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SCC’s Appalachian Farm School draws variety of ag-related businesses

SYLVA – One farm sells honey and fresh vegetables and is working to address the Christmas Tree shortage that affected the nation this past holiday season.

Another specializes in multi-colored eggs, poultry and rabbits. And one set of partners is hoping to offer trout fishing experiences.

Despite representing different spectrums of the agricultural community, participants in this year’s Appalachian Farm School have at least one thing in common: They all have expansion goals centered around agri-tourism.

The eight-week farm school, which is organized and overseen annually by Southwestern Community College’s Small Business Center, provides existing and aspiring entrepreneurs with the resources and training they need to enhance or launch their operations.

The weekly series concluded on Feb. 28 with final presentations by each participating farm. It marked the Appalachian Farm School’s eighth consecutive year, and – as with all services provided by SCC’s Small Business Center – participation is free of charge.

“We eventually want to have an Air B&B or two on the property,” said Jarod Schoeberl, who attended the series with his wife, Maggie, and their 1-year-old daughter Ayda.

The Schoeberl’s run a small farm in Cullowhee with poultry, rabbits and plans to add small livestock and more in the near future.

“We’re new to North Carolina, we just moved here two years ago, so we had no idea there were so many resources as kind of wannabe farmers,” Maggie Schoeberl said. “Just learning about the extension office, and having an opportunity to network with other farmers who are doing similar things – it’s all been extremely helpful.”

Also attending the class was Robbinsville-resident Alan Wamsley, who runs Simple Life Mountain Retreat and Campground and is grateful for programs like Appalachian Farm School that are helping the next generation of farmers find their way.

“There are pieces of the puzzle that I don’t understand,” said Wamsley, who started Simple Life in 2010 and has recently begun adding apple and Christmas trees to his property in Graham County. “Just like beekeeping, apple trees and Christmas trees – those are three different facets of the business. The farm schools have taught me to diversify and stay on the cutting edge of farming.”

On the other end of the experience spectrum were participants Natalie Rayburn and Patrick Cardona-Cosner, who enrolled in the Appalachian Farm School with some ideas and the desire to work in agri-tourism.

Their goal: To open a fee-based, trout-fishing operation on some private property in Tusckasegee. Rayburn and Cardon-Cosner picked up some valuable insights and connections through the farm school.

“It went over a lot of topics like liability and insurance and introduced us to a lot of people in the extension offices – as well as actual farmers,” Rayburn said. “It’s been very helpful. Pretty much everything applied in some way or another.”

This year’s school was organized by Marne Harris, SCC’s Small Business Center Director, and facilitated by Tonya Snider of TenBiz.

Overall, representatives of six area farms participated in the hybrid school that featured several weeks of online meetings interspersed with in-person sessions.

“We had a wonderful group and a great blend of experienced farmers and newcomers to agribusiness,” Harris said. “The entire reason we put this on every year is to help provide information and access to resources that can help these individuals and farms to succeed.”

For more information about SCC’s Small Business Center and the services it offers, contact Harris at m_harris@SouthwesternCC.edu or 828.339.4211.

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