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Farmland Values Project Explores Non-farm Values of Agricultural Land in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison Counties


News from
University of North Carolina - Asheville

BY UNC - Asheville Staff
October 22, 2007

ASHEVILLE -- Many people move to Western North Carolina seeking a sense of community and access to rural landscapes. However, some newcomers realize that their arrival has contributed to significant changes in the very kind of landscape they desire. Local farmers, aware of these changes, believe that community is being lost as farmland is converted to other uses.

These are among the preliminary findings from local focus groups held in summer 2006 as a part of the Farmland Values Project, a UNC Asheville initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. The project seeks to determine the non-farm values of agricultural land in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties, including scenic beauty, natural services, agricultural heritage and a potential for local food supply. 

"Because Western North Carolina farming landscapes are highly valued assets among residents and visitors to the area, finding innovative ways of preserving working farms is gaining in importance," said Leah Greden Mathews, UNC Asheville environmental economist and Farmland Values Project director.

Mathews, who earlier conducted research on the monetary value visitors place on Blue Ridge Parkway views, launched the Farmland Values Project in May 2005. Her research team consists of UNC Asheville staff and students, an artist, and faculty from Appalachian State University in Boone and Old Dominion University in Norfolk , Va. The team will create an assessment tool that can help county commissioners, policymakers and land owners to make the best possible decisions as the four-county study area faces continued growth.

The research team began their work by holding 17 community focus groups. A total of 133 participants, including farmers and non-farming residents discussed their opinions about the value of local farmland.

“Views expressed by participants in these focus groups reflect on the many ways in which farmland contributes to their life and community, including cultural heritage and scenic quality,” said sociologist Daniel O'Leary of Old Dominion University, who facilitated the focus groups. 

The next step in documenting benefits of farmland for the community and for visitors is currently underway.  The Farmland Values Project team is conducting a survey of residents and visitors in the four counties.  A randomly selected sample of residents will soon receive an invitation to participate in the survey by mail. In addition, the survey and more information about the Farmland Values Project will be available at local festivals, the WNC Farmers Market, the N.C. Arboretum, select Blue Ridge Parkway locations such as the Pisgah Inn and Folk Art Center, and regional visitor's centers, welcome centers and chambers of commerce.

"We'd like to thank all the cooperating agencies and businesses who are working with us to reach as many people as possible with our survey," said Laura Dominkovic, who has been coordinating the survey logistics. "Many of these organizations realize that their visitor clientele are interested in farmland, which signifies the importance of our research to the greater community."

While a part of the team is working on conducting surveys, other researchers continue to compile data on population, land use, and the distribution of forest, agriculture and horticulture in the four counties. They are building a database which will identify the rural-urban edge of the area, or places where conversion of farmland is most active.

"We want to be able to link maps that show where farmland is located with information that our study participants say they value about that land," said Anne Lancaster, UNC Asheville Project Manager.    

For more information about UNC Asheville's Farmland Values Project, visit www.unca.edu/farmlandvalues or contact Mathews at farmland@unca.edu or 828/250-2302.