This month we were lucky enough to interview RKie Clark who has been a BRWIA member since October 2018. Rkie has helped BRWIA in several ways since moving to Boone four years ago. We enjoyed speaking with him and learning about why he sees BRWIA as a valuable asset to our community and why he decided to join.
What are some of your passions and hobbies?
I moved to Boone four years ago and I brought a number of my interests with me: from British sports cars to white water. I also am a regular and supporter of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
The family that Edna and I put together. They are amazing to me. I have two children and five grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 20. I’m also pleased with my professional career as a CPA. Education-wise, I have numerous degrees that have come in very handy and some that make great wall decorations.
When did you first hear about Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture?
I am a regular at the King Street Farmers' Market and learned about the organization when they took over management of the market last year. I rarely missed a market and began to notice the tremendous effort and improvements being made.
Why did you decide to become a member of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture?
I officially joined last year. I met Courtney, the Executive Director, at a fundraising auction for the Blue Ridge Conservancy and I found out more details about BRWIA and knew I wanted to be involved.
Would you encourage others to become BRWIA members?
Yes. I see the great efforts being made in supporting local agriculture businesses and recognize that BRWIA is a key part of ensuring agriculture continues to thrive in this part of the state.
What value do you think BRWIA brings to the local community?
Our current economy doesn’t emphasize how food gets to us. Some children think that food just appears in the stores and you go pick it up. They don’t understand the process and some of the dangers to the environment of how we raise food. Prior to WWI, we learned how to generate ammonia, to remove nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into products that could be used as fertilizer and explosives. Now there are dead zones in our water like the Chesapeake Bay and the ocean. Nothing lives in these areas of our waterways anymore due to the nitrogen from the fertilizer runoff causing algae blooms that steal all of the oxygen out of the water making it inhabitable for life.
Have you had any favorite memories of BRWIA, the farmers market, the Food Hub, or elsewhere in the local agricultural community?
I spent a lot of time this summer observing the Tuesday King Street Farmers' Market and helping out with set-up and clean-up. That was reassuring for me to see other people taking advantage of their local food sources and talking to them. That’s been a favorite activity of mine lately.
This month we are delighted to feature Casey Jordaan for our member spotlight. First hearing about BRWIA as a student at Appalachian State University, Casey shows us the perspective of a beginning farmer and the love that drove her to continue. She is now the proud owner of Mountainwise Farms in Zionville, NC with her partner Tyler.
P.S. Check out Casey and Tyler's farm here!
Eva: Why did you want to become a member of BRWIA?
Casey: I first heard about BRWIA when I was in school at Appalachian State University. If I can recall it correctly, there was a display of photographs from that year's Farm Tour in the Student Union. I remember wanting to know more about what BRWIA does in the community. This was way before I had even the slightest inkling that I wanted to be a farmer, myself. But I do remember feeling super inspired by the idea that there was this community and organization that supported not only women but women in agriculture. I still feel that way - we are so lucky to live in a place where things like BRWIA exist for women and farmers.
Eva: Would you encourage others to become members of BRWIA? If so, why?
Casey: I always recall my earliest introduction to farming on my grandparent's farm in a very remote part of South Africa. It was those memories, feelings and nostalgic longing that brought me to farming in my 20's. After graduating from university, I worked and traveled in a few different places and it was during that time that I really started to evaluate my values, what I was passionate about (the environment, animals, health + wellness), how I wanted to live my life and where I saw myself in the future. All signs pointed to small-scale, sustainable agriculture time and time again. It wasn't long until, Tyler, my partner and I decided that we want to have a farm of our own. That was our goal, so we started taking steps towards making that goal a reality. We started reading A LOT, neither of us had any educational background in agriculture, so getting a base of knowledge was important to us. And not long after that, we decided it was time to get some hands-on, practical experience. We knew small-scale, intensive vegetable production was our primary interest so we started looking for internships that we believed would be a good fit for what we wanted to learn. We ended up interning with Springhouse Farm in Vilas, NC. Shortly into that internship, we both agreed that this was definitely the life for us! This is what we wanted! From there everything progressed naturally - from starting our own farming operation on leased land to buying our first farm!
Eva: What is it like to be a member of the local agricultural community?
Casey: Boone is unique in that it is such a supportive and encouraging community. Both inside and outside of agriculture - the community here is super invested in seeing each other succeed. I am continually encouraged and inspired by how supportive our community is. We feel so grateful to be a part of it.
Eva: What are some of the best parts about being a farmer in the High Country?
Casey: Farming in the High Country is so special because of the rich and supportive community we have here. There are so many resources for farmers through BRWIA and the Extension office - you know you always have someone to turn to when you don't have all the answers. I also love farming in the Appalachian Mountains because of its rich cultural and natural history. Energetically, these mountains have such a warm and welcoming embrace - they are truly a magical place.
Eva: What are some of the biggest obstacles you have come to face?
Casey: I think by far the biggest obstacle that I have had to face when it comes to farming, was just making the decision and commitment to do it! Coming to terms with changing direction and starting something completely new in my life, was difficult and scary. I truly believe that making the decision was the hardest part - but once we were committed to our goals, everything started to flow from such an authentic place and it just felt so right!
Eva: Do you have any words of wisdom or pieces of advice for local up-and-coming farmers?
Casey: If I could impart any wisdom to up-and-coming farmers it would be not to let a lack of education or experience hold you back from pursuing a life in farming. Give yourself permission to pursue your dreams and everything else can be learned along the way!
Eva: Do you have any favorite memories or stories about BRWIA or the local agricultural community?
Casey: My most recent favorite memories from BRWIA are from participating in the King Street Market. We loved being a part of the growing market and helping to make it a reality.
Eva: Would you encourage others to become members of BRWIA? If so, why?
Casey: Absolutely! BRWIA is not only a supportive and established community but it offers so many resources to the local community it is such a valuable asset to all of us. I know that our decision to farm in the High Country was greatly influenced by what BRWIA has to offer and the community it has built around it! Thank you!!!
Eva: What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
Casey: Starting Mountainwise Farm with Tyler is by far my proudest accomplishment!
Eva: What are some of your passions and hobbies?
Casey: Outside of farming, taking care of all my animals is my passion and my hobby! They bring me so much joy. I also practice yoga!
This month we had the opportunity to speak with BRWIA member, Rebecca Gummere, about her background, her relationship with BRWIA, and her interests outside of the agricultural community. Rebecca is a published author and her essay, "Cooper's Heart," is published in the April 2017 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine and is also included in the anthology O's Little Guide to the Big Questions. The essay was named "Best Essay of 2017" at the Hearst Magazines Editorial Excellence Awards. Read more about Rebecca's works here.
Courtney: Why did you want to become a member of BRWIA?
Rebecca: For a long time I've admired the work of BRWIA and its potential for impact in the High Country, not just for female farmers, but for the whole food "ecosystem" and the local economy. I attended a few events and then became a regular customer of the Food Hub, and found myself more and more invested in BRWIA succeeding in its mission. So I decided to become a member and make my commitment official.
Courtney: Would you encourage others to become members of BRWIA? If so, why?
Rebecca: I absolutely would! I would direct them to the wonderful history, literally "grass-roots," of the organization and then the marvelous, organic way it has grown. They have kept service to the community at the forefront of their endeavors. Then I would suggest if they enjoy being able to purchase locally-sourced food, becoming a member of BRWIA is a great way to help support continued growth and development for our farming and producing neighbors.
Courtney: Do you have any favorite memories/stories about anything you have done with BRWIA?
Rebecca: I attended a really well-presented and fun workshop on fermentation, then came home and tried out all the things we'd learned- ginger ale, sauerkraut, and sourdough. The ginger ale got my mother's stamp of approval (no small thing!), and the sauerkraut turned out remarkably well; I ate it for weeks. And I tested the sourdough in a pancake recipe that, with butter and maple syrup, made me all swoony. Of course, I would have to say, being hired as Food Hub Assistant is my latest most favorite memory!
Courtney: Do you have any favorite quotes?
Rebecca: I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and was struck by her quote: "If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically-raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week." It sure it yet another compelling reason to make buying local a priority.
Courtney: What are your passions/hobbies/interests/accomplishments?
Rebecca: I love to cook and try new foods and dishes and to go out to eat with friends and visit local breweries. I love hiking, and I've just taken up snowshoeing as well. I am an avid reader and am afflicted with a good deal of wanderlust, so I'm crazy about traveling. And I'm a published writer working on my first book, a memoir about a recent nine-month spiritual pilgrimage.
Even though it's cold outside, there are plenty of High Country farmers who continue to bare the elements to bring us the freshest, highest quality products from the chilly High Country soil (thanks greenhouses and high tunnels!)
So how can you buy local this winter?
Luckily, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture operates two markets that are open all winter!
But what's available this time of year?
Below is just a sampling of some of the delicious goodness available at the Food Hub and winter market. Check them out to see for yourself why local is better.
Give the online market a try and we'll give you 10% off!
Mary Williams is a retired award-winning Watauga County Educator and past President of the Watauga Beekeepers Association. She was awarded the Beekeeper of the Year at the 2017 Farm City Banquet. Over thirty years ago, she founded a program called "Parent to Parent" which connects families with children with disabilities. Her work at Hardin Park included founding "Coffee Talk" and upgrading the school's teaching kitchen. Needless to say, she is an active member of our community and has been a member of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture since February of 2018.
Since retirement, she has continued to volunteer in our community's schools in an effort to educate children about our food system, with a special focus on the benefits of pollinators. As a second grade teacher at Hardin Park explained, "During Mary Williams' Bee Keepers program at Hardin Park, my students truly understood the importance of bees and how it directly affects our produce and us. They enjoyed getting to actually see the tools used by beekeepers and the demonstrations that Mary used to show how bees work together. Since the program, we have enjoyed watching our "pollinators" around our school grounds."
Her children's book, Lily Learns to Swim, is about how a puppy overcomes fears by using excitement.
We are thrilled to have her in the BRWIA family!
Interested in becoming a member? We'd love to have you! Join us!
"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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.