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MF Release: Watauga Commissioners Express Support For Maverick Farms As NC DOT Keeps Pressure On

Press Release From Maverick Farms:

March 7, 2013. Maverick Farms’ fight against a North Carolina Department of Transportation bridge-replacement plan that would destroy a significant swath of farmland got a boost from the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, when the governing body passed a unanimous resolution of support for the farm.

As quoted on Maverick Farms Facebook page, "Those yellow tapes are where the new, two-lane bridge will go -- through our animal pens, our crop fields, up to our barn, into the driveway, and so much more needless destruction." Photo courtesy of Maverick Farms Facebook
As quoted on Maverick Farms Facebook page, “Those yellow tapes are where the new, two-lane bridge will go — through our animal pens, our crop fields, up to our barn, into the driveway, and so much more needless destruction.” Photo courtesy of Maverick Farms Facebook

“Maverick Farms is a vital asset to the community as an engine for sustainable agriculture, job training, and providing access to healthy, locally grown food,” the resolution states. “The replacement and upgrades of the three bridges on Justus Road has the potential to significantly, if not totally, eliminate Maverick Farms’ ability to provide agricultural products to the community and the revenue necessary to sustain the farm.”

Noting that the commissioners had “received an outpouring of support for Maverick Farms and its continued operation,” the resolution urges the NC DOT to “consider any and all options and alternatives to limit the impact on Maverick Farms.”

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners’ move comes on the heels of a Feb. 25 visit to Maverick Farms by NC Dept of Transportation (DOT) officials Mike Pettyjohn, district 11 engineer, from the North Wilkesboro office, and Ivan Dishman,  division engineer based in Boone. At the meeting, the officials said that they were backing off a previous timeline on the bridge project.

On Feb. 5, Maverick Farms director Hillary Wilson had been informed by a private contractor working for the DOT that her family would receive a financial offer within one month on the property the state intended to claim—and face the option of either accepting the offer or seeing the land taken under eminent domain. At the Feb. 25 meeting, Pettyjohn and Dishman informed the Wilsons that they would take their concerns into consideration and modify the plan—meaning that the take-it-or-leave-it offer described in February has been delayed.

“We have a strong network here in the county of people we’ve worked with on various food-justice and educational projects, and our supporters rallied behind us, sending letters and calling the DOT and signing a petition,” Wilson said. “We also have a strong national network, and people from all over the country made their voices heard, too.” Wilson said an online petition demanding that the DOT not destroy the farms fields had already received 1,500 signatures.

However, Wilson explained, the threat of the bridge project remains. The farm lies in what a DOT report has called “deep narrow valley” in Valle Crucis, hemmed in by hillsides and streams.  A one-lane, unpaved, dead-end road cuts through the property, winding its way to a ridgetop. Despite these tight conditions, the county approved development of 140 house-lots up the road from the farm over the past 15 years, concentrated in two major developments, Hunters Ridge and Meadows at Valle Crucis. Homeowners up the road have been leading a push to pave the road for years, Wilson said, and the bridge project represents the fruition of their efforts.

A proposed road through one of the fields of Maverick Farms. Photo courtesy of Maverick Farms Facebook
A proposed road through one of the fields of Maverick Farms. Photo courtesy of Maverick Farms Facebook

In their meeting at Maverick, Pettyjohn and Dishman claimed that the bridges on Justus Road are “functionally obsolete and structurally deficient” simply because they are one-lane bridges—and will need to be replaced with dramatically larger bridges along with culverts that bury almost 150 feet of trout streams. In a phone conversation with Maverick Farms co-founder Tom Philpott, Dishman said that the “structurally deficient” assessment does not mean the bridges are unsafe—just that they require regular maintenance.  “We dispute the idea that the bridges need to be replaced with larger ones,” Wilson said.

She said that the family has offered the DOT right-of-way to build an alternate road along a ridgetop on their property that doesn’t affect farm fields. She added that a more elegant solution to the traffic problem presented by intense development up the hill from the farm would be to connect Justus Road with Seven Devils Road. Seven Devils Road is a couple hundred feet from the top the private offshoot road servicing one of the developments at the end of Justus Road. Connecting Seven Devils and Justus Road would provide an alternate route to Highway 105 for residents of the Hunters Ridge and Meadows at Valle Crucis developments, as well as providing an outlet for Seven Devils Road.

Pettyjohn and Dishman said they would consider that option, but at the current time, the DOT only has funds budgeted for bridge projects. Currently, the agency has $820,000 budgeted for the three bridges project that affect Maverick Farms, plus another $270,000 for a bridge down the road from the Wilsons. 

So despite the delay, “we are still very much under threat from the DOT,” Wilson said. She added that the farm will continue seeking support from local and national supporters. “We’re not backing down,” she said.

About Maverick Farms

Over the years, Maverick Farms community partners have included Appalachian State University (departments include sustainable development, anthropology, sociology, history, biology, Appalachian Studies, and fermentation sciences), Warren Wilson College, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Appalachian District Health Department, FARM Cafe, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, Grandfather Home for Children, the Western Youth Network, Blue Mountain Center for the Healing Arts, Two Rivers Charter School, Mountain Pathways Montessori School, Karma Krew, Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project, Leola Street Community Garden, Hunger and Health Coalition, Hospitality House, Community Care Clinic, Watauga County Children’s Council, Blue Ridge Conservancy, Valle Crucis Conference Center, Watauga County Cooperative Extension, Watauga County 4-H, Camp Lutherock, Duke University’s TIP summer program, as well as the local Valle Crucis Elementary School.

The project has been profiled by Gourmet Magazine, The New York Times, and the New York Times Magazine, as well as many local and regional publications.

Maverick Farms is a 501(c)3 educational non-profit dedicated to promoting family farming as a community resource and expanding access to healthy food by reconnecting local food networks in the High Country of North Carolina. In 2009, Maverick Farms launched High Country CSA (HCCSA), a multi-farm project that links area farmers and consumers. HCCSA is committed to being accessible to low-income community members—it accepts EBT benefits as payment and works with the Appalachian District Health Department, the Children’s Coalition, and the Community Care Clinic to make subsidized shares available to low-income families. In 2012, HCCSA had 100 members. In 2012, Maverick launched a young farmer training project called the Farmer Incubator and Grower program, in conjunction with Appalachian State Community’s Sustainable Development Department and the Valle Crucis Conference Center. In addition, Maverick Farms grows vegetables, meat, and eggs for sale at the Watauga County Farmers Market and the Banner Elk Farmers Market. Learn more at maverickfarms.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/maverickfarmnc