Farming for a living in the High Country just became more feasible.

This month, Maverick Farms, in partnership with Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development Program, the Appalachian District Health Department and the Valle Crucis Conference Center is launching a new program for the High Country aimed at growing new farmers: the Farm Incubator and Grower (FIG) Project.

“In order to succeed, new farmers need access to training opportunities, credit, land and equipment,” Maverick Farms director and farmer Hillary Wilson said. “The FIG Program aims to provide those resources and reduce the initial cost of starting a farm enterprise.”

FIG will provide low-cost land leases for vegetable, cut flower, herb and pasture-based animal farm ventures, as well as a shared equipment pool and mentorship opportunities for beginning farmers. The new FIG Farm is located in Valle Crucis, on the site of the former ASU Teaching & Research Farm, on land owned by the Valle Crucis Conference Center.

They plan to incubate two farmers each year, offer a year-round educational curriculum for beginning farmers that will be available to the public, continue to build and develop local markets and infrastructure for those new farmers, and connect FIG farmers with long-term low-cost land opportunities once incubated.

According to Christoff den Biggelaar, associate professor of agroecology at Appalachian State University, the ASU Teaching Farm has moved from Valle Crucis to a site in Fleetwood, Ashe County.

“We’ve spent 10 years building up the soil and the infrastructure at the Valle Crucis site,” he said.

“We want to see it remain an educational farm, and (we’re) happy to work with Maverick to make that happen.”

Tom Eshelman, the director of the Valle Crucis Conference Center, also likes to see the continued use of the land as a farm with an educational mission to remain true to its original purpose. The land produced food for students and teachers of the boarding school established by the Episcopal Church in 1848.

The initial launch of the FIG project is funded in part by Appalachian District Health Department through their Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant. The health department aims to increase access to healthy, local food to prevent disease and promote the health of communities.

Check out for more information about the FIG Program, application materials, and ways you can get involved with the project.

Local winter squash is still around. This is a great vegan friendly, cold weather recipe.

Delicata Squash Bisque

Makes 4 large bowls, 6-8 Cups

3 pounds delicata squash, or similar winter squash

Oil for roasting

4 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon thyme

Lots of black pepper

Salt to taste

Cashew Cream

1 cup raw, unsalted cashews

1 cup vegetable broth, divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel squash and chop off the ends.

Halve the squash and scrape out the seeds.

Place on a baking sheet cut-side down, and brush lightly with oil.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until tender and beginning to brown.

Add cashews and a half-cup of veggie broth to blender.

Begin pulsing to incorporate, eventually turning the blender all the way on while slowly adding the other half-cup of broth.

Let blender run for 1 to 2 minutes until smooth.

Set cream aside. If not completely smooth, strain before adding it to the soup.

Transfer squash into a large soup pot, breaking into chunks.

Add 4 cups of veggie broth, thyme and black pepper as desired.

Bring to boil, turn down the heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, covered.

Blend the soup in batches until smooth, being careful not to overfill your blender. Or use a hand-held blender.

Return the blended soup to pot and add all but ¼ cup of the cashew cream.

Taste and season with salt and more pepper if desired.

Garnish in bowls with extra cashew cream drizzled on the top.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. To contact Margie, email or call (828) 264-3061.

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