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In an effort to answer your questions in a timely manner, I have decided to post a Frequently Asked Question Section. Before calling or emailing me, please check to see if your question has already been posted here. I apologize that this is rather impersonal, but I can't even begin to answer all the emails and phone calls I receive now. Since I also need to leave time to do research, write, and speak, I hope you find this a useful alternative.


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What Should I Grow?

Q1. I have been reading over the literature at the County Extension Service office. I have made plans to grow different varieties of gourds, but I would like to explore other options. I was looking at grape production but I would prefer something that would give me a crop in a year. I have 5 acres.
A There are many crop options for you to consider. In addition to reading the literature at the Extension office, I suggest you search the Internet for other new crop ideas. The N.C. Specialty Crops Program website ( is a good place to start. It has a long list of crops that extension agents and researchers in North Carolina have been studying over the past ten years. Don’t forget to give careful consideration to how to plan to sell your crops, too. That should be an important part of your decision process. Do you plan to sell direct to the consumer at a tailgate market or roadside stand, or sell large volumes to a repacker or wholesaler, or sell to an independent market? Just as an example, if you were planning to sell at a tailgate market, gourds, heirloom tomatoes, and cut flowers might be a good mix for you. If, however, you were planning to sell to a small independent market, larger volumes of gourds and pumpkins might be appropriate. Your equipment, labor, time, and financial resources must also be considered. I suggest that you make an appointment with your county extension agent to discuss some options that might be appropriate for your area.
Q2. I have some forested land that I would like to harvest for timber some day in the distant future. In the meantime, I would like to make some quick money from my woods by trying forest farming. Is that feasible? Where would I learn more?

Diversifying into forest farming might work out well for you in the long term, but it does not usually result in quick profits. Unless you have many berries, nuts, medicinal herbs, and wild foods (such as ramps, miners lettuce, fiddlehead ferns, etc.) already present in your woods, it is going to take some time to get something established and to harvestable stage. If you don’t have anything present already, one of the fastest products to produce is mushrooms, such as shiitakes. But first you need to consider how and where you are going to sell these products. There is a great deal of information on my website for you.

I suggest you read over the information on this page, including looking at the ebook indicated on the top of the page:

Also look at the videos on this page:

And check out some of the decision tools and “How to pick a high-value crop” tools here:

For marketing opportunities, look at the Wild Food + Herb Market that opened in the spring of 2013 in Carrboro, NC:

And the wild food market that opened in Asheville, NC in spring 2013:


Who Can Help Me?

Q Individual Assistance. Do you schedule individual appointments with growers?
A I rarely do individual appointments, although I do workshops and conferences all across the state. My job as a statewide specialist is to do research in my subject area (organics, medicinal herbs, mushrooms, and specialty crops), create extension/outreach materials (websites, publications, and presentations) based on that research, and then train the county agents on those topics to serve the farmers directly. We are very fortunate in North Carolina to have a strong county extension system. Every county has an office with at least one agent responsible for the crop areas I cover. I suggest that you contact your local extension office and schedule an appointment to visit with your agent. Also, check the Extension Calendar of Events to find out about conferences and workshops in your area that might be of interest.
Q Small Farm Start-Up. I am interested in starting a small farm and growing some specialty crops such as herbs and hops. Where can I get information on the business aspects of starting a small farm? And are there any organizations that offer grants for new projects like this?  Also, is there someone locally who can help me?
A Here is a good USDA Rural Information Center website for information on starting a small farm and getting funding:

For small grants I suggest that you look at the RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International) website. They have a program that awards small grants for farmers:

Another opportunity is the Southern SARE grant program:

Your best local sources for help with your farming efforts include your county extension office and farm service agency. These two webpages will let you find the offices in your county:

I Want Information on Organic Production

Q CERTIFICATION REQUIREMENT. Someone told me that they had read on the Internet that a grower did not have to get certified if they sold under $5,000 worth of produce. I told them that I was not aware of this but would check with you.
A If a farmer sells less than $5,000 worth of produce as organic, he/she does not need to be certified. He/she, however, must abide by all the NOP rules to use the word "organic". This is a way to allow small scale growers to participate in the organic industry but not have to pay for certification.
Q CERTIFICATION AGENCIES. My clients are interested in getting certified and I recall you telling me that many folks in WNC use a company out of Florida to do their certification. Is that still true?
A The three main certifying agencies used in North Carolina are the
A few of the big companies, like Gaia Herbs, also use Oregon Tilth ( because they certify for international sales.

For the complete list of USDA Accredited Certifying Agents, go to

I Want Information on Food Safety

Q Can I eat or sell fruits and vegetables that have been flooded?


Crops intended for human consumption are considered contaminated if they have been covered with flood waters from rivers, creeks or streams.  Growers should distinguish between rainwater that accumulates on a field because of excessive rainfall versus fields covered by flood waters from risen rivers, creeks or streams. Flood waters can carry potential contaminants from off-site sources. Fields covered by flood waters are distinctly different from fields where rainwater has accumulated in low areas. Standing waters often occur after heavy rain.

The present concern is for crops which have been in direct contact with flood waters from risen rivers, creeks or streams which may be contaminated with runoff such as human or animal waste, petroleum products, pesticides or industrial chemicals.

If the crop is in standing water from accumulated rainwater, not flooding from rivers or streams, keep in mind that most fruits and vegetables are subject to damage or decay if they are flooded for more than a couple days. In that case, the crop will either be in a state of deterioration, or it will not cure and store properly. In effect, these conditions will render most of the flood affected crop unharvestable or unmarketable.

Before cleaning up or destroying crops in flooded fields, check with your crop insurance and/or their local Farm Services Agency (FSA) representatives regarding exact documentation to certify losses, procedures for initiating claims, possible financial assistance.

If you have questions, contact your county extension agent, your local FSA or crop insurance representatives, or the Food and Drug Protection Division of NCDA&CS at 919-733-7366.

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that certain foods exposed to flood waters, and perishable foods that are not adequately refrigerated, are adulterated and should not enter the human food supply. In addition, crops and other food commodities exposed to flood waters would not be acceptable for use in animal feed. FDA is also providing guidance in determining when food products can be reconditioned for future use. The information follows.

From the FDA

Foods that Should Be Destroyed

Crops. If the edible portion of a crop is exposed to flood waters, it is considered adulterated and should not enter human food channels. There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety. Therefore, the FDA recommends that these crops be disposed of in a manner that ensures they are kept separate from crops that have not been flood damaged to avoid adulterating "clean" crops.

Disposition of crops in proximity to, or exposed to a lesser degree of flooding, where the edible portion of the crop has NOT come in contact with flood waters, may need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Factors to consider in the evaluation include:

  • What is the source of flood waters and are there potential upstream contributors of human pathogens and/or chemical contaminants?
  • Type of crop and stage of growth, e.g., is the edible portion of the crop developing? How far above the ground does the lowest edible portion grow?
  • Were conditions such that the crop may have been exposed to prolonged periods of moisture and stress which could foster fungal growth, and possibly, development of mycotoxins?

Grains and similar products stored in bulk can also be damaged by flood waters. These flood damaged products should not be used for human and animal food.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables that have been inundated by flood waters cannot be adequately cleaned and should be destroyed. Fresh fruits and vegetables that have begun to spoil due to the lack of refrigeration should also be destroyed. These food items may be considered for diversion to animal feed under certain circumstances.

There is an excellent document on Salvaging Flooded Crops by Dr. John Rushing.
I have posted it under "Late Breaking News" on both the and websites.

Three more articles that may be helpful:

A 2008 article from University of Wisconsin food safety extension specialists on harvesting flooded gardens:

A 2008 article from Purdue Extension:

Sue Colucci, area extension agent, has also posted some important information concerning flooded crops on her blog at

Q SPROUTS. I want to grow different kinds of sprouts commercially, but I know there have been some serious food safety issues with sprouts in the past. Where can I get good information on how to grow my sprouts safely?
A My suggestion is that you start with these two FDA pages on sprout safety at Microbiological Safety Evaluations and Recommendations on Sprouted Seed and Guidance for Industry: Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards For Sprouted Seeds. To see if we have any specific recommendations for North Carolina, I suggest you talk to an extension specialist in the NCSU Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Science Department. Here's the link to their extension faculty page. Also, in North Carolina, check with the Food and Drug Division at the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.
Q WILD MUSHROOMS. I just found some wild mushrooms growing near the stream on my property. I looked them up in a book and I think they are safe to eat. Do you think I can eat them? Can you identify them for me? I live in Asheville, North Carolina.


I do not identify wild mushrooms. My expertise is in cultivating mushrooms only. I also do not recommend that anyone eat a wild mushroom based on identifying it in a book or on a website. If you want to eat wild mushrooms, please join a group of mushroom enthusiasts and learn all about them. There are many wonderful wild mushrooms in our area and many people eat them, but you have to know what you are doing because there are poisonous ones out there, too. You are fortunate that in the Asheville area we have a great mushroom club. Please check out the Asheville Mushroom Club at People who do not live in the Asheville area should look for a similar mushroom or mycology club in their area. Their meetings are often listed in the local newspaper. The local extension office or botany department at the local college can probably also direct you to the closest club.

I Want Information on How to Grow Specific Crops

Q HOPS. I am interested in growing hops in North Carolina and understand there is a good market for them. Can you help me find information?
A There are quite a few individuals and brewers clubs growing hops in North Carolina now. I am aware of commercial efforts in Buncombe, Haywood, Madison, Polk, Guilford, Wake, and Alamance counties. The group in western North Carolina is discussing forming a growers’ association to share information and help market the hops. I am working closely with them, observing their hop yards, learning about the fertility, disease, and insect problems they are encountering, watching with interest as they learn to harvest and dry their crops, and just trying to learn and provide as much assistance as I can. In 2010 I hope to initiate a research and extension program for NC hops growers.

In June 2009, the Times-News in Hendersonville did a very nice article on the local hops situation. You can read that at the following URL (you might have to cut and paste into your browser to make it work)

At this time, we know very little about the feasibility of commercial hops production in North Carolina. It is assumed that it will be easier to grow hops in the western part of the state than in the piedmont or coastal plain. That said, there is a grower in Alamance County who received a grant several years ago to start a hop yard and seems to be doing just fine! There are also many home brewers across the state that successfully grow a few hop plants for themselves. So, if you really interested in trying to grow hops, I suggest you try it on a very small scale with several different varieties.

If you are interested in growing large volumes of hops, you need to figure out where you are going to sell them before you plant. In 2007, there was a hops shortage. This was a result of an oversupply of hops on the market that caused many farmers in the Pacific Northwest, the major hops production area in the world, to reduce their plantings. But by August 2008, the USDA released a report that said: “Hop production in Oregon is estimated at 10.4 million pounds for 2008, up 9 percent from last year. Washington is estimating a 27 percent production increase and Idaho is estimating a 57 percent increase. Nationally, production is expected to increase 27 percent over last year. Yields are expected to be up in Idaho, but down slightly in Oregon and Washington. Growers in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho expect to harvest 8,352 more acres in 2008.” In other words, the hops shortage is over.

I’m not trying to discourage hops production, because I think there is a great market for micro-breweries and home brewers looking for unique varieties, local production, and fresh hops, but I want potential growers to understand that there is a well-established hops production region in the Pacific Northwest that can gear up very quickly to fill any shortages.

Here is some general information on hops growing:

The ideal climate for hops has lots of moisture in the winter and spring followed by a warm, dry growing season. Many hops are grown in the Willamette Valley in Oregon because it has a mild climate with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. Reading over the history of hops production in the U.S., I found that on the east coast diseases are a common cause for failure. The national IPM report for hops in Oregon states: "Hops suffer from mildew, canker, root rot, wilt, and various virus diseases. Hop powdery mildew (HPM) was detected in the Northern Willamette Valley in late July 1998. This disease has the potential to be extremely damaging. HPM is now present in all U.S. production regions. It caused the failure of the eastern hop industry in the early 1900s and is a major problem in England and Europe. Downy mildew of hops is another important disease, especially in Oregon. Severe infection in some cultivars may produce a rot of the perennial crowns and losses are also due to cone infections." That report has some good information. You can access it at:

The first challenges to starting a hop yard are purchasing the rhizomes and establishing an appropriate trellising system. The interest in hops is high all across the nation, but there is a limited number of companies selling quality hop rhizomes. You need to get your orders in early to get a good selection. Here is the USDA list of hops varieties:

The usual way to grow hops is on a very tall trellis. See some pictures on this website from Washington State University: These trellis systems can be expensive and are a lot of work to erect. Small scale growers often use a maypole type system; see photos from the Battleground Brewers Guild in Greensboro, NC:

Our present growers are finding weed control to be a major challenge. Be sure to plan ahead for how you intend to control them with mulched strips, herbicides, or whatever. Not only are the weeds unsightly, they compete with the hops plants for nutrients and water and can harbor diseases and insects. With our high humidity and rain, growers must always be on the alert for diseases, particularly powdery mildew and downy mildew. Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, and spider mites have also been a problem for some of the western growers. There are few agricultural chemicals labeled for use on hops in North Carolina, so growers need to plan ahead for how they will control weeds, insects, and diseases. Many of the growers want to produce organic hops, making this an even bigger challenge. They are currently experimenting with a variety of organic disease and insect control products, including Serenade, Sucrashield, Sporatec, Ecotec, and Neem oil. We are working with the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Agronomic Division to create appropriate fertility recommendations for hops. You can send in soil and tissue samples to their labs for testing. Soil testing: Plant testing: Be sure to work with your county extension agent as you start your commercial hop yard. He or she can be a big help and will be a vital link to a wide array of services to help you:

Finally, growers have to figure out how to practically harvest, dry, and package hops on a small scale. They need to work closely with their buyers to determine what volumes are needed and when and what constitutes a quality product. There are a number of chemical constituents in hops that brewers are looking for. The Natural Products Laboratory at the Enka campus of AB Tech Community College is creating a hops testing program to help growers produce high quality hops. You can access their webpage at

Sometime in the near future I will post a webpage devoted to hops production in North Carolina. In the meantime, here are my recommended websites on hops (you might have to cut and paste some of these into your browser if the url is too long):

Q TRUFFLES. Will truffles grow in North Carolina?
A Yes, truffles will grow in North Carolina! Truffles are a highly prized, edible fungus that grows in association with the roots of several species of trees. In North Carolina, filberts are often used as the host tree. Roots of filbert seedlings are inoculated with the fungus and the young trees are planted in an orchard. Oaks can also be used, but they take much longer to produce truffles than do the filberts.

Truffles need a temperate environment where freezing temperatures occur but not where the ground freezes solid. The soil must have a pH of 7.9 to 8.1 for truffle fruiting to occur. Because soils in North Carolina are naturally acidic, they must be heavily limed to slowly raise the pH. A good site for a truffle orchard should also be well drained and irrigated. Once the trees are planted, the orchards are maintained with light cultivation several times per year. An organic mulch or polypropylene landscape fabric is helpful to keep down weeds, retain soil moisture, and moderate soil temperatures. The first truffles should appear on filberts the fourth to sixth year after planting. They are usually about six inches deep in the soil and dogs can be trained to find them during the winter and early spring.

At this time we know that truffles can be grown in North Carolina, but because we don’t have good figures on yields, we don’t know how profitable they might be. Also, there are still times when all the best practices are followed, yet truffles don't grow. Thus, truffles should be considered a high-risk crop.

Commercial Sources of Truffle Inoculated Seedlings and Additional Information

Garland Gourmet Mushrooms and Truffles

This is a North Carolina based company that received a grant from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission to determine if truffles can be grown commercially in North Carolina. They sell inoculated seedlings and also offer a dog training service to help find your truffles. Their website is: An article on the Garlands, their truffles, and one of their clients can be found at:

New World Truffieres, Inc.

This is a company in Oregon. In addition to selling truffle inoculated trees, they have an informative website. It explains orchard management, soil pH, etc. Check it out at

North American Truffle Growers Association

This association was started in North Carolina five or six years ago. It recently joined The American Mushroom Institute.

Coveted, French, and Now in Tennessee

Article in the New York TImes, February 2008 (You may need to register with the New York Times in order to view this article more than once.)

Excellent Book

Taming the Truffle by Ian A. Hall, Gordon T. Brown and Alessandra Zambonelli. Published in 2007 by Timber Press.

Q GREENHOUSE HERBS. Can herbs be grown in a greenhouse for wholesale sales and where can I learn more about that?
A Herbs can be grown in a greenhouse. There are several ways to do this. Herbs can be grown for sale as transplants or plugs (to sell to other commercial growers who want to "grow them out" or as potted plants for nursery to homegardeners; they can be culinary or medicinal. Herbs can also be grown for cutting to sell as "fresh-cut herbs"; those would be culinary herbs. You would need to determine which you wanted to do and where you have a market for them. There are many very good publications on greenhouse herbs. Here are a few:

Organic Greenhouse Herb Production:

A Northern Farmer's Experience with Growing Herbs in High Tunnels:

Container Production of Twelve Herbs:

Ball Redbook on Greenhouse Crop Production:

Q CHINESE MEDICINAL HERBS. I am considering growing Chinese medicinal herbs on a small commercial scale but I'm having trouble finding seeds. Can you tell me where to buy them?
A The two sources I know of with good selection are:
Q WASABI. Where can I buy wasabi plants to start a commercial wasabi operation?
A The sources I know of for wasabi plants are:
Q MALTING BARLEY. Can we grow malting barley in western North Carolina? What is malting?
A The faculty in the Crop Science Department assure me that we can grow good barley around here. Years ago, I guess everyone grew it. The issue is the malting process. If you are a home brewer and want to grow and malt a little barley for yourself, that can be done. Information on varieties, planting dates, etc. can be found in this NC State University small grains guide: This YouTube video shows you how to malt the barley at home:

Doing malting barley on a commercial scale, however, is a big issue.

There are some special requirements in the growing process:
Then the barley has to be properly harvested, dried, and stored:

Here is a Canadian article that takes you all the way from field prep to stored:$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex98

Then it has to be malted (here is a great article on that):

Q RICHLEA LENTILS. I was approached about growing Richlea lentils. What are they and can I grow them in eastern North Carolina? I've never seen lentils growing around here. Do you know why?
A The Richlea is a very desirable lentil. It is a medium green lentil. I used to live in the heart of lentil and dry pea country in the Palouse region of Washington State. I was surrounded by lentils!

Take a look at slides 1, 5, and 6 in this little presentation to see where lentils, peas, and chickpeas are grown in this country and what the terrain looks like:

Lentils are already big business in these states: In other words, there is no shortage.
I think the main reason we do not have a lentil industry in the Southeast is because it is too hot, humid, and wet. Lentils are adapted to cool, semi-arid areas of the world. High humidity and rainfall reduce yield and seed quality. Where I lived, we got about 12 inches of rain a year, and that came in the winter. And there was no humidity. Doesn't sound like North Carolina, does it? Drought and high temperatures can also seriously reduce yields. The plants will not tolerate even short periods of flooded or water logged soils.

So, I'm sure that someone could grow some lentils here if they really wanted to. They would probably be successful some years, but probably most years they would get low yields and poor quality.

Here is some general lentil production information:

Value-Added Products

Q SHARED KITCHEN. Is there a commercial shared use kitchen in the Asheville area where I can make jams and jellies from my blackberries?
A There is a shared use kitchen near Asheville at the Enka campus of AB Tech Community College. It is called Blue Ridge Food Ventures. Farmers bring in their produce and process it themselves in a certified kitchen. There are folks there to advise you, too. The website is

There is another shared use kitchen in the far western part of the state, at the Stecoah Valley Center: The Smoky Mountain Native Plants Association helped make that happen and make their ramps products there.

I Want to Get a Grant for My Project

Q FUNDING AND GRANTS. I live in western North Carolina and want to start a breeding project for grain amaranth. Do you know where I can apply for a grant for a project like that?
A The funding options that come to mind for you as a grower are Southern SARE-they have several different grant options. One just for producers, and a few others that you would have to team up with a county agent or professor for. Check out their website at Also, the WNC AgOptions program might be an opportunity for you:

Home Gardening

Q POTATOES. I would like to grow potatoes in my garden this year. Where can I get information?
A These two publications should provide you with the information you need:

Farm Preservation and Transition

Q LEASING LAND FOR FARMING. I have a farm with about 100 acres of crop land and approximately 400 acres of forest land. I am not a farmer. My interest is in having someone who is interested in developing and operating a farm like this. How do I find such a person and more information on how to do this.
A Although it has often been discussed, to the best of my knowledge there is not a central location for connecting landowners with people who would like to farm but don't have land. There are, however, several networks that we use in North Carolina to help facilitate such activities.

First make some phone calls to the following agencies and organizations to ask if they know of anyone looking to farm:

Second, there are several online listservs and classified that do a great job of connecting people. Here are some I use frequently:

Third, I would be happy to put a notice out on my Twitter, Blog, and Facebook.

Fourth, here are links to information that you might find useful about organic farming, farm preservation, and new agriculture enterprise selection:


Dr. Jeanine Davis
Mountain Horticultural Crops Research & Extension Center
455 Research Drive
Mills River, NC 28759
Phone: 828.684.3562 ~ Fax: 828.684.8715

Maintained by: Bryan A. Konsler

Updated April 10, 2013 by Lijing Zhou and Jeanine Davis