became a member with Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture because she believes in giving people in rural communities the opportunities to grow food and become farmers through grants and programs, which helped her begin her own farm.
Susan believes in helping out small farms and providing opportunities to the underprivileged, which she does through her membership with BRWIA and her breadth of volunteerism. She wants to help give people a leg-up, and she enjoys being as involved as possible. Susan is highly involved in the community, serving on a number of boards in the area, from the Mountain Laurel Garden Club, the North Carolina Herb Association, and the Watauga County Beekeepers’ Association; she also helped to establish New River Organic Growers and helped to design the FARM Cafe herb garden. She learned volunteerism from her mother, and she makes an effort to be as involved as possible. “I believe so much in volunteering because I feel like we need to make our world the best we can, and to volunteer on boards makes me feel more connected - I meet a lot of cool people. I like to try and make a difference in the world,” Susan says.
Debbie Bauer is the Bethel School Garden coordinator with the Lettuce Program under BRWIA's Community of Gardens. As the former Garden Coordinator of the ASU Sustainable Development Edible Schoolyard, she has been teaching children of all ages how to tend a garden and where their food comes for over a decade. She is generous with her time, putting long volunteer hours and a good amount of sweat equity to keep the school garden productive and thriving.
One of the most rewarding aspects of her work with the students is cooking what has been grown in the garden. To see a child who says they dislike kale or spinach then "gobble up a kale salad or spinach smoothie really makes my work worthwhile!"
Debbie was also an integral part of getting the seed library in Watauga and Ashe Counties. "I am so proud of the phenomenal success of the library, including the huge turnout at the grand opening and the amount of seeds that were checked out," she said. Debbie is also a dedicated seed saver personally, and is now creating a seed saver garden at the school.
For Debbie, "BRWIA is a community organization that not only helps farmers but brings the whole community together. The staff and board are comprised of the most dedicated and diverse group of people that center their energy on the sustainability of the community by creating ways to support local food community, school gardens, the seed library and so much more. I am truly honored and proud to be a part of this organization."
Carol Coulter, Founding Mother and Former Executive Director, Recognized as "Pioneer" in 10 Influential Women Making their Mark Series
Judith Phoenix served as BRWIA Board Chair from 2014 - 2018 and continues to be an outstanding advocate for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. During her tenure, BRWIA experienced tremendous growth and grew in recognition, with great thanks to Judith's arrangement of numerous speaking engagements and her dedication to the organization.
Judith understands the important role that consumers play in ensuring a healthy and vibrant local food system. She believes that consumers have a responsibility to the growers to ensure that they are able to keep producing high quality food grown from our community's soil. While she doesn't plan on growing food for herself, her commitment to supporting local producers is an integral piece to the health of our local food economy.
As a farewell, Judith shared the following:
"Over the past 10 years, I have had many roles with BRWIA from Farm Tour volunteer, participant in the many of the Home Grown workshops, Board Member, and most recently as Board Chair.
Each role has given me the opportunity to support what I believe in and what I want to have access to: local vegetables, eggs, meat and other value added products. I love knowing where my food REALLY comes from and connecting with the individual farmer.
As Board Chair I felt empowered to “shamelessly” promote BRWIA and the High Country Food Hub to friends, strangers and civic organizations because I know that supporting BRWIA helps our community thrive. I know my membership dues go beyond my immediate needs to help ensure food justice by underwriting programs such as the Double Bucks initiative that gives SNAP users easier access to fresh food grown by our local producers.
Ultimately it always comes down to the people. The BRWIA women and men are hardworking visionaries who are helping make Boone and the High Country a strong and resilient community.
It is with great confidence that I turn the reins over to the new board chair, Julia Showalter."