Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Recognition and Tools:
Agricultural Tourism

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance creating Voluntary Agriculture Districts in January 2008. Property owners who acquire this designation benefit from the increased visibility through signage and neighbor notification regarding the nature of their agricultural activities. This provides farmers with some defense against nuisance suits. Unlike conservation easements, which are permanent deed restrictions that specifically prohibit land uses, a property owner may request that Voluntary Agriculture District designation be removed with a 30-day notice.

Forsyth County adopted an agricultural tourism ordinance the following month, allowing farmers to market goods and services and to offer recreational and educational opportunities. The property must be within a Voluntary Agricultural District, encompass at least 20 contiguous acres, and be actively farmed. City-County Planning Board staff clarified the provisions of the ordinance regarding business uses and the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners adopted the changes in January 2011.

Quite a few Forsyth County farmers are now participating in agri-tourism, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture identifies fourteen Forsyth County farms that offer goods and services to the public. A very brief summary of these efforts are summarized below.

Alma and Mark Apple of Kernersville converted their tobacco farm to organic blueberry production in 1982 and will pick berries for customers or allow them to pick their own. Maurice Melton provides the same opportunity at the Melton Family Farm in Tobaccoville. Jennifer Jobe operates the Beaver Creek Farm and Nursery in Rural Hall, offering a wide range of produce and ornamental plants at the farm store. Cat McSwain runs Griffith Greenhouses, providing seasonal flowers, herbs, and vegetable plants.

Cathy Tindall established Heaven Sent Roses in 1997 and currently grows and sells more than 500 varieties of roses. Mark Phelps grows cotton and sweet potatoes at Phelps Farm in Clemmons and offers landscaping services. Ken Vanhoy operates Rail Fence Christmas Tree Farm, which his family opened in 1967, and also keeps sheep on the Belews Creek farm. Mark Terry oversees Westbend Vineyards in Lewisville, a 60-acre property established by Jack Kroustalis in 1972 that currently produces around six thousand cases of wine each year. Karen Wagner manages Muscadine Naturals in Clemmons, a company that uses Muscadine grape skins as the primary ingredient in dietary supplements. Adam G. Ross manages the Children’s Home farm, which includes a cattle herd and a large vegetable garden that produces produce and flowers for the residents and local customers.

Several Forsyth County farms provide educational and recreational opportunities. Historic Bethabara Park hosts events that promote agricultural history and products and operates a community garden. This continues a collaborative practice that began with the Moravians settlers who planted the village’s first shared fields soon after their arrival in North Carolina in 1753. Jim and Sandy Morris offer tours and other events at Diastole Alpaca Farm in Walkertown, which they established in 2007 on the residual 22 acres of property the Morris family has owned for approximately 250 years. They raise alpacas and chickens and sell alpaca fleece and yarn as well as woven rugs, blankets, socks, and other products.

Wayne and Riely Woosley offer visitors tours, demonstrations, hayrides and raise beef cattle at Woosley Farm near Pfafftown. Vern Switzer, one of Forsyth County’s few African-American farmers and a fixture at local farmers markets, is often called the “Watermelon Man” due to the sweet watermelons and other produce he grows on his 19-acre Rural Hall farm. His story was the subject of a short documentary produced by Matt Morris Films in 2010. Mr. Switzer is also an ordained minister and has written three children’s books—Puffy the Watermelon, Lucy the Cantaloupe, and Hard Heads Make Soft Bottoms— that teach life lessons in the context of agricultural settings.

No comments: