Meet the Salleys

Will and Savannah Salley of Headwaters Market Garden are entering their second season as farmers, growing a mix of vegetables and specialty greens. They are also students in Organic Growers School’s (OGS) Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training program, incubator farmers on the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s (SAHC) community farm, and vendors at the Asheville City Market. This combination of land access through SAHC and six months of classroom training through OGS has given them on-the-ground support and tools to organize their business and systems.

The Salley’s turnip harvest on display at Asheville City Market.

A Perfect Combination

Will and Savannah didn’t have extensive farming backgrounds, but knew they wanted to move to the Asheville area. Savannah said, “We wanted to get into farming, but really didn’t know how we were going to do that.” Then they found the SAHC community farm which provided an opportunity to be in a supportive learning environment. With additional training through Farm Beginnings®, they found a perfect combination with a proven record of success. OGS has graduated 36 farmers in the last two years and will graduate 50 by September 2018. The incubator farm at SAHC has entered its fourth year of hosting incubatees, offering land and educational support to five beginning farmers to date. They receive physical and business support, in addition to access to classes and workshops at the community farm.

Season extension at SAHC Incubator Farm.

When the Salley’s applied to the OGS program last fall, Savannah said, “I am interested in Farm Beginnings® because I believe it is an incredible opportunity to learn and grow, not only in farming and business but as a person. The chance to immerse myself into the farming community here in WNC is very exciting to me.” They have definitely immersed themselves these last 7 months: starting farmer-led classes in October 2017 while also starting their own business. “We did have our challenges during the class by being so consumed with the farm, but I am happy we followed through with taking Farm Beginnings®. We were able to organize a lot of ideas we had by using tools and examples we were given to help us make that information useful for our business. We have also made some great connections and friends through this process, and we are excited to continue growing those relationships throughout the years.”

The Salley’s high-tunnel tomatoes ripening on the vine at SAHC Incubator Farm.

The Importance of Being Mentored

As part of their Farm Beginnings® experience, they have been paired with Evan Chender of The Culinary Gardener in Weaverville, NC, for a season-long mentorship. According to Will, “The mentorship is an aspect of Farm Beginnings® that has been extremely helpful for us. Evan is an amazing farmer and incredible mentor, and we are so thankful to have him as a resource. His experience and guidance is immeasurable for us as new farmers.” Evan added, “They are very thoughtful people, and they bring that focus and attention into their work. They are also very curious. Lastly, they seem to be keen observers and interested in experimenting. I think all these qualities are important to be a successful farmer.” Headwaters Market Garden has been accepted into Asheville City Market again this season, and the Salley’s are selling alongside some of the farmers who came into class to teach them!

About Farm Beginnings®

Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training is a 12-month program that combines farmer-led classroom sessions, on-farm tours, and an extensive farmer network. The program offers the practical skills and knowledge needed to start and grow successful, long-term farm businesses. With a focus on sustainable agricultural practices, the program is taught by established and innovative farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs from across Western NC. The program is open to aspiring, beginning, and expanding farmers in Western NC and the surrounding Southern Appalachian states—Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina.

OGS will begin this year’s Farm Beginnings® program in October 2018 at the Mill Spring Agricultural Center in Polk County, and applications are being accepted on a rolling basis until September 15, 2018. This program is a part of the Farm Pathways project—a partnership between OGS, SAHC, and WNC Farm Link that provides whole-farm training and land access to beginning farmers—which is funded by the USDA BFRDP. The program fee for the one-year, 200-hour program is $3000, similar to other national and regional year-long training courses. Scholarships and payment plans are available.

Nicole DelCogliano

Nicole DelCogliano