By BRWIA Staff Intern, Leah Jalfon
When thinking about my day at Mollie’s Branch, one word comes to mind: reciprocity. Mollie’s Branch, Diane Price’s no-kill, family farm in Todd, is maintained through the balanced process of giving and taking. But before I get to that, let me explain how Mollie’s Branch became what it is today.
Growing up in Tennessee, Diane always knew she wanted to live on a farm, but she held a number of careers before moving to Todd. In 1996 when she and her family got the land over a couple who wanted to turn it into an RV park, Diane decided to take the “leap of faith” and begin life as a farmer. But it didn’t begin immediately. Because of its pristine, natural beauty, you would never guess that Mollie’s Branch used to be a girls’ tennis camp. When Diane and her family bought the land, it was covered with asphalt tennis courts. They lived in a mobile home on top of one of the tennis courts for two years while they built their house. Once the asphalt was gone and the house was built, Diane was able to immerse herself into the world of farming.
Diane started with goats, then raised chickens. After she fell in love with her first rescue llama, she added twelve more llamas to the farm. I got to meet the llamas on my visit. I was a little scared because I had heard rumors that llamas were mean, that they would spit on you or kick you if you came near, but I was completely mistaken; llamas are some of the kindest animals I’ve ever met. These fluffy, curious creatures greeted us as we came to the fence, and they seemed to love us petting their soft noses. Although I could clearly see that the llamas were a joy to have around, I had to ask what their benefit to the farm was. Daniel Meehan, Diane’s intern who is full of interesting facts and figures, told me that they use the llama’s manure as fertilizer for the garden. Dan says that llama manure is the only animal manure that does not need to be composted before it’s applied to the soil.
Dan moved to Boone from New Jersey last year to study Appropriate Technology at Appalachian State. He met Katie, Diane’s daughter, who mentioned that her mom needed some help on the farm. He recalls,
“I’d never farmed before, but it’s always been something I wanted to do. It seemed like this mystical practice, almost like witchcraft, but once I got here and got introduced to Diane, it just took off. We have great chemistry and have so much fun working together.”
Dan and Diane do not have your typical employer/employee relationship; they explained things to me as a team and laughed as they recalled their mistakes, like trying to grow camelina, a biofuel crop, four different times. Diane says that Dan helped her get back into farming after she took a few years off to handle family illnesses. Dan brings new, innovative ideas to the farm, and Diane’s experience helps them figure out what will work and what won’t. Dan now lives on the farm in a cabin that he has refurbished. As an out-of-state student myself, I see the value in having a family away from home.
The llama manure must be working because the garden was growing beautifully. Diane, Dan, and Diane’s daughter Katie took me on the tour, first showing me the grape vines, picking a few of the leaves for me to take home. Their non-GMO corn was springing up quickly; they use the corn to feed their animals. This is one of the many ways Mollie’s Branch mimics nature’s cycles of reciprocity: the llamas eat the plants from the garden, and their manure then fertilizes the plants. Diane and Dan are also growing fava beans, lettuce, chard, squash, potatoes (which I also got to take home), and hops that they hope to sell to local breweries.
Another way that Mollie’s Branch works with nature is through their micro hydropower system, which they were able to build through a community grant. The micro hydropower system uses the current from the creek that runs through the property to spin a turbine, generating enough power for the barn and the cabin. Completing another cycle of reciprocity between the farm and the community, Diane and Dan host student groups to educate them on this unique system of renewable energy.
Diane has received grants to grow shiitake mushrooms, host summer camps for children, and she even participated in Appalachian State’s “Farmer For A Day” program, where the chancellor of ASU came to Mollie’s Branch to harvest Diane’s sorghum, and Diane got to be the chancellor for the day. This past November, they received a grant to build cold frames with the Western Youth Network to grow greens for needy families in the community. Diane remembers building the cold frames in January, worrying that nothing would grow, but the project was a success and they were able to provide greens to a few local families.
One of the most interesting facts I discovered about Diane is that she wrote the grant that started Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. Sue Counts, Judy Sharnes, and Diane noticed the lack of recognition and resources for female farmers in the High Country. Diane wrote the grant, not knowing if they would receive it or not. They surprised her at the market with the check for $30,000 and managed to snap a picture of her surprised face: eyes wide and jaw dropped, the picture made it onto the cover of the Mountain Times. Although Diane says it was one of the most embarrassing photos of her, she’ll never forget that moment. Without Diane, our organization could not be what it is today.
"We’ve had hard years, but you just have to pick up and move on. It’s funny because I’ve had a lot of professional careers, but I finally came full circle and realized that I’m the happiest shoveling manure in the barn! I still love to do other things but this is where my heart is."
Mollie’s Branch is a lovely example of the way that farmers and community members young and old can grow food sustainably and give back to their local communities. We hope that you’ll visit Mollie’s Branch on the High Country Farm Tour August 3rd and 4th.
By BRWIA staff intern, Abby Bishop
Nearly five months ago Boone welcomed its most recent brewery to town. Since opening on Valentine’s Day, Appalachian Mountain Brewery has embraced the High Country community that it calls home. The good folks at Appalachian Mountain Brewery are committed to keeping their business local and their community outreach high, a commitment I can certainly attest for. During a night out at the brewery enjoying some bluegrass music and beer, I noticed a plaque for the non-profit organization that I am interning with. It was located just underneath the “California Common,” the spicy lager I can’t get enough of. Bewildered, I asked Luke, my bartender friend, what connection the brewery had with Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. He told me about the “pints for non-profits” program that AMB started as soon as they opened. In effort to give back to the Appalachia region, AMB allows a percentage of proceeds from each of their in-house taps to be donated to a specific charity or non-profit organization. Following up on this incredible arrangement a few weeks later during my interview with publicist Jessica Collins, I asked how such a young business could afford to already be donating money. She said that this program allows customers to have a sense of pride in eating, or in this case drinking, local. I undoubtedly feel better knowing that my nights of debauchery are at least going towards helping others.
Not only is this brewery enthusiastic about giving back, it is also deeply involved in sustainable practices. Stephanie Spiegelman “The Boss” as well as Nathan Kelishcheck “Brewmaster and Director of Brewery Operations” are dedicated to bringing Boone its first Solar and Wind powered brewery. As a student at Appalachian State University studying sustainable development, this is an added benefit for me supporting this brewery; however, for those who think all sustainability kooks are into veganism and compostable toilets – I have to say the majority of brewery goers will have no idea about the sustainability measures incorporated into the brewery. As Jessica told me, the staff at AMB is interested in more than just energy efficiency (although they do have a few solar panels on their roof), but also community stewardship, wetlands restoration, and sustainable agriculture to name a few. Even when constructing the brewery, all materials were bought local, and the bar as well as each bar tap was hand carved by a family member of the owner.
AMB creates a laid-back atmosphere that can be enjoyed by everyone- not just the over twenty-one crowd. The brewery is equipped with an outdoor bar, a screened in patio and a garage door that opens up to a backyard where all sorts of games are played and good times are being had. If you are lucky and come at the right time, you can even see some very cute pups outside. I can say I have already made countless memories with friends and family at Appalachian Mountain Brewery. I’ve spent birthdays, graduation nights, and I’ll even embarrassedly admit to participating in one their talent shows (hosted on Wednesday nights) all at the brewery. Running with an eclectic group of kayakers, mountain bikers, and badass skiers, my friends know how to live a life. Needless to say, the brewery has been a spot where I can count on running into at least a few of them enjoying beers scheming their next outdoor adventures. This local business is the perfect place to stop in for a good beer with friends, co-workers, or family.
Check them out at 163 Boone Creek Drive, and make sure to make them a stop on your High Country Farm Tour August 3rd and 4th. You can bet on catching me there. Until then, cheers!
To find out more about Appalachian Mountain Brewery, check out their website:
By BRWIA staff intern, Leah Jalfon
I arrived almost half an hour early to Faith Mountain Farm, worrying I might miss it in the rolling hills of Ashe County. When I saw it, I realized my worry was naïve; there’s no way you can miss the beautiful, bustling home of the Wilkes family that is Faith Mountain Farm. I only had time to take in the scenery of the white house on the hill, the chalkboard on the porch advertising the Wilkes’ fresh eggs, honey, and baked goods, and the colorful array of toys in the front yard, when Sullivan Wilkes came striding toward me, ready to shake my hand. James and Shannon’s fifteen year-old son and farm manger informed me that James was still in town, but that he could start the tour without him. Slightly skeptical of what a fifteen year-old could tell me about the farm, I followed him down to see what Faith Mountain Farm was all about.
Sullivan introduced us to the chickens, grazing happily, protected by their movable fence and the creek that surrounds Faith Mountain. We heard about the diverse array of crops in the garden, from horseradish to blueberries and sunflowers. Walking back toward the house, we stopped in front of two boxes under a tree. The boxes held movable frames filled with bees. I asked Sullivan why these two particular boxes were separated from the long line near the driveway; he explained to me that these colonies were called “nukes,” meaning that they were split from another hive to create a new hive. He also explained the processes of catching swarms and integrating queens. For the rest of the day, Sullivan continued to teach me so many things I didn’t know before visiting Faith Mountain.
Sullivan was soon joined by his father, who was returning from campus; James Wilkes is the head of the Computer Science department at Appalachian State. Since we were already talking about bees, he offered to show us the honey processing system in the basement. The smell was wonderful. James and Sullivan explained that the different flavors of honey are based on which plants the bees pollinate. I asked what their favorite kind of honey is; both James and Sullivan agreed that sourwood honey is the best. When the sourwoods start blooming in a few weeks, they’ll take their bees down to the forest to capture the unique flavor. Based on their excitement, I know that I’ll be keeping an eye on their booth at the Watauga County Farmer’s Market so I can get a taste when the sourwood honey is ready.
After learning more than I ever thought I would about beekeeping, the Wilkeses showed us their adorable pigs, placed by the creek so they have plenty of mud to roll around in. James explained that each member of his family is developing their own special interest at the farm; his oldest son Galen takes care of the pigs, Sullivan enjoys beekeeping, and his daughter Margaret bakes the goods for their booth at the Farmer’s Market and local restaurants. Shannon and James are interested to see how their younger children will grow into their roles at the farm.
We retired to the rocking chairs on the porch to hear a little more about James’ particular interests. He has been able to combine his passion for both technology and nature through his web-based tool called HiveTracks that he launched just three years ago. HiveTracks (hivetracks.com) is a way for beekeepers to keep track of their management. The system allows you to enter your hive configuration, harvest and medical records, and other information about your colonies so that you can track your progress, compare your practices with other beekeepers in your neighborhood, and ultimately improve your management. The website has over 8,000 users from more than 80 different countries. If you are a beekeeper, I would highly recommend this site.
Finally, James’ daughter Margaret emerged from the house to introduce herself. I had to meet whoever was behind the amazing smells wafting from the kitchen. I asked her what she was baking today: blueberry muffins. I must have gotten too excited at the mention of muffins, because Shannon came back with a goodie bag for us filled with two blueberry muffins (still warm!), Margaret’s peanut butter chewy balls, and a bag of “Coco Loco” gluten-free granola. Margaret started with muffin mixes when she was twelve years old, but she has developed her baking skills over the years. She makes everything from bread and cinnamon rolls to truffles and wedding cakes, and she can make almost anything dairy-free or gluten-free. In the car on the way home, we devoured both muffins and all of the chewy balls; it took serious discipline to save the granola for the rest of the week. Describing them can’t do it justice; if you’re looking for something sweet, Margaret Wilkes is your go-to girl. You can find her baked goods at Faith Mountain Farm’s booth at the Watauga Farmer’s Market, Coyote Kitchen, or through the farm’s website: http://www.faithmtnfarm.com/organic-bakery.
Relaxing in the rocking chairs, in no hurry to leave this beautiful place, I asked James what he thinks is the most unique feature of his family’s farm. His words truly portray the essence of Faith Mountain Farm:
“My business model is not to grow faster than my children. Early on, we didn’t do as much, but everyone has really grown into their roles. We couldn’t operate without them doing their part. We’re growing food, yes, but more than that, we’re growing family.”
You too can have this experience by visiting Faith Mountain Farm on the High County Farm Tour August 3rd & 4th!