We all know that farmers are adaptive, and we are seeing it in spades as a result of COVID-19. In our WNC region, farmers in the Organic Growers School networks are leaders in this domain. Patchwork Alliance, a newly-launched farmer cooperative, is team-led project spearheaded by members of the WNC CRAFT network and graduates of OGS programs. Heather Davis and Vanya Wegner, current students of the Farm Beginnings program, and Sunil Patel of Patchwork Urban Farm have fast tracked the creation of a farmer cooperative called the Patchwork Alliance. Gaining Ground and Flying Cloud Farm (WNC CRAFT & Apprentice Link members) have created We Give a Share. Carolina Flowers has repurposed their online store to an online grocery and home delivery system. Each of these farmers were able to innovate quickly due to food system disruptions from COVID-19. 

Patchwork Alliance Online Market

Sunil Patel is a farmer with Patchwork Urban Farms and a leader in creating cooperative urban farming opportunities in Asheville. He has always dreamed of a larger collective mission to unite farmer’s power. “We are in a place where there is opportunity and necessity for us to create alternative structures. We need to decentralize power, create new modes of economic exchange, and allow for cross-enterprise collaboration. Structures like the Patchwork Alliance are necessary to test the waters of truly localized, self-sufficient economies in our region.” 

The demand for more remote ways to access local food has increased due to the pandemic. Individuals don’t want to go to stores or farmers markets as much and existing aggregators aren’t able to keep up. The Patchwork Alliance is an online market that allows customers to order weekly and pickup from regional sites. They also offer home delivery to 2880* zip codes. Currently, it has over 35 Producer-Owners, and a variety of meat, dairy, valued added, produce and more.

The Patchwork Alliance team has developed partnerships with regional businesses to increase food access. In order to address access, their pickup sites can process payment via EBT/ SNAP. Their soft opening is the week of April 27th and Grand Opening the week of May 2nd. To find out more, contact admin@patchworkalliance.com or check out their website.

We Give a Share

The We Give a Share CSA is a creative CSA collaboration started by Aaron Grier of Gaining Ground Farm with Hannan Shabazz of GO Kitchen Ready, John Fleer of Rhubarb, and Mark Rosenstein, long time previous owner of The Marketplace and creator GO Kitchen Ready. This CSA program will provide ingredients to the Eddington Center’s Kitchen, who is preparing 300 meals a day to give to vulnerable and needy residents. The Asheville Housing Authority is delivering the meals and processing CSA memberships. Individuals can buy a share to pay for the produce grown directly for this program.

Asheville Grocery via Carolina Flowers

Emily Copus of Carolina Flowers is a beginning farmer who has been selling outstanding flowers in the Asheville region since 2016. She is a member of Asheville City Market and has recently opened a retail location for floral services in Marshall. When her wedding clients started to cancel this spring, she realized that her business needed to pivot quickly. As a result, Emily created Asheville Grocery through her Carolina Flowers website and developed a dry goods and fresh goods online market and home delivery service. Utilizing her existing retail space, infrastructure, delivery vans and staff, she is helping to meet increased home delivery food needs. She is also still selling flowers online and at the ASAP Farmers Market at AB Tech.

OGS Farmer Leadership

Vanya Wenger, a current Farm Beginnings student, had started Callisto’s Garden in 2019 and was developing new marketing and business plans as the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Already a member of the online market, Vanya quickly emerged as a leader in the development of the Patchwork Alliance. The development of the Patchwork Alliance has also been assisted by Heather Davis, who is also a current Farm Beginnings student and owner of Why Not Farm in Chuckey, TN. She had planned to sell her hydroponically grown produce at the West Asheville Tailgate Market. Unfortunately, due to smaller amount of space available to vendors there, she had no market outlet. She quickly joined up with the Patchwork team utilizing her long career in finance to assist.

Gaining Ground Farm is the lead on the We Give a Share Program, and Flying Cloud Farm is also a collaborator on this project. Both of these farms are WNC CRAFT and Apprentice Link members and teach with Organic Growers School, and are dedicated to creating more farmers and feeding our community.

These innovations show that farmers in our region, while struggling during this pandemic, also are adaptive and creative! They are creating new models for cooperation and responding to what our community needs.

Author: Nicole DelCogliano

Nicole DelCogliano is Farmer Program Coordinator at OGS. She teaches the year long Farm Beginnings program to new and beginning farmers. She also farms in Yancey County with her husband, at Green Toe Ground farm.