Category Archives: Nourish & Nurture

Food and wine help WNCAP raise funds at Raise Your Hand Auction

Above Anthony Cerrato (Photo by Lynne Harty)

Story by Janet Moore

What could be better than an evening of good wine, fine food and great art (all of it up for auction), shared among friends and benefiting a worthy cause? On October 1, the greater Asheville community will once again gather at the Asheville Event Centre on Sweeten Creek Road to support the life-saving, life-changing work of the Western North Carolina AIDS Project (WNCAP) at the 28th Annual Raise Your Hand Auction and Gala.

“Initially, Raise Your Hand was all about the art, and with good reason,” says Pam Siekman, gala organizer and WNCAP volunteer. “We always have very generous donations from some of the region’s leading artists. But over the years, the gala and auction have earned the reputation of having great food and wine, too.”

Since its inception in 1986, WNCAP has grown to become a critical part of the western North Carolina healthcare safety net.

Siekman credits the support of Asheville Independent Restaurant Association members Joe Scully (Corner Kitchen, Chestnut), Michel Baudouin (Bouchon), Eric Scheffer (Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian) and Anthony Ceratto (Strada Italiano and The Social Lounge & Tapas Bar) with helping make Raise Your Hand a celebration of food and wine, too.

“These talented chefs have been instrumental in growing our event,” she says. “For more than a decade, they have donated their time and talent to our cause. In fact, one of our most popular auction items is a dinner for eight, prepared in-home, by Joe, Michel, Eric and Anthony.”

Food and Wine WNCAP Fundraiser

For the second consecutive year, Chef Anthony Cerrato is creating the Raise Your Hand menu. Guests can look forward to a fine selection of hors d’oeuvres such as Beef Wellington, Bacon and Bleu cheese stuffed dates and Candy Apple Pork Belly with Chianti reduction. Dinner entrees include Tofu Eggplant Saltimbocca, Fried Shrimp and Grits and Brasato di Guanciale. “Chef Anthony reached out to the purveyors and local farmers he works with to raise the culinary bar, so to speak. The result will be a deliciously memorable and elegant evening,” Siekman says.

Since its inception in 1986, WNCAP has grown to become a critical part of the western North Carolina healthcare safety net. Today it provides HIV-related support, prevention, education and advocacy activities in all 18 counties. Last year, Raise Your Hand generated more than $175,000 for WNCAP.

Food and Wine WNCAP Fundraiser

“The money we raise is critical in order for us to provide the case management services, care, education and outreach needed to manage and even prevent new HIV/AIDS infections,” Siekman says. “In the years since Raise Your Hand first started, AIDS has gone from being a death sentence to being a chronic disease that can be managed with medication. But the fact remains that in the 21st century AIDS and HIV are still very much with us right here in western North Carolina.”

Tickets to the gala are $125 and can be purchased at or by calling the WNCAP office at 828.335.6680.

Janet Moore helped to develop Plough to Pantry at its inception. We have her to thank for our three distinct content sections, Sow & Grow, Reap & Eat and Nourish & Nurture.

Rocky Fork: a powerful Appalachian place preserved

Story by Frances Figart | Photos by Joye Ardyn Durham

I live 40 minutes outside Asheville, just two miles over the North Carolina border into east Tennessee. My home is situated on the perimeter of a wild, 10,000-acre watershed located in the southern Blue Ridge region of the Appalachian Mountains. Known for years simply as Rocky Fork, it straddles the border between two counties, Unicoi and Greene, and, in the words of David Arthur Ramsey, “is still inhabited by salt-of-the-earth, Appalachian people.”

Ramsey is one of a handful of conservation-minded locals who played a key role in the 15-year struggle to save the Rocky Fork watershed. In fact, had he and his fellow environmental champions not undertaken three separate attempts to prevent its destruction, as Ramsey puts it, “‘Rocky Fork’ would likely now be just a name on the fancy entrance gate to a high-end subdivision.”

Appalachia Rocky Fork

This diverse cove forest contains pristine mountain streams, including Rocky Fork Creek, Flint Creek, Lower Higgins Creek and the headwaters of Long Branch. Living within the watershed are Peregrine Falcons, the Yonahlossee Salamander and the Woodland Jumping Mouse, as well as many native wildflowers. The property is also part of the Unicoi Bear Sanctuary and lies within an Audubon Important Bird Area.

Living within the watershed are Peregrine Falcons, the Yonahlossee Salamander and the Woodland Jumping Mouse, as well as many native wildflowers.

Back in the mid-1990s, wide-scale development of Rocky Fork became imminent. At this time, roughly half of Unicoi County’s landmass already was comprised of National Forest lands, from which it received no property taxes. The proposed transfer of Rocky Fork from private to public ownership promised to further reduce that compromised tax base. So those who wanted to prevent the tract’s development were up against a great deal of political pressure.

Alongside other concerned activists, Ramsey pondered how best to address the tax loss issue. “It seemed to me that if we could get the entire Rocky Fork tract purchased, via combined state and federal funding, the chances might be good of establishing
a sizeable state or federally designated park on the land. This way we could preserve Rocky Fork, and Unicoi County and the surrounding area could benefit economically from it, too.”

This idea, supported by a host of champions, is precisely what finally succeeded. From 2006 to 2012, many individuals worked to protect this iconic area alongside organizations including the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), The Conservation Fund (TCF), the State of Tennessee, the U.S. Forest Service, and other public and private partners.

The Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund provided a $6 million grant, requested by SAHC, for the State of Tennessee to acquire 2,036 acres of the land, which was officially designated Tennessee’s 55th state park in 2012. The US Forest Service owns approximately 8,000 adjoining acres. SAHC also recently worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to purchase a one-acre tract to facilitate public access.

“We are proud to have been able to work with the State of Tennessee and other partners over the past decade to conserve the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork watershed,” said SAHC executive director Carl Silverstein. “This recent acquisition is an integral part of these efforts, as it will afford public access for visitors to enjoy trails and trout streams in this stunning area.”

Appalachia Rocky Fork

Rocky Fork State Park lies within a half mile of the Appalachian Trail and contains a system of existing and planned public trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, including a future connection to the AT. The main branch of Rocky Fork, designated as a TN Exceptional Stream, flows through the recently acquired one-acre tract. These streams are home to native Southern Appalachian Brook Trout and are available to the public for fishing.

Currently there are no facilities and very limited parking for visitors. Long-term goals include an expanded parking area and visitor center. Learn more and keep up with progress on the Rocky Fork State Park Facebook page.

Frances Figart is the editor of Plough to Pantry and a member of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

Sisters help protect salamander and bat habitat

Above: Green salamander (photo by JJ Apodaca)

Sisters help protect salamander and bat habitat in creating outdoor classroom

by Frances Figart

Not long after they co-founded the Community of the Transfiguration as a religious order for women in the Episcopal Church, Mother Eva Mary and Sister Beatrice Martha came from Cincinnati, Ohio, to the mountains of western North Carolina seeking respite from the stress of their work. After three weeks in the Esmeralda Inn in Bat Cave in June of 1901, they rented a cottage for the rest of the summer for $10 a month.

Gaining strength and peace from their retreat in the natural world, they soon began to look for property in the Hickory Nut Gorge that they could use on a regular basis. They found an old three-room farmhouse high on a hillside above the rocky Broad River with a magnificent mountain view. They leased the house for $25 a year for several years, eventually buying it.

Salamander and Bat Habitat
Grassy Creek Cascades on Bat Cave land conserved by the Community of the
Transfiguration (photo by Gordon Tutor)

The old cottage underwent many renovations, including the addition of a lovely long covered porch and a second story. By the end of the 20th century, however, it was well over a hundred years old and in need of major repairs. The new generation of sisters made the difficult decision to tear down the old house and replace it with a modern structure, retaining much the same footprint and appearance with a long porch and several comfortable bedrooms. It was completed in 2001.

“The aspect that always touches me deeply is the silence of the mountains, the song of the river and the tree frogs in the evenings,” says Sister Teresa M. Martin, superior of the Community of the Transfiguration. “The porch is a wonderfully peaceful place to live into the mystery and beauty of the universe surrounding us.”

Sister Teresa was last here this past spring with several colleagues to accept the 2016 Lela McBride Award from the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC). The trust annually presents the award—named for its founder—to individuals who have made significant contributions to land conservation and stewardship in the region.

“The aspect that always touches me deeply is the silence of the mountains, the song of the river and the tree frogs in the evenings,” says Sister Teresa M. Martin, superior of the Community of the Transfiguration.

In 2015, the Community of the Transfiguration placed 410 acres of its Bat Cave property into a conservation easement and conveyed the title to 368 of the conserved acres to CMLC. The order will retain ownership of 42
acres immediately surrounding the retreat house, and the rest of the land will be managed as the Hickory Nut Gorge Teaching and Research Reserve. It will be made available for use by local schools, colleges and other educational programs by arrangement with CMLC.

“This beautiful and pristine land has been and continues to be a great gift to us,” says Sister Teresa. “Above all we want to see it protected and gently used in a way that will honor it and will give back a new vision for the larger community.”

Salamander and Bat Habitat
Sisters Jean Gabriel, Teresa, Eleanor and Anne (photo by Daniele Albert)

In a 2006 CMLC study, the Transfiguration property ranked as the number-one priority for conservation in terms of its beneficial impact on protection of water quality in the Upper Broad River watershed. The property provides habitat for rare species such as the green salamander (Aneides aeneus) and tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus).

Sister Teresa says she has often heard and seen bats circling in the twilight. “They frequently found their way inside the old house, which was always a challenge,” she says. “I’ve never seen any of our famous salamanders in spite of looking for them. But they prefer the rocky inaccessible mountainsides.”

Currently, Warren Wilson College professor J.J. Apodaca and his students are using the Hickory Nut Gorge Teaching and Research Reserve property to gather data for their work on the genetics of the green salamander, which is endangered in North Carolina.
CMLC is dedicated to protecting and stewarding land and water resources vital to our natural heritage and quality of life and to fostering appreciation and understanding of the natural world. Since 1994, the land trust has protected more than 30,000 acres in western North Carolina.

CMLC’s land protection director, Tom Fanslow, who helped facilitate the Transfiguration property easement, says, “The Sisters’ conservation ethic set a high standard for CMLC to follow in creating an outdoor classroom.”

Since moving to the Asheville area in 2012, Frances Figart has worked to raise awareness about the work of local land trusts through her writing.

Preserving the era of Appalachian barns

above: Dorland Institute Boys Home Amish bank barn by Don McGowan
by Taylor Barnhill

A neighbor of mine, her hand extended to take the tape measure from me, says, “I can climb up there!” She clips the tape measure to her belt and begins her climb, up the tier poles to the barn’s rafter tops 20 feet above the dusty hayloft floor.

She is a retired Washington DC professional, resettled in Madison County, NC, where her family has been since the 1790s. We are in another neighbor’s barn; a 120-year-old log crib barn that she has wanted to explore since she was a child. Now, she’s at the dizzying top tier of the loft, measuring the height of the ridge beam. That measurement and dozens more will be added to 110 photographs, oral histories from family and historic research to document this venerable barn and how it came to be.

Such is a day in the work of the Appalachian Barn Alliance, a non-profit membership organization committed to preserving the heritage of Madison County and surrounding areas. The elements of that heritage most at risk are the barns and farmsteads that once defined mountain lifestyles and landscapes. These iconic symbols of mountain farming are disappearing with every season.

Preserving Appalachian Barns
Carson Roberts flue-cured tobacco barn by Don McGowan

Appalachian Barn Alliance

Southern highlanders all bear witness to this loss, yet Ross Young has a perspective that few people share. As director of Madison County’s Cooperative Extension Service, he realized several years ago that the end of the burley tobacco program in 2004 meant that many barns would no longer be income-producing, and that meant the maintenance of those barns would decline. “There are few days that go by when I don’t see another barn fall prey to weather and gravity,” Young says with a sigh. “Our agricultural history is disappearing right in front of us.”

It was this sense of loss, and opportunity, which motivated Young to find a remedy. An associate in a neighboring county once described a photo contest with old barns as the subject, including a photo documentation component to capture images of surviving barns. Young began to explore what it would take to create a similar program for Madison County. He turned to the director of the county’s Visitor’s Center, Sandy Stevenson, a known ‘get ‘er done’ kind of leader to whom he had spoken several times about agritourism projects. A heritage barn documentation project was a natural parallel: not only could it support economic development, but it could also provide an invaluable historical archive of disappearing Appalachian material culture.

It was this sense of loss, and opportunity, which motivated Young to find a remedy.

Stevenson wasted no time in creating an advisory board of passionate people who knew and revered the county’s barns and farmsteads. Within months, the Appalachian Barn Alliance was operational, hiring a part-time documentary researcher, and setting about to implement its first phase of work: to identify and document historically significant and at-risk barns across Madison County. As its name implies, the Appalachian Barn Alliance also envisioned a regional geographic scope for its work, ultimately documenting barns and farmsteads in neighboring counties, including those of east Tennessee.

How many barns?

As you look around on any drive along rural mountain roads, you become aware that barns are everywhere. Ross Young once estimated there were at least 11,000 barns in Madison County, a figure that seemed impossibly high. Another windshield survey was completed and an average of five barns per mile was recorded which, from just driving the roads, seemed to fit. Then you multiply that by 3,800 miles of county roads. You redo the math, because you can hardly believe the number: 19,000 barns!

Preserving Appalachian Barns
Will Cook burley tobacco and livestock barn by Don McGowan

Most are burley tobacco barns, the big boxy barns with a low-sloped roof line. Looking closer, you begin to notice older weathered barns with a steep A-roof line. That steep roof tells you the barn was built during the era of split-oak wood roof shingles, and likely prior to 1920, when metal roofing became available. If you are fortunate, you may find an ancient flue-cured tobacco barn: a tall, square log barn used to cure the first major cash crop in the mountains from 1870 to 1920.

The Appalachian Barn Alliance provides many ways for you to learn about the barn heritage of the mountains, including driving tours and educational events and workshops, especially in May, which is Madison County Barn Month. May 21 is the 3rd Annual Barn Day with a tour of historic barns, an auction, dinner and live music in a modern-day party barn. The Madison County Arts Council will host an exhibit of barn art paintings and photography May 6. New members are always welcome!

Learn more about activities and educational materials at