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Appalachian Farm School helps nine businesses start, grow

SYLVA – Like most participants in this year’s Appalachian Farm School, Cindy Anthony is in the early stages of overseeing an agriculture-based business.

Though she’d sold her own produce and free-range eggs for years at the Jackson County Farmer’s Market, Anthony only recently acquired Thomas Berry Farm in Cullowhee. She came to the farm school with hopes of finding ways to incorporate value-added products.

By the time this year’s school concluded on March 6, she’d gained much more.

 “We went on a field trip to JAAR Farms, and that was very helpful to me,” Anthony said. “They helped me with my business plan, and the guest speakers gave a lot of insights. The Small Business Center offers so many resources. The 1-on-1 consultation was especially helpful to me, and so was the networking at the farm school – being able to talk to other people facing some of the same challenges.”

Organized by Southwestern Community College’s Small Business Center, the eighth-annual Appalachian Farm School started in January. Ten participants met every Monday for eight weeks and received insights from industry professionals on topics ranging from business planning to resoures and funding options.

For Anthony, the session on creating a business plan was particularly helpful. The Thomas Berry Farm, which has been around for more than 40 years, has a loyal following of clients who pay to pick their own blueberries on a two-acre plot.

Blueberry season only lasts from July through August, so Anthony has been searching for revenue streams outside that two-month window.

“People are wanting to come out from June through at least October, so having jams, jellies and other products will allow me to open earlier and sell locally produced items,” Anthony said. “The Farm School helped me put together a business plan that’ll allow me to do that. They drilled down on all aspects of running the business, like insurance and building community support.”

Like all services and classes provided by Southwestern’s Small Business Center, the Appalachian Farm School is free of charge.

 “We had a really great group this year, and I think they all worked together really well,” said Marne Harris, Director of SCC’s Small Business Center. “We hold this event in the winter months since that’s the closest thing to a down-time for folks who are working in this industry, and our goals are to help existing businesses grow and to help aspiring business owners figure out whether their ideas are viable.”

For more information about the free resources offered through SCC’s Small Business Center, contact Harris at 8

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