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Tracing the roots of WNC’s signature style

Love it or hate it, mountain vernacular architecture has stubbornly planted its roots in Western North Carolina and shows no signs of abandoning the area.

The style that favors steep pitched roofs, native stonework, timber frame gables and earth-tone colors has manifested itself in homes, schools, police and fire departments, and even chains like Wal-Mart and Wendy’s.

Part of the popularity is fueled simply by aesthetic preference, but in some cases, developers were goaded into adopting the style by towns striving for architectural unity.

Local governments are certainly not exempting themselves from the trend. Testaments to their penchant for the style include Waynesville’s new fire station and town hall, the Lake Junaluska Welcome Center, Jackson County’s new senior center and Cherokee’s new $140 million school.

Like chalets dominate our notion of Switzerland, and sand-colored stucco defines the Southwest, mountain vernacular architecture has grown to become a quintessential look for Western North Carolina.

Though architects agree the style hearkens back to WNC’s early days, they clash on what exactly led to its extensive revival.


Where’d it come from?

Plain old common sense gave shape to the mountain-style architecture that cropped up here more than a century ago.

Pitched roofs channeled off rain and snow, while timber beams were hewed from the woods around them and stones were churned up and tossed aside when plowing fields.

“Native stone is what people from past generations would go out and pick up,” said Randy Cunningham, an architect with Waynesville-based Mountain Design.

“They had it. It was at hand. It was free,” said Mib Medford, who sits on the Waynesville community appearance commission. “Availability is what brought it on.”

Mountain-style architecture is probably an original colonial invention, according to Sylva-based architect O’Dell Thompson. It’s neither inspired by Native American techniques nor European architectural traditions, which uses stone a lot more heavily, Thompson said.

Whatever the reason for its initial adoption by WNC settlers, the style has won over a crowd of architects, business owners and residents over the last 20 years.

Now, it’s become nearly impossible to go anywhere without running into stacked stones inspired by the foundations of old farmhouses or timber frames that recall exposed rafters in barns.

“It’s running rampant, that kind of look. It’s everywhere,” said Scott Donald, an architect with Padgett & Freeman Architects who has designed many mountain-style buildings in Cherokee.

Local architects have multiple theories for why that is.

Luis Quevedo at Waynesville-based LQ Design Options, stressed that there was no sudden explosion of mountain-style architecture here. It evolved over time.

Quevedo said it could have been influenced by architecture in the Rocky Mountain region.

“There’s a lot of influence that comes from out West,” said Quevedo, adding that the contemporary version of the style has been popular in the West for a lot longer.

The main difference between the two regions, he said, is that the Southern Appalachian region often incorporates a native barn look.

Thompson agreed, stating that WNC’s mountain architecture isn’t fundamentally different from the kind found in states like Colorado, Idaho, and Montana, which took their cue from the Alps. But the Smoky Mountain brand of mountain architecture is simpler and more understated than all of the above, said Thompson.

According to Donald, the credit for the mountain look historically lies with the East, not the other way around.

“We’d already set the standards here in the East before it went West,” said Donald.

Donald said it’s possible that people who flocked to national parks during vacations caught inspiration from the lodges there. They returned, wanting to craft a similar look for their own homes.

In Thompson’s view, outsiders moving into the area about 20 years ago were primarily responsible for reviving the rustic look.

“When people started discovering the mountains as a place to retire to, they started wanting homes that felt like they belonged,” said Thompson.

Though many architects are fans of mountain-style architecture, not all agree with its proliferation. For example, Donald doesn’t find the style appropriate for the Haywood County jail or Wal-Mart.

“If you just slap a gable onto the front of a Wal-Mart, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Donald. “If you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t just do a piece of it. It suggests something it’s not.”

Architects say there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to create the look.

Quevedo is not exactly a fan of what he calls the “cookie-cutter log homes” he sees in Maggie Valley. He said he prefers a more authentic rustic style.


The green connection

Part of the driving force behind that rustic style is the green movement, which encourages using local, sustainable products wherever possible. Many are drawn to the idea of harvesting natural materials to create a mountain look.

Quevedo said he has often used native stone, heavy timber, and even logs as columns or handrails.

Architects can create a very basic mountain look or take it to the extreme, by using tree bark for siding, for example.

“You think of tree bark, that’s what protects the tree for hundreds of years, why not put it on the side of the house?” said Donald.

Natural materials, or at least the natural look, are inseparable from mountain-style architecture, which Donald calls the complete opposite of the “smooth high-tech commercial look.”

Some who opt for the style hunt down and recycle parts from old buildings, for example, to lend a more authentic, traditional appearance for their new construction. Architects have been especially inspired by barn wood.

Local companies have sprung up to cater to their tastes, specializing in buying old barns and extracting materials to use as flooring, siding, railings and columns in new homes, Quevedo said.

Ironically, a lot of stone used to recreate an indigenous look comes from outside the region, according to Cunningham.

No matter the appeal, there are undeniable downsides to using recycled material. Maintenance and cost are two major sticking points.

“Recycled wood and recycled materials are not cheap,” said Quevedo. “You end up spending top dollar sometimes.”

Those who choose to use recycled wood must make sure it is treated properly, and even after everything has been installed, the time to do routine maintenance will come around a lot quicker than if new materials had been used.

Developers must take great care to make sure the building is waterproof, while dwellers must replace mortar between the rocks every 30 to 40 years, Donald said.

Though the actual buildings obviously won’t last forever, most architects seem to shoot for a look that never grows old. Again and again, they said they were concerned with creating something that wasn’t solely “trendy.”

“In my opinion, when you lock into a style, then you’ve locked into something that will go out of style,” said Thompson. “It’s more important for it to be timeless.”

Preserving craft and livelihood: Successful Quilt Trails of WNC coming soon to Haywood, Macon

By Julia Merchant • Contributing Writer

Take a drive through the countryside of Western North Carolina, and you’ll likely notice brightly colored squares adorning the sides of barns and other rustic structures. Look closer, and they’ll tell you a story about that place.

“Turkey tracks,” for instance, hangs on the side of a barn where a flock of turkeys come for their morning meal. “Bard of Avon” graces the side of the Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville. Nearby, “Monkey wrench” pays tribute to a local resident well-known for his fix-it abilities.

The blocks are actually quilt patterns, carefully selected to honor the history behind the structures and homesteads they grace. It’s all part of the Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina project, and soon, it will expand to include Macon and Jackson counties, the first west of Asheville to take part. In the six counties where the project currently exists, it’s grown to involve the entire community in preserving both local history and the heritage craft of quilting. But it’s also become much more — an important economic development tool for all of Western North Carolina.

“It’s a community history project, basically,” says Barbara Webster, executive director of Quilt Trails of WNC. “We are capturing the stories of the land, the people, and the buildings with this project, and in so doing, we are building community and creating economic development for the area.”

First introduced to WNC in 2006, the Quilt Trails project has grown to include 158 quilt blocks hanging on barns and businesses in Mitchell, Yancey, Ashe, Madison, Watauga and Avery counties. Each features a different quilting pattern that is representative of its location. Volunteers build and paint the blocks, and write stories that reflect the heritage of each place. Building a block can take anywhere from three weeks for a simple pattern to nine months for a more complicated one.

Webster, who resides in Mitchell County, has seen her county become a model of success. Along with Yancey, Mitchell boasts the highest concentration of quilt blocks in the entire nation, a feat accomplished in just three short years. The project has achieved an amazing amount of community buy-in.

“The entire community has embraced it,” Webster says.

Kids from the local high school art department paint blocks alongside senior citizens. Volunteers take pictures and write stories about each block. A history teacher takes kids out to photograph the blocks in order to learn about the history of the county. A calculus class uses them to learn about symmetry.

Webster believes tying a story to each block, an aspect of the project unique to Mitchell and Yancey counties, played a large role in sparking community interest. On the application form for a quilt block, there’s a space for the applicant to describe their family history or something interesting about the building or land.

“We use that information to hunt for the prefect quilt block that will trigger their story,” Webster explains. “That’s what made such a big difference in our county — when people saw they could capture their family story this way.”


Tourism booster

Along with local history, the Quilt Trails project is preserving something on a larger scale — the region’s economy. In an area that has struggled to cope with the loss of industry in recent years, the Quilt Trails project has become a key component in the growth of a newer, tourism-based economy.

“It’s amazing what’s happened here because of the quilt blocks,” says Webster. “People are coming from all over the place to see them.”

A recent Wall Street Journal article that profiled Quilt Trails of WNC drew a flood of tourists, “from Maine to Mexico,” Webster says. The visitors are sure to keep coming — the project was selected by the state Department of Tourism as one of 10 state tourist attractions that will appear in a series of radio spots broadcast throughout the Southeast.

“It’s a wonderful example of taking cultural heritage and turning it into a contemporary experience,” says Handmade In America executive director Geraldine Plato of why the project works. “It appeals to a lot of different people. They can get in a car, drive around, read the quilts, and maybe learn something else about the town.”

Webster estimates that one group of 15 people coming to see the blocks contributes an average of $3,000 to the county in one day.

The economic impact ripples throughout the community, thanks largely to the collaborative nature of the project. It seems everyone’s involved — local artists, for instance, are employed to craft pins that resemble the quilt squares, and local businesses sell copies of the one that hangs on their storefront. Maps of the quilt block trails also point visitors to local attractions, like a nearby organic farm.

“We realized fast this could be an economic development engine for the county,” says Webster. “We’ve purposefully gone in that direction, and it’s worked.”

Though Quilt Trails of WNC is currently only in six counties, it’s benefited the region as a whole.

“We’ve used this as a way to market the entire western part of the state as a tourist destination,” says Webster.

As the project expands, Webster hopes counties will work together to promote each other. Say there’s a quilter’s convention in Haywood County — guests could take a daytrip to see the quilt blocks in Yancey County, for instance.

“We could put these packages together and involve multiple counties,” says Webster. “There’s a huge opportunity here.”

Plato thinks Quilt Trails of WNC has tapped into something.

“It’s a beautiful way to pull together the whole region,” Plato says.


Coming soon

Soon, quilt squares will be popping up in the far western counties. Volunteers in Macon County are busy painting the first four blocks, one of which will hang in the Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s underway, and hopefully we’ll be able to see the first things going up before winter,” says Linda Harbuck, executive director of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce.

The project seems particularly fitting in Macon County, which boasts a proud quilting tradition. The now-defunct Maco Crafts Cooperative created the World’s Largest Quilt, which hung at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, as well as the World’s Largest Quilted Wall Hanging.

Harbuck hopes the project will bring a renewed interest in the craft.

“I think it will help preserve tradition, and I think it may bring it back into the light again too,” she says.

The quilt squares, and the stories that accompany them, could also draw a different demographic of visitors to the area.

“It will bring in a new group that might not have necessarily come before,” Harbuck says.

Led by the local Arts Council, Haywood County is also looking to become part of WNC Quilt Trails. Arts Council Director Kay S. Miller says already, the project is sparking interest from a cross-section of community members, both new and native.

“The excitement is coming from people who were born and raised here, not just those who moved to the county,” Miller says. “Hopefully, it will bring together residents in various communities across Haywood County to gain more satisfaction and pride in the heritage we share.”

The first quilt blocks will be hung in Haywood in June 2010. Miller encourages everyone — young or old, artistic or not — to get involved.

“You don’t have to have an art degree to be involved in this project,” Miller says. “Again, that’s the beauty of (it) — schoolchildren and adults alike can participate. There are many phases of the project, and all levels of skill are needed.”

Buy local


Sunburst Trout Farm

Makes: Smoked Tomato Jam, trout dip, trout cakes, trout jerky, trout sausage, trout caviar, marinated trout.

Find it at: The Nest on Main Street, Waynesville (Smoked Tomato Jam); Ingles (trout dip); or order online at www.sunbursttrout.com.

Bethel Eden Farm

Makes: Corn meal, jam or preserves, soap, cider, honey, salad dressing, tomato sauce, flour, pesto, teas, dried fruits, juice, sorghum molasses.

Find it at: Waynesville Tailgate Market; Haywood County Historic Farmers Market.

Lingering Thymes

Makes: Vinegar, teas, soap, jam, preserves.

Find it at: Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market.

Ten Acre Garden

Makes: Jam, preserves.

Find it at: Waynesville Tailgate Market; Haywood Historic Farmers Market.

Chef Ricardo Fernandez and Wild Cat Ridge Farm

Makes: Tomato sauce.

Find it at: Lomo Grill in Waynesville.


Brenda Bumgarner

Makes: Goat’s milk lotion and soap.

Find it at: Jackson County Farmer’s Market or 828.586.9611

Avant Garden

Makes: Pesto, jam or preserves, corn meal, pickles.

Find it at: Jackson County Farmer’s Market.

Dark Cove Farm

Makes: Soap, honey, beeswax, goat cheese, candles.

Find it at: www.darkcove.com.


Springmont Foods

Makes: Vinaigrette Classique, a traditional French vinaigrette

Find it at: Haywood Historic Farmer’s Market, Waynesville

Millie’s Incredible Edibles

Makes: Jams and jellies from local fruits,

including blackberry, rhubarb, peach and apple butter, as well as exotic jams with purchased fruits

Find it at: Cottage Craftsman, Bryson City

Kathy Calabrese

Makes: Kathy’s Products, a collection of salves, ointments and lip balms

Find it at: The Medicine Man in Cherokee; The Herb Shop in Cherokee; Jackson County Farmers Market in Sylva

Sacred Circle Farm

Makes: Floral wreaths, salves, Christmas Wreaths

Find it at: www.sacredcircle.com.

Balltown Bee Farm

Makes: Beeswax, honey, grits, corn meal

Find it at: Jackson County Farmers Market; Country Home Cooperative in Franklin.


Spring Ridge Creamery

Makes: butter, milk, buttermilk, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, flavored cheeses, ice cream, eggnog (during holidays only).

Find it at: On site, located on U.S. 441 about 10 miles south of Franklin near the Georgia state line. 828.369.2958

Nantahala Herb Co.

Makes: Teas, soap, salves.

Find it at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Deal Family Farm

Makes: Sorghum molasses, jam, preserves, honey, cider, syrup, Christmas wreaths.

Find it at: Fruit stand, 4402 Murphy Road, Franklin.

Otter Creek Trout Farm

Makes: Herbs, salves, soap.

Find it at: On farm. 828.321.9810.

Value-added products up the ante for homegrown goodness

Across Western North Carolina, an increasing number of people are discovering new and creative ways to use the bounty of produce and farm goods raised in the mountains. From jams to sauces to salves, homegrown chefs and artisans are turning a profit with their creations, which are known as value-added products.

“They are called value added because, after the work of raising products, such as fruit, the farmer or an artisan invests more time and effort to create another, more complex product, such as jam,” explains Rose McLarney, marketing and communications coordinator for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Because of the time put into creating a value-added product, farmers and producers can reap higher profits from everyday crops. George Ivey, director of the Buy Haywood program, aimed at supporting local farmers, uses the example of a tomato, a common mountain crop.

“If you just sell the raw product, it has the basic value of a tomato,” Ivey says. “But if you can turn that tomato into something else, you get paid for the labor and expertise of providing added value to the product.”

Value-added products provide a boost in business for mountain farmers. The products help create demand for local farm produce. That was one of the theories behind Buy Haywood’s value-added tomato recipe contest. Contestants created innovative products using locally grown tomatoes, giving farmers a new market for selling their produce.

Value-added items also make it possible to enjoy locally grown food throughout the year by preserving seasonal produce, in turn increasing awareness of local food.

The Smoky Mountain News spoke with four people who have found creative uses for locally grown produce through their value-added products.


Dairy farm trades in middle man for ice cream

When Jim Moore found his bottom line increasingly squeezed by middle men to the point of bankrupting his small dairy, he realized his farming dream would soon be over unless he took drastic measures.

“We were losing money every month,” said Moore, a dairy farmer in Macon County.

Moore had to find a way to market his milk directly to the consumer and cut out the middlemen stealing his profit. Besides, it didn’t seem fair.

“They pick up the milk, they charge you for picking it up, they sell it, then give you what they think is a reasonable amount,” Moore said. “They have no risk. All they do is market the milk.”

So in the early 1990s, Moore began reshaping his dairy to sell milk directly to the consumer, bringing the pasteurization and bottling in house. While he was at it, he thought “why not make ice cream, too?”

“I thought maybe they would like an ice cream if they came by to get the milk,” Moore said. “It took me a while to realize they would come to buy the ice cream, and might get a little milk while they were here.”

Indeed, on a recent Monday morning in June, customers began streaming in to the Spring Ridge Creamery ice cream counter in Otto as soon as its doors opened at 10:30 a.m. — and not just to stock up on cheese, butter and milk. No one, it seemed, could escape without a cone of ice cream in their hand despite being nowhere near the lunch hour.

It’s been that way since Moore opened the shop in the summer of 1998. His daughter’s hand was swollen by mid-day from gouging her scooper into the frozen buckets over and over. When a friend come through the door at lunch, Moore asked him to cover for his daughter behind the counter so she could venture to town for a wrist-brace.

Today, the dairy sells 500 gallons of ice cream a month on average out the front door of its shop, one scoop at a time. He employees three part-time workers and a part-time farm hand.

Moore makes all the ice cream himself, boasting more flavors than Baskin Robbins. When Moore bought a small dairy farm in Macon County in the 1980s, he never imagined his days would be spent churning butter, pressing cheese and concocting new ice cream flavors.

When Moore was growing up in Macon County, there were 45 dairies. By 1990, there were only seven. Today, he is one of just a handful in the far western region. Moore can see why.

“I don’t know how these other dairies are making it,” Moore said. “Feed costs have gone up through the roof. They are having to sell their milk below cost.”

Other small dairy farms facing similar plights have looked to Moore for inspiration.

“People come in and see this and say, ‘Boy this is the answer for us,’” Moore said. “But you’ve got to really want to do it. You might be getting out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

A dairy farm is a 24-7 occupation. Making cheese and ice cream has to be squeezed in around it.

Moore was lucky he made the leap when he did. He was able to amass the equipment he needed cheaply, watching for used items to come on sale. He had to have equipment to pasteurize, homogenize and bottle the milk. He needed walk-in coolers and walk-in freezers, not to mention the kitchen equipment like a butter churn and ice cream maker. The concept of an on-the-farm ice cream operation was still novel, and there was little demand for used equipment, allowing him to pick it up cheaply.

It was a risk nonetheless to rack up more debt when he still owed on his farm.

“It was one of those things where you had to have a lot of confidence in yourself that what you would be doing would pay for what you were adding,” Moore said.

Moore was lucky on another front: the location of his farm right on U.S. 441, a major tourism corridor into the mountains from Atlanta. During his daydreaming phase, Moore sat by the road doing traffic counts and realized just what a gold mine all those cars could be.

The dairy has become a requisite stop for tourists and second-home owners pouring into the mountains, as well as a final destination to stock up on specialty cheese before heading back home.

Moore got a good offer on his farm several years ago and almost sold it.

“But I’m glad we didn’t,” Moore said. Fans of ice cream no doubt agree.

Moore not only kept the farm, but worked with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee to place it in a conservation easement so that it would always stay a farm, even when he’s gone. Like any true farmer, his love of the land comes first.

“I’ll have to work until I drop pretty much,” Moore said. But he can’t complain.

“Most farmers, if you can put food on the table and roof over their head, that’s all they want,” Moore said. “If you see somebody who is really satisfied, that means more than wealth or income.”


Chef turns local approach into recipe for success

As the owner of the Lomo Grill in Waynesville, Chef Ricardo Fernandez has spent 16 years putting his farm-to-table philosophy to practice. Fernandez grows much of the produce for the restaurant on his family-owned Wildcat Ridge farm. So when he got the chance to expand his mission of eating locally and helping community farmers, he jumped at it.

Fernandez entered his restaurant’s famous sauce in a local recipe contest which stipulated the use of Haywood County-grown tomatoes in each entry. Fernandez’s Mediterranean and “Mucho Macho” sauces grabbed second and third place respectively — and since then, demand for the product has skyrocketed.

Fernandez’s three tomato sauces — the Mediterranean, with olives, capers, and roasted garlic; the spicey Mucho Macho, made with 16 varieties of slow-roasted red peppers; and the Tomato and Basil, can now be found in 17 Earthfare locations across the Southeast, as well as a small number of Whole Foods retailers and the Greenlife grocery store in Asheville.

Fernandez is involved in every step of the process, from making the sauces in his Lomo Grill kitchen to hawking the products at tasting booths at various food retailers.

“We crush and blanch the tomatoes, and process the product, at our restaurant,” Fernandez says.

It’s a complicated process, Fernandez says, one that can be both timely and costly when it comes to getting the right certifications. All for-profit canning operations in the state must comply with strict USDA regulations. Canners must attend pickling school, and must monitor things like the acidity and pH levels of the tomatoes.

“There are a lot of health issues to take into consideration,” says Fernandez.

Besides the process of actually canning the sauces, Fernandez had to develop a business plan, a label, and a marketing strategy. That involved him reaching out to food retailers directly by himself. On a recent weekend Fernandez traveled to Greenville, Knoxville and Johnson City, stopping by a different store in each city to give samples of his sauces.

Fernandez’s product has found a niche, which is part of the reason it’s been so successful. It’s one of the only locally-made tomato sauces in the region. Plus, it appeals to an audience looking for healthier, fresher foods. The sauce is low sodium, gluten free, with no fillers or preservatives. It doesn’t use sugar or tomato paste, and it’s 100 percent vegan.

“People are amazed — it’s hard to find flavor so fresh,” Fernandez says.

In January, Fernandez will travel to a San Francisco food trade show to introduce the Haywood-grown sauce to the West coast. As the product’s reach expands, the competition gets tougher — but so far, the sauces have held their own. Since Fernandez started selling the product in October of 2008, he’s sold nearly 8,500 jars.

“The toughest part is who you’re competing with,” Fernandez says. “For us, the possibility of being on the shelves and competing with the best has a lot of merit and rewards.”

But to Fernandez, perhaps the best reward is helping to keep Haywood County tomato growers in business. He hopes his contribution is part of a growing trend.

“Sustainable agriculture needs to stay in business,” says Fernandez. “I’m glad the local community is helping.”


Trout farm adds tomato jam to repertoire

Sunburst Trout Farm in Haywood County is the region’s long-standing champion when it comes to value-added products.

The trout farm has rolled out an entire line of specialty gourmet foods based on its fresh rainbow trout, from smoked trout dip and trout cakes to trout sausage and trout jerky. The upper echelons of the food world can’t seem to heap enough praise on Sunburst Trout Farm for its innovative and elegant twists on the simple fish, whether it’s the Food Network or Manhattan’s top chefs.

The family-run farm’s latest addition capitalizes on a different home-grown product, however: the tomato. Sunburst was lured into creating its now-famous Smoked Tomato Jam when it heard about a value-added contest put on by Buy Haywood, a program aimed at creating new markets for Haywood County farmers.

The Smoked Tomato Jam indeed gave a boost to local farmers churning out tomatoes in the fertile river valley just downstream of the trout farm. The trout farm’s chef, Charlie Hudson, bought boxes and boxes of tomatoes from local farmers when they were in season, juiced them and froze the juice, allowing him to make tomato jam all winter.

“I am actually on my last bucket of juice,” Hudson said.

Hudson created the Smoked Tomato Jam recipe himself and won first in the contest. He reduces the juice, adds his secret ingredients and flavorings, and reduces it some more until it reaches a jam texture. Each jar of jam has the equivalent of one giant, homegrown, vine-ripened tomato. It’s a classic example a value-added product. The jam sells for $6 a jar, compared to the price that the original tomato would reap.

Hudson recently took his tomato jam — along with Sunburst’s other trout products — on the road to the International Boston Seafood Show and got a rave review from the “food sensory analyst” judging the entries.

“She said it starts out with the sweet and sour and finishes off with the smoke and that you are still getting tomato flavor throughout and all that is rolled up into one. That is super technical but it was what I was trying to do,” Hudson said.

More simply put, “Most people who taste it love it,” he said.


Herbalist finds value in the peskiest of plants

When people ask to see the garden Kathy Calabrese harvests her herbs from to make salves and ointments, she chuckles. It’s not exactly the neatly labeled and organized rows many people envision. Instead, her Whittier garden is something most people wouldn’t take a second glance at.

“People have this image of a lovely little English type garden, and it’s like, ‘you know folks, I’m harvesting weeds,’” she laughs.

From chickweed to plantain to dandelion, Calabrese’s garden is made up of weeds that can be found in any yard.

“The weeds that grow in our yards, the stuff we step on every day, people don’t really know a lot about them,” she says. “It’s amazing what kind of healing properties they have.”

Calabrese turns common weeds with medicinal properties into a line of salves, tinctures and lip balm. She’s been making her products since about 2000, and started out making salves largely by chance. A friend of hers had picked up a big load of beeswax, and accidentally dropped a 10-pound bundle of it as he was pulling out of Calabrese’s driveway. Calabrese decided to use up the bundle by making salve as Christmas presents for her friends and family — and the rest is history.

Calabrese keeps her recipe very simple. To make salve, she harvests a weed, chops it up, and puts it to soak in some olive oil. After a couple of weeks, she strains the herb out of the olive oil and is left with an infused olive oil. She combines it with beeswax to make a salve, or more beeswax to make her top-selling lip balm.

The salves and tinctures (a small amount of herb dropped into water and then drunk) that Calabrese makes are effective for everything from alleviating headaches to calming anxious nerves to aiding sleep. Some of the ointments even combat cancer. Calabrese has also recently forayed into making natural herbal insect repellent and poison ivy spray.

Calabrese is constantly tweaking her products based on the feedback she receives. Often, customers come in praising what a salve has done for them.

“A lot of times, people say it does work,” Calabrese says. However, “one thing that works for other people may not work for you.” Basically, unlike some conventional medicine, herbal remedies aren’t a one-size fits all approach.

Calabrese works with a variety of different herbs — pretty much whatever her garden decides to grow her.

“I see what my garden grows me,” Calabrese says. “It’s a real co-creative process. It’s not just me making the decisions, it’s me working with nature’s bounty.”

For Calabrese, the process of creating her products is a holistic experience.

“It’s this whole body experience of reconnection with the natural world, and reconnection with what’s all around us,” she says. “I’m tapping into something that’s bigger than our everyday life.”

Persistent WCU grads find work in tough economy

It’s slim pickin’s out there, as Western Carolina University students are finding out. This past weekend, more than 1,100 graduates walked across the stage and into the most unforgiving job market in decades.

The competition is stiff. Fewer companies are hiring — the college reported a 30 percent decline this year in the number of career fairs held for students, said WCU Career Services Director Mardy Ashe. The downturn has hit every field, even traditionally stable ones like healthcare, where recruitment of students is down 16 percent.

New grads are competing with much more experienced workers who have been thrust back into the job market. Alumni contacts to the Career Services office have increased dramatically, as more people in the workforce lose their positions, Ashe said.

Ashe commonly hears students say that they feel finding a job won’t be tough for them, even though they know the market is a challenge right now.

“Many of them are very naïve about what to expect after graduation,” Ashe said. “On the other hand, some of them are also planning. They’re looking at alternatives.”

With resourcefulness and flexibility, some students have been successful. Here’s how a few WCU grads landed a job in this tough economy.



For Amanda Tomlinson, a finance and accounting double major, scoring a job meant doing something she hadn’t planned on. Tomlinson initially wanted to work for a bank — financial planning is her specific interest — but kept hitting a wall.

“I started applying three months ago, and probably applied for 40 positions,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson scoured online job search engines like Monster, CareerBuilder, and even Craigslist, to no avail. Without experience in her field, most employers wouldn’t even grant her an interview.

“Businesses sent back replies saying, ‘You’re not qualified,’” said Tomlinson. “But my biggest problem is that they didn’t let me get to the actual interview. I’m a pretty driven person — I double majored and finished in three years. But applying online, they just shut you out of the system.”

Tomlinson got turned down for even the most basic gigs, including a bank teller position.

“They sent me a one line response that said, ‘You’re not qualified,’” she said. “It was really upsetting. With the knowledge I’ve gotten from WCU, I’m qualified, but nobody wants to give me the opportunity. It was very, very tough.”

With no luck in her desired field, Tomlinson began to look elsewhere. The approach worked. She was hired as a clerical assistant for a building materials company. She’ll be handling paperwork as the company gets contracts for jobs funded by the federal stimulus package.

“It’s not really something I wanted to do, but it is something,” Tomlinson says. “I’m going to be out of school, and I have to pay bills.”

Ashe gives Tomlinson big kudos for her persistence, which played a role in her success.

“The more things you send out, the greater the likelihood you’ll be lucky,” Ashe said. “I would be persistent in this kind of economy until they tell you to stop.”

But Ashe says she would be cautious relying too much on job search engines, which, as Tomlinson discovered, don’t always yield results.

“The job search engines are not as successful as students think they’ll be,” Ashe said. “You’re competing with millions of people who’ve got the same things you’ve got.”

Having geographic flexibility is also helpful, Ashe said. Tomlinson narrowed her search to Western North Carolina, since she wanted to stay close to her boyfriend, a football player at WCU.

“Students and alumni with the most problems are those who are inflexible geographically,” Ashe says. “Consider other parts of the state, or even the Southeast.”


Shifting plans

Geographic flexibility was key in helping Cara Ward, a theater major, land a prestigious graduate school assistantship.

“I was originally aiming for Florida. That’s where I’d like to end up,” Ward said. “I found things there, but the opportunities were better in other places.”

Those places included Wayne State University in Detroit — Ward’s hometown, and the last place she figured she would end up.

“I swore I would never return to Michigan after I left,” Ward chuckles. “But when they offer you something like that, you don’t say no,” referring to the graduate assistantship she landed at Wayne State.

Going straight to graduate school after college wasn’t in Ward’s original plans either, but she couldn’t let the opportunity pass her by.

“My original plan was after graduation I would get a job, work for a couple of years and make sure this is what I wanted to do, and then apply for grad school,” said Ward. “But I figured I might as well do it.”

Ward also has a summer job lined up at Stagedoor Manor, a theatrical summer camp for kids serious about breaking into the industry. She’s working as a costume designer, and will design six shows over the course of the summer.

How did Ward manage to find such great gigs? Some serious networking. She came across both opportunities at the Southeastern Theater Conference, where she was able to impress potential employers face to face and hand them her portfolio of design work in person.

“Networking is more than essential to theater students especially,” Ward said. “At the conference, I made connections with other people throughout the country and the world and had my portfolio reviewed by all of them.”

In the current economy, networking is the best way to find a job, Ashe affirms, and racking your brain for who you know. Any connection is worth trying, she says, including friends of family, family of friends, former employers, and faculty members.


Free labor, big payoff

It’s not always fun to work for free, but in recent WCU graduate Stephanie Drum’s case, the end reward was well worth it.

This past spring, Drum held a part-time, unpaid internship five days a week at Lake Junaluska in Haywood County. The Lake doesn’t generally take on interns in the spring, but since Drum agreed to work for free, they agreed to let her come on. Drum, who concentrated in professional writing, gained a wealth of experience in her field, creating walking tour and visitor guides as well as web content.

Then, as luck would have it, a temporary communications specialist position opened up at Lake Junaluska. The department didn’t have to look far for a qualified candidate, since Drum had been learning the ins and outs of the business for months. Lake Junaluska officials offered her the position.

For Drum, the internship provided a direct path into her desired field.

“I think I would have had a very hard time if I hadn’t interned,” she said. “I’m glad they make us do it.”

Indeed, the communications and English departments at WCU require students to do an internship as part of their coursework. But mandatory or not, Drum says every student should try to do one.

“If they get offered the chance to take an internship, even if it’s not required, they really should,” Drum said. “It will pay in the end.”

Ashe says finding an internship is one of the smartest moves a student can make when it comes to scoring a job, because employers “want to see directly related experience.”

Now Drum has professional experience in her field, which will come in handy when her job ends in July. Still, Drum isn’t limiting her job search to just one field. She knows the market’s tough, and she’s willing to be flexible.

“I’m kind of worried about getting a job in my field. If I can’t do that, I’m pretty sure I could find a seasonal job,” she says. Drum may even return to the summer gig she’s held for a few years during college — working at Wal-Mart.

Local farmers markets


Waynesville Tailgate Market

8 a.m. to noon Wednesdays and Saturdays at American Legion parking lot near downtown Waynesville. Haywood County grown vegetables, fruits, cut flowers, honey and nursery stock.

Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market

8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays in HART parking lot off U.S. 276 in Waynesville. Produce, plants, baked goods, cheese, meat, fish and more.

Haywood Fairgrounds Farmers Market

7 a.m. to 2 p.m. first Saturday of the month at the Haywood County Fairgrounds (second Saturday in July). Fresh veggies, fruits, plants and more. In conjunction with monthly flea market.



Jackson County Farmers Market

9 a.m. to noon Saturdays in the municipal parking lot next to Bridge Park in downtown Sylva. Home-grown vegetable seedlings, native plants, flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, honey, jams, jellies, soaps, lotions, baskets, crafts and art.



Swain County Tailgate Market

9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays starting June 6 in front of Swain County Administration Building in Bryson City. Organic and sustainable growers of produce, plants, herbs and honey; art including jewelry, quilts, pottery, photographs and more.


Qualla Boundary

Cherokee Friday Farmers Tailgate Market

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays in downtown Cherokee on Acquoni Road one mile from U.S. 19. Fresh produce from local farmers and gardeners; look for organics and heirlooms.



Franklin Tailgate Market

8 a.m. to noon Saturdays starting June 6 in parking lot on Palmer Street (backside of Main Street across from Drake Enterprises). Homegrown fruits, vegetables, herbs, cut flowers, plants, eggs, locally made cheese, trout, and honey.

Rickman Store Market

3 to 7 p.m. Fridays at old T.M. Rickman Store located on Cowee Creek Road next to Cowee Elementary School. Vegetables, plants, flowers, organic eggs, baked goods and more, as well as local arts and crafts.

You, too, can bike to work

Whether it’s for fitness, for fun or to save the planet, there’s plenty of reasons to bike to work. There’s also plenty of excuses not to.

This week, The Smoky Mountain News sought out two people who make biking to work part of their lifestyle and asked them how they do it. Turns out, they have a perfectly good solution to excuses laid on by the rest of us — and some extra benefits we hadn’t thought of.


Long-distance commute

Odell Thompson is one of the few bike commuters with long-distance fans.

While sitting in his architect’s office in downtown Sylva last Friday, an email popped up from his parents in Texas who caught a glimpse of Thompson riding into work that morning on a web cam trained on Main Street.

“We saw your yellow bike go by on the web cam,” they wrote.

When Thompson started biking to work almost five years ago, it changed his life in ways he didn’t expect. Initially his impetus was exercise. Thompson’s bike ride from Cullowhee to Sylva takes about 30 minutes, compared to a 10-minute drive. But the extra time on this bike three days a week is what he should be spending on exercise anyway. Thompson likes to think of it as killing two birds with one stone.

“I am getting to work and getting home, and by the way I am getting an hour of exercise a day,” said Thompson, 49.

But what surprised Thompson was how much it added to his outlook on life.

“Riding to work gives me a good way to clear my mind before the day starts. At the end of the day when I need to decompress, riding home gives me the period of time and physical exertion to leave work at work and take care of myself mentally,” Thompson said.

Thompson doesn’t mind riding in the rain or in the cold of winter. It’s all about the right clothing, be it rain gear or warm layers. He carries his work clothes in a satchel on his bike and changes at the office. On hot days, he freshens up by taking a washcloth to his face and neck.

A common excuse among non-bikers is that they need their car during the course of the workday. While it is indeed a deal killer for some, Thompson knows ahead of time what days he has appointments out of the office and what days will be spent at his own desk, and therefore schedules his rides accordingly.

While it’s impossible not to worry about cars when riding a bike, Thompson takes several precautions to reduce the risks.

“My bicycle is very visible. I have yellow bags and yellow fenders and flashing lights all over it. I feel like I am visible enough and the cars will see me, but you are always aware,” Thompson said.

As an added perk, Thompson likes the fact he’s not using fossil fuels, especially last summer when a gas shortage led to long lines and high prices.

“I would pedal by and just look at everyone in line at the gas station and smile,” Thompson said.

Thompson believes he is doing his part for a more sustainable society.

“We need to adjust our thinking about everybody being able to drive everywhere in their own little hermetically sealed capsule, in particular here in the mountains because there is not a lot of flat land to build new roads,” he said.

Thompson said while saving the planet is a worthy cause, exercise remains his top motive.

Thompson’s final piece of advice: commit yourself for at least a month before throwing in the towel.

“The first time your butt will be sore and you will say, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore. That sucks.’ But if you do it religiously two times a week for a month, after that you are hooked,” Thompson said.


“Mast Transit” style

When the Mast General Store launched its “Mast Transit” program last year, offering a bonus of $4 a day to employees who biked to work, the timing couldn’t have been better for Jay Schoon.

Schoon, who works in the outfitters department of the Mast Store in Waynesville, was already contemplating a “bike to work” New Year’s Resolution.

He had a dilemma, however. He lived about 20 miles away from work in the rural Fines Creek countryside. The distance wasn’t an issue, nor a killer climb along the way. Schoon’s problem was the narrow country road with no shoulder during the first part of his ride.

Until a solution dawned on him. Why not drive half way, park his car at a roadside truck stop and bike the rest?

“I was being stubborn about living too far away,” Schoon said. “It just dawned on me I could drive part way.”

Mast compromised and gives Schoon $3 a day instead of $4 since he is still using his car some.

He actually applies the $3 to a life insurance policy that he probably would cut from his monthly budget otherwise.

“It pays for my life insurance in case I do get run over.” said Schoon, who’s 39.

As an added precaution, Schoon has a rearview mirror on his sunglasses to keep an eye on cars behind him.

He also stumbled upon a lovely shortcut that departs from the road and follows a newly created greenway from Lake Junaluska into downtown, making the majority of his ride very pleasant and car free.

“I love my bike ride,” Schoon said.

Schoon would recommend the drive-part-way, bike-part-way solution to anyone facing a similar stumbling block.

“Find a killer route, even if it is not on your way,” he said.

Schoon doesn’t wear special bike attire. Working at an outfitters store, a fleece sweatshirt and hiking pants are accepted work apparel, and ideal for pedaling in to work as well. Schoon is a self-described “lifestyle biker.” He’d always ridden his bike as a preferred mode of transportation — including on his first date with the woman who’s now his wife — and didn’t like giving it up just because he moved to the rural countryside far from town.

The time on his bike in the morning and afternoon has made a world of difference in his life.

“I was missing something. Part of my lifestyle was not quite right,” said Schoon.

Could hops be one of WNC’s new cash crops?

Tobacco is no longer the cash crop it once was in North Carolina, but its partner in crime — hops — could be on the way up.

Several small farms across Western North Carolina are experimenting with hops to supply regional microbreweries that pride themselves on a fresh, distinct beer taste.

“What we’ve discovered is ‘yes it will grow here,”’ said N.C. State University Cooperative Extension Agent David Kendall.

The next step is to see if it can be expanded, said Kendall. The mountains are probably the best part of the state for growing hops because the area has low humidity.

It is still “speculative” as to whether there is a market for the hops, said Kendall, but it looks promising.

WNC’s real chance to get into the hops business is by supplying local breweries, said Rita Pelczar, a Madison County hops grower.

Pelczar just started growing hops last year. She was successful with 20 plants, prompting her to add 160 plants this year. She and her husband grew five different varieties.

“They grew real well,” she said. “We spoke with several microbreweries and brewery supply companies and everyone seems excited about using locally grown hops.”

Because of her success, Pelczar received an $8,200 Sustainable Agriculture Research grant, which she will use to expand her operation. Growing hops requires a modest upfront investment in infrastructure, such as 12-foot trellises, she said.

If hops were grown locally, breweries would not have to pay transportation costs to get them from the Pacific Northwest, where most hops are produced, said owner and braumeister of Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva Dieter Kuhn, who brews seven different kinds of beer.

Western North Carolina is beginning to take off as a hot spot for microbreweries, providing a viable market for hops growers.

Dieter’s wife, Sheryl Rudd, said beer at microbreweries is better than mass produced beer because it has an identity, is fresher and has not been sitting on a shelf.

Chuck Blethen, whose group Jewel of the Blue Ridge Marketing put on a workshop last week about growing hops in WNC, said the area is good for the crop because of its low humidity. Blethen noted that the environment is similar to Germany’s where 86,000 acres of hops are grown a year.

“We have potential for supplying hops for the East Coast,” said Blethen, adding that he thinks the idea might start gaining steam. “We think it’s got a great chance to go.”

With Asheville, which has numerous microbreweries, the area is becoming a popular place for specialty beers. Blethen said there are 68 microbreweries in WNC and eastern Tennessee.

There could be a demand for hops nationally and internationally as several large hop farms have recently gone out of business driving up the price as much as 500 percent.

Though there is a market for hops, WNC will never compete with Washington state, the leading hops producer with farms that are hundreds of acres.

In order for this area to be a strong producer of hops there must be a processing station, Kendall said. He is looking into how much such a station would cost.

The processing facility could turn the hops into pellets, dry the hops and include a lab to analyze the alpha and beta acids in the hops, Blethen said. The idea is that the station would be centrally located and available to the regional hops growers, said Blethen.

Wine grapes could also possibly be grown in this region and coupled with hops could be the basis of a good agri-tourism industry, Kendall said.

A call to action for the Southern Appalachians

By Brent Martin • Guest Columnist

In an article in Blue Ridge Country magazine, author and professor Steve Nash provided a bleak overview of what climate change means here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Most significant are current predictedions for increasing temperatures, including a boost in the number of days over 90 degrees (75 a year predicted by 2080), and record drought (coupled with record intensity storms).

Changes such as these will alter the face of this ancient landscape in ways that we can hardly imagine. Iconic Appalachian creatures such as brook trout are expected to lose 50 to 90 percent of their habitat by 2080, and woodland salamanders dependent upon soil moisture could be wiped out altogether. High-elevation spruce-fir forest would also suffer. And these are but a handful of the projected impacts.

Given that climate change is now considered indisputable by every leading science organization in the world, one would think that as citizens we would be more alarmed and thus determined to make every change we can in order to reverse the momentum of this seemingly irreversible trend. Yet, according to some polls, almost half of all Americans are unsure that climate change is occurring. I suppose this is not surprising given the Bush administration’s denial of the issue for eight years, along with the limited media attention and public understanding. However, with the advent of the Obama administration, not only do we have immediate recognition of the issue but prompt action.

One of the administration’s first actions was the creation of an Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets. This office will be part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which includes the U.S. Forest Service and its 193 million acres of public land. The mission of this office will be to connect industrial emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) with private landowners to plant new forests or crops to absorb their CO2 emissions. This could be a good thing for us here in Western North Carolina, where national forests make up over a million acres and private forest land totals another two million. Such incentives for forest and farmland conservation could be part of a broader agenda for our region to become agriculturally independent, to conserve our remaining working forests, and to mitigate the projected impacts of climate change.

With this “new climate” in Washington, and in anticipation of climate change impacts to our region, Warren Wilson College, The Wilderness Society, and Orion Magazine have come together to launch their first annual Headwaters Gathering March 27 to 29 at Warren Wilson. As our region is the source of drinking water for millions of downstream residents and is home to the East’s coal fields, the conference is aptly subtitled “Southern Appalachia at the Crossroads.” The conference will focus on the impacts of climate change in the region and what these impacts will mean to our economy, environment, and community well being.

Keynote speaker Herman Daly will be joined by activists Majora Carter and Winona LaDuke, retired coal miner Chuck Nelson, and renowned environmental educator David Orr. Also presenting are NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center scientist Thomas Peterson, author and activist Janisse Ray, New York Times writer Andrew Revkin, and National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger.

From a town meeting with expert panelists, to intimate sessions with inspired leaders, the Headwaters Gathering will engage a broad array of citizens and inspire a new network of problem solvers. Registration and information is available at www.headwatersgathering.org.

(Brent Martin is the Southern Appalachian Director for the Wilderness Society, and his office is in Franklin. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

WNC continues to captivate

There’s something about Haywood County.

In recent years, the small Western North Carolina community has found itself as the setting of three nationally acclaimed novels.

It started with the release of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain in 1997. Audiences ate up the Civil War drama, and it wasn’t long before many flocked to see the real-life setting of the fictional account. Cold Mountain maps and tours sprang up to cater to tourists near the mountain’s location in Bethel. More than 10 years later, they’re still coming.

“I’ve been told that people come to the area specifically to ask where Cold Mountain is,” says Robert Busko, director of the Haywood County Public Library system.

This past year saw the release of two more novels that are putting Haywood County and Western North Carolina on the map — both literally, and in a more literary sense. Serena, by WCU professor Ron Rash, has won rave reviews in the New York Times, New Yorker, and Washington Post. Wayne Caldwell’s Cataloochee is fast gaining in popularity and was written up in Oprah’s magazine.

If the success of Cold Mountain is any indication, these works will very likely raise the national profile of the county and the region.

“It’s beneficial for the county — when you have writers writing about the area, people become curious,” says Margaret Osondu, owners of Osondu’s Books in downtown Waynesville. “It gives you a sense of pride.”

Rash and Caldwell’s successes, coupled with those already enjoyed by Frazier, are additionally cementing the region’s reputation as a literary hotspot.

“I would definitely have to say (it’s becoming better known),” says May Claxton, who teaches a course on Appalachian literature at Western Carolina University. “If you start to list all the authors from Asheville and over, it’s a very impressive list, and there’s still so many writers coming up with new stuff.”

A literary tradition

Though recent works have boosted the region’s profile, Western North Carolina has a literary legacy stretching back nearly a century. For example, Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders, published in 1913, is still widely regarded as a leading manuscript on life in the Southern Appalachians. And Caroline Miller, who in 1934 became the first woman to win a Pulitzer prize, lived in Waynesville.

“I do think there’s some really quality writing coming out of the area, though I’m not sure that it’s really recent,” Claxton says. “We can go back to Kephart and others, and there’s sort of a history of really good writers. There’s an interesting question about whether we’re just getting more attention paid to (the region) now.”

Osondu agrees that authors have and do abound in WNC. Exactly what it is about the region that inspires and breeds writers is something she can only speculate on.

“I think it’s because it’s so beautiful and the pace of life is slow, so you have time to be inspired,” she says.

The Appalachian tradition of storytelling could also play a part, theorizes Claxton.

“There’s such a history of storytelling and all that’s been passed down, and people realize how important that is,” she says.

A league of its own

The South is known for breeding authors, but works from WNC could stand out because Appalachian literature has its own unique qualities.

“I think there’s something very special and very interesting and a little different about the works form here,” Claxton says.

Themes in Appalachian works tend to stray from those explored in traditional Southern writing. For example, says Claxton, the conflict tends to be between those who live in the area and “outsiders” coming in to exploit it, rather than between slaves and masters.

Plus, life in the region was often tougher than in other parts of the South, and it shines through in writing.

“If you think about living here as opposed to somewhere with a more congenial climate, people were tougher here, and more prone to look for the bad and good in life,” Claxton says. “Also, I think the work ethic here was really, really strong compared to other parts of the South.”

One particular theme common in both Appalachian and Southern literature — the land and a sense of place — resonates in the works of Frazier, Rash and Caldwell.

“The land is really the central character in all of these books,” says Osondu.

A connection to the land is a theme shared in works by many Southern writers.

“I think that Southern literature comes out of a particular place and is very connected to place in a way that urban-based literature is not as connected to nature,” Claxton says.

The emphasis on place is likely a major drawing point for readers yearning for a simpler time, when people lived off the land.

“I think part of the interest could stem from the rest of the country becoming more urbanized and getting away from that connection,” Claxton says.

That’s much the same reason that people move to the area in the first place.

“All these people that move into this area are looking for more of a connection to place and the culture here,” Claxton says.

That may be why books by Frazier, Rash and Caldwell — all of which explore the culture of the area — are widely read on a local level.

“All of those books circulate really well,” says Busko. “The local people like to read them because it’s their story, and the people that move here want to acclimate and absorb as much as the local culture as they can.”

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