From time to time, we feature stories about beginning farmers on our radio series and podcast Growing Local. We encourage farmers to share the hurdles they face, their strategies for overcoming challenges, and their motivations to start farming.
Many new and beginning farmers attended ASAP’s Business of Farming conference this month, including Nicole Coston of Bearwallow Valley Farms. She didn’t grow up on a farm, but she’s wanted to be a farmer all her life. “This has just been a lifelong dream of mine,” she says. “I wasn’t raised on a farm but I got there as quickly as I could.”
When she married a fourth-generation farmer, she was eager to join the family business at Coston Farm, a u-pick apple farm in Hendersonville. Bearwallow Valley Farms now sits on about one acre of the Coston Farm property where Nicole and her husband grow produce. They raise poultry on another acre of land they own near their home.
Nicole devotes her life to farming in part because of her grandmother’s need to grow food during dire times. “Gardening has always been a part of our family, and I like to attribute my grandparents specifically for that passion. My grandmother survived in Louisville, Kentucky through the Great Depression and the farm saved her life. She has forever lived her life very sustainably and that’s what encouraged me, to know her story from the very beginning of true poverty, and how she’s been able to flourish in her life,” Nicole says. “That’s something that has always interested me in farming.”
Years later, Nicole’s family moved to Western North Carolina, and she’s lived most of her life in Henderson County, just miles from her in-law’s apple orchard, Coston Farm. “If it wasn’t for the support of Coston Farm, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” she says. “Mr. Coston has taken out multiple rows of apple trees so that I can pursue this this dream, and I have invaded as much space as I possibly can at this point. I’ve been very grateful.”
Nicole and her husband grow produce on part of the Coston’s land, and the Costons have given support in countless ways. But they’ve also warned her about the realities of farming.
“My father-in-law has done everything in his power to discourage my husband and I because he knows how hard farming is. He knows that it is truly toiling in the fields, and I think that he wants an easier life for his kids,” Nicole says. “However, the toil is something that brings me joy and after a couple of times of me mentioning it over the last few years he’s finally said, ‘Alright, if you’re sure this is what you want to do, well, we’ll make it happen. Let’s do it.’”
Nicole says she’s also motivated by her own stubbornness. “Honestly, I’m an extremely hard-headed person, and if somebody tells me you can’t do it, you shouldn’t do it, it’s the only thing I’m going to do,” she says. “I almost like things being difficult. I feel as a society we’re starting to over-convenience everything and I want to kind of move back. I feel like I have the choice to make things challenging, but better. And when I was talking about my grandparents, they didn’t have a choice. They had to survive, but they were able to flourish out of that, and I have chosen that path for myself.”
Nicole is ready to take on that challenge, and has a vision of how she’d like Bearwallow Valley Farms to grow over the next five years. “I would really love to have a very diverse operation. I love the fact that we don’t just do vegetables, and the fact that we are able to do poultry. I completely agree that chickens are just the gateway drug to the farming life. Now I want goats, and I want cows, I mean it really gets you really excited. So being able to diversify into different types of livestock would be extremely interesting to me,” she says.
“I also love the idea of having some agritourism events. Being able to host weddings would certainly be a long term goal of mine, and that’s something that we’ve been able to work with Coston Farm with and just throw those ideas around and see what could come of that,” Nicole says.
Learn more about Bearwallow Valley Farms and hundreds of other local farms in ASAP’s Local Food Guide – www.appalachiangrown.org. Find resources for new and beginning farmers at www.asapconnections.org
Aired: March 4, 2019