February 6, 2013 — Innovative Watauga County Farm Under Threat from Imminent NC DOT Bridge Expansions

State highway department intends to pave two farm fields of Valle Crucis-based Maverick Farms to make way for bridges

VALLE CRUCIS, NC, Feb. 6, 2013 — Maverick Farms, a long-time leader in the effort to create a just and accessible local food system in Watauga County, is under imminent threat from North Carolina Department of Transportation plans for altering an unpaved dead-end country road that runs through the farm, the Wilson family found out on Feb. 5. The plans, as laid out by a private contractor working for the DOT in a meeting with the family, could mean the end of Maverick Farms, because they would destroy much of the 2 most important vegetable-growing fields, as well as affect agritourism and educational events held on the farm.

The contractor informed the family that the road work, which involves replacing and dramatically expanding three bridges, would begin in 30 days, with or without the family’s consent. The contractor said DOT intended to condemn the land under eminent domain if the family refused to settle.

“That the state can do this without seeking our input, much less consent, is unacceptable,” said Bill Wilson, who began farming the historic farm in 1972 under the name Springhouse Farm. Wilson’s daughters, Alice Brooke (currently a PhD candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill) and Hillary Wilson, took over the farm in 2004 and launched Maverick Farms with several friends, including Tom Philpott, who now serves as food and agriculture correspondent at Mother Jones Magazine, Sara Safransky, now a PhD candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Leo Gaev, the artist-operator of Metalworks (http://leogaevmetalworks.com/home.html) in Carrboro, NC.

Wilson said the family knows better than anyone else the importance of improving the road, but “there are ways to do it don’t require destroying this family farm.” He added: “I have offered to work with the DOT and even to cede right-of-way for a new road on an alternative route that does not involve wrecking a working farm. The DOT has refused to consider my offer.” Apparently in order to maintain the existing bridges until the new ones are finished, the proposed plan maximizes damage to the two fields. “The plan as it was presented to us yesterday would actually make the road more dangerous for everyone — everyone who works on the farm, students, guests, animals, as well as the daily drivers,” Wilson said. “Since the bridges are the justification for this project, they propose three 50-foot paved culvert bridges that then go back to one-lane unpaved road in between, creating dangerous bottlenecks. And it means they are not forced to pay for irreparable damages to our 140-year old farmhouse, historic barn, woodshed and springhouse.”

Hillary Wilson, director of Maverick Farms, said that the organization is now seeking community support in this struggle to keep the farm viable. “Honestly, I’d rather be planting seeds in the greenhouse and planning the growing season,” she said. “But this is about whether the farm has a future — literally what I can plant this spring is up to the DOT.” The Wilsons and the rest of the Maverick Farms organization will fight to save the farm, starting with challenges to how decisions that directly affect working farmland were made without any input. The historic farm is part of the Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program. “My entire income is from the farm. This represents an irreversible loss of topsoil that has been in continuous vegetable production for almost 100 years,” she added.

Over the years, Maverick Farms has been profiled by both the local and national media, including features in Gourmet Magazine, The New York Times, and the New York Times Magazine.