Of the many different ways to Live Abundantly in Western North Carolina, the rural mountain lifestyle is uniquely woven into our history. Farm life means room to spread out, create your own way of living, and enjoy a quieter, slower pace. Most of all, it’s an opportunity to nurture the land and reap the fruits of that labor.
Maintaining small family or commercial farms has been a valued way of living in the Blue Ridge Mountains for hundreds of years. If you appreciate having room to spread out, and you want to test your green thumb, then a farming lifestyle may be the right fit for you.
No two farms are exactly alike. And few fall into just one category. Here are 14 types of farms you can find in WNC. Which one is right for you?
If your goal is to live off the grid, but also keep your day job, this is the right kind of farm for you. Subsistence farms are designed to grow enough food for a household without any surplus for sale. Traditionally, subsistence farmers manage a range of crops and animals—everything a family needs to feed and clothe themselves. Many homesteaders in the U.S. have taken their home gardening to the next level and established comprehensive subsistence farms.
Have too much land, and don’t know what to do with it? Gentleman farmers are estate owners who farm primarily for pleasure rather than profit. (They have alternate sources of income.) From under 10 acres to up to thousands, gentleman farms can vary widely in size. Many of these farms grow a variety of grains or use the land to raise poultry and livestock. A gentleman farmer employs laborers and may also employ a farm manager. Locally, the farm at the Biltmore Estate is a notable example.
Not ready to fully commit to a farm? Hobby farms often overlap with both homesteading and gentleman farms, and can be a great gateway into the farming lifestyle. Like gentleman farms, hobby farms are managed primarily for fun instead of profit. A bad yield can be a disappointment, but should not be a heavy financial burden. However, hobby farms are classified as being less than 50 acres in size. Also, the IRS disqualifies hobby farms from receiving tax breaks earmarked for small-farm owners.
Want to get the most greens for your green? A micro-farm is a high-yield and sustainably-minded farm. Though the size may vary, they are usually located on less than five acres. Micro-farms can be educational, with research purposes. Many others are located in food deserts of urban areas. Commercial micro-farmers often focus on high-value specialty crops—like microgreens, mushrooms, or flowers—instead of larger scale staples. Because of their small scale, micro-farms do not require large farming equipment, so they are more cost effective to begin and more manageable over time.
Are you hoping your farm will be your legacy? Family farms are handed down from generation to generation. Legally, family farms exclude farms organized as nonfamily corporations or cooperatives, as well as farms with hired managers. In the U.S., 96% of farms are family owned. Functionally, family farms can cover any type of product, from ranches to wheat farms.
Orchards and Vineyards
A common sight throughout the Southeast, an orchard is a farm of intentionally planted fruit and nut trees or shrubs. Many orchards only cultivate a single variety of fruit, such as apples in WNC and peaches in the South Carolina Upstate. However, orchards have learned that they can build better resistance to pests and disease by diversifying their crops. WNC is also home to a number of vineyards, many of which have on-site wineries.
It’s common for homes, farms, and even local businesses to host a beehive or two. But apiaries take the enterprise to a professional level. An apiary, or a “bee yard,” makes beekeeping profitable by managing many bees, their hives, and the products they produce. Honey, beeswax, bee pollen, and other items are packaged for commercial sale. Even the bees themselves may be transported. Mobile beekeepers move their hives to locations in need of pollination, collecting a profit that way.
Aquaculture involves breeding, rearing, and harvesting fish. In WNC, freshwater aquaculture farms harvest catfish and trout, primarily in ponds or other manmade systems. Elsewhere, marine aquaculture farms produce shellfish, aquatic plants, algae, and other organisms to produce food and other commercial products.
Meat, Dairy, and Poultry Farms
There are many differences between meat, dairy, and poultry farms. But the one common denominator is the relationship you develop with the animals. Poultry farms raise domesticated birds (e.g., chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese) for meat and eggs. Dairy farms across the mountains raise cows, sheep, and goats specifically for their milk, and many make cheeses and other milk-based products on site. (Check them out along the WNC Cheese Trail.) Local ranches use their land to raise cows, sheep, bison, and more for their meat and hides.
Does anything sound more bucolic than working on a flower farm? These farms grow cut flowers for retail or wholesale. Buy them by the bouquet at your local farmers market or grocery store. Or find them through local florists, wedding planners, restaurants, or event venues. Some flower farms have nurseries or greenhouses on site to extend their growing seasons.
Urban farms can be the size of a few raised beds behind a community center. Or they can cover a few acres within city limits. Urban farming can be challenging depending on local city ordinances and zoning codes. However, where they are allowed, they come with sustainability benefits and help address food insecurity in certain communities. Micro-farms can be a good solution for urban farms because of their efficient growing strategies.
Want to get in on this farming thing with a few friends or neighbors? Start a cooperative farm! Farmers at a co-op pool their time and financial resources to manage the farm. Then, they share the profits amongst themselves. Each member of a cooperative farm is an owner and stakeholder in the enterprise, and also has a vote in business decisions.
Did you know there are more than 14,000 certified organic farms in the U.S.? Organic farms grow and process food without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Several dozen state and private organizations exist to certify organic food, so approvals can vary. But all organic labeling, standards, and language are approved by the USDA National Organic Program.
On the other end of the spectrum from subsistence farms are commercial farms. These farms can be wildly large in size, and their main purpose is to provide income. Commercial farms can consist of growing crops, raising fish, or raising animals for meat, eggs, and dairy. The USDA Economic Research Service defines commercial farms as farms with $350,000 or more in gross cash farm income. Commercial farms are also defined by corporation status, instead of operating as a family farm or cooperative.
Feel at Home on the Farm
Rural lifestyles offer unparalleled opportunities for connection with nature, stewardship of the land, and living a self-reliant, outdoor lifestyle. There’s plenty of space in the WNC mountains for raising horses, raising gardens, or just raising yourself to the peace and quiet every morning. And land owners are happy to share their property with deer, turkeys, and other local wildlife. It’s where “getting away from it all” doesn’t mean living away from it all.
Does that sound like the perfect lifestyle for you? Find a home in one of WNC’s thriving rural communities!