Agrarian Road Trip – Part Two.

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Brevard, North Carolina.

Rural Revival:

the Agrarian Tour through North Carolina, with a nod to rural Virginia

On our venture into the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, we – Agrarian Road Trippers
– encountered the ugly effects of war, tobacco, and child labor
juxtaposed with and transformed into community-supporting small-scale

Day Four:


Lunchtime at the Bahnson Homestead.


Naked children running through a front yard sprinkler. The time is
mid-day, lunchtime. We share a garden fresh meal of salad with o-so
ripe tomatoes and water melon, as well as some hard boiled eggs from
some hard-working chickens. Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding us in the
valley. One of the biggest inhibitors for young folks – all folks – to
start farming is land. Farming is one of the most capital-intensive
careers – inhibitory during a time of economic crisis and in a society
where agricultural life is dwindling in the shadow of Big Ag. However,
we are in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the midst of wilderness
happening. Here we meet Fred and Elizabeth Bahnson – and their two
little boys running through the sprinkler. Here outside Brevard, North
Carolina, we are in the midst of this New Agrarian Movement. A revival
of the rural. The Bahnsons may as well be the poster children for what
the small family farm can be. Fred is a writer and student of the ways of permaculture. Elizabeth is a bluegrass fiddler with an interest in livestock. And they have been blessed with family land in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

the Bahnson Homestead in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

[Here is just a snippet of articles written by Fred: Compost for the Kingdom; A Garden Becomes a Protest; Monks, Mushrooms, and the Sacramental Nature of Everyday Eating; Good Soil.]

Trellised beans at the Bahson’s.

Where the Bahnsons live is actually a microclimate
in the midst of the mountains – a tropical rainforest, receiving nearly
80 inches of rain each year – as much as Seattle. As they build their
new house, the Bahnsons have planned to harvest the rainwater, situating their catchment system on top of a hill – to gravity-feed to their biointesive growing beds. In addition to rainwater catchment, Fred has designed swales
on the contour of the land to irrigate native fruit trees and prevent
erosion on the steep slope on which their farm is southerly-facing.
Other highlights of their farm-to-be are living mulches that fix nitrogen (lupine) and accumulate other deep nutrients (comfrey), as well as growing their own grains (Hopi blue corn for grinding). Elizabeth is currently dreaming of a goat dairy.

Veterans Victory Garden.

After leaving the Bahson’s, we head towards Asheville to the Asheville Veterans Restoration Quarters
– a converted Super 8 that now houses around 225 homeless veterans
every night. Men who have served in all wars from Vietnam to Iraq are
housed here – with an average of 51. By request of the men – and with
incredible support of a visionary directory, one acre of land was
converted into an organic garden to provide therapeutic activity as
well as fresh food to the residents of the shelter. The Veterans Victory Garden was
started in 2008 and now operates its own Tailgate Farmers Market two
days a week. The men have also been able to take courses in gardening
and greenhouse production to hone their expertise – as well as working
with Master Gardeners to earn the art of canning and preserving. Money
earned through sales to the community is supplemented with funding from
Tobacco Settlements in North Carolina to sustain the financial success
of the garden. Currently the two men maintaining the garden are seeking
to become Certified Organic through the USDA. The social worker in me
is encouraged to see projects that integrate the rebuilding of soil
with the rebuilding of lives.

Edible flower salad with monarda and day lilies.

Our next stop takes us back into the mountains outside Asheville, to Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. We begin our stay with a lesson in ethno-botany with Chef Marc Williams.
Chef Marc guides us through the culinary uses of commonly found wild –
and not so wild – edibles. Together we craft our dinner: herbal tea of monarda (bee balm), spearmint, sassafras leaves; pesto of lamb’s quarter and basil; garden salad with more lamb’s quarter and lettuce, garnished with day lilies and monarda; and for dessert, juneberryblackberry cobbler.

The remainder of the evening is spend in conversation with folks
from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and Association of
Farmworker Opportunity Program. The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP)
started in the mid-1990s with Tobacco Settlement money to help
transition farmers in the tobacco fields to organic vegetable
production – as well as to build demand for local food. Currently, ASAP
works on organizing and supporting farmers markets in the northwest
region of North Carolina and working on farm-to-institution projects – such as connecting local farmers to the food services of schools, hospitals and colleges.

The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Program (AFOP)
is focused on two main agricultural issues: pesticide outreach to
farmworker and children in the fields. Our conversation focused on
child labor in the fields. In North Carolina alone, over 150,000
migrants come to work the agricultural season – helping make
agriculture the number one industry in North Carolina. However, an
often overlooked issue of migrant labor is child labor out in the
fields. The Child Labor Law in 1938 does not
include limitations on child labor in agricultural fields. Many
children are found in the fields helping their parents meet harvest
quotas in order to earn enough to live on. As is the case, many
students start the school year late and are pulled out before the
school year ends – and often drop out before graduating. Beyond
educational structure, children out in the field are exposed to
pesticides, dangerous machinery and at-risk for muscular-skeletal
injuries. Penalties for corporations and large farms caught with
children in the field are little more than a slap on the wrist. Just
one of many of the ugly truth behind our large-scale agriculture.

Day Five:

the Farms of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina.

Warren Wilson College (WWC)
is another crazy liberal arts colleges with a high emphasis on
sustainablity. With just over 900 students – and growing, WWC receives
increased interest each year in its Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Forestry
Programs. WWC started in 1894 as a farm school for farm boys – but has
expanded much beyond farming, and boys. When asked about the College’s
rapport with the Swannanoa community, Sustainable Ag Professor Laura
Lingenck tells us she finds locals frequently cruising through the
campus, admiring the sight of young buff women not afraid to run a
tiller or back hoe.

Students in the Ag Department operate both the Market Garden Farm and Grain and Livestock Production – a total of 150 acres in production. In the Market Garden Farm, garden beds are double-dug according to French intensive methods.
Produce is grown for local markets (2/week) as well as a CSA in the
summer months for faculty and staff of WWC. Much of the produce is also
sold to WWC Dining Services, contracted with Sodexho. (WWC purchases
18% of its fruit and vegetables from its Market Garden and 50% of its
red meat from the Livestock Program). Both cover crops and rotational planting are incorporated into the planting schedules, as well as hoop houses for season extension.
Throughout the season, chickens in movable tractors are run through the
garden beds, to fertilizer and control pests. The Sustainable Ag
Program chooses not to certify its vegetables organic.

Little piggy: cute when little, food when big.

As for livestock management, the Sustainable Ag Program grows the majority of its own grains for animal feed – typically a profit-eating cost in livestock production. Stock-piling
is another way the College conserves money, by allowing its cattle to
graze grain still standing in the field even after the first frost.
Approximately 175 cattle graze on a 25-paddock rotation – on perennial pastures
of corn, alfalfa, oats, barley, and wheat. In addition to cattle, WWC
also raises pigs, chickens (which follow the cattle in rotational
pasturing) and horses for draft farming,
mainly in the Agroforestry Department. Other department tractors (as
well as maintenance vehicles on campus) run on locally brewed biodiesel, Blue Ridge Biodiesel.

Student building a cob structure for compost storage.

As if the Sustainable Ag Program at WWC weren’t great enough, the Recycling Department at WWC also features student-constructed industrial compost tumblers, a soon-to-be-built cob house structure, and Free Store
to recycle unwanted clothing, furniture, and all other sorts of odds
and ends with just a wee bit more life in them – or that can be
refurbished at WWC’s woodworking and bike shops. We rough agrarians
rummaged for a spare notebook, extra shampoo and souvenir t-shirt.

Before leaving North Carolina, we continued our rebelliously delicious and ridiculously fresh forays into food at Rosetta’s Kitchen
in downtown Asheville. Rosetta’s features a number of vegetables and
ingredients sourced from the Swannanoa Valley. I ordered the special of
the day – pickled maroon and golden beets atop a bed of fresh greens
atop fry bread, dressed with a cilantro-cashew sauce. Yum.

Blain enjoys his dinner at the Harvest Table Restaurant.

We hit the road for one more stop before our final destination in West Virginia. The Harvest Table Restaurant in Meadowview, VA, renowned for its connection to the author and sometimes agrarian essayist Barbara Kingsolver.
Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp, owns the Harvest Table Restaurant –
and has crafted its menu to include food mainly sourced within 100
miles of the restaurant. Vegetables are a given, but the Harvest Table
also sources meat, cheese, eggs and rice (grown in South Carolina) from
the region. I ordered a caramelized red onion and beet green frittata
and was greeted by the happiest, orangiest of eggs
on my plate – a rarity in the dining-out world. Once again our minds –
and taste buds – have been blown by the exhausting epicurean delights
on which we dine. Oh the glories of local food!

the Agrarian Road Trippers at the Harvest Table Restaurant.

We are passively witnessing the reawakening of rural life. Her
pastoral hillsides. Her setting sun to the lowing of cows. Her stars in
the pure black night. We now have the responsibility to share the
romance we see. To bring sexy back. Not only to rural living and
lifestyles – but to agricultural vocation.

We are agrarians.

End Day Five. End Part Two.

– bethel