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Promoting Agritourism in Graham County - the Neighbor in our Region

Since activating the Visit NC Farms app in July of this year for Cherokee, Clay, and Graham Counties it has been an interesting journey for us into the world of agritoursim. Who knew so many rural businesses could be counted under that umbrella. Farm to table, farms tours and trails, fisheries, wineries, breweries, tree farms, orchards, rural venues, and that is the short list.

This bright and sunny morning myself and trusty guide, Ronda Birtha, Marketing and Media extraordinaire set out from Andrews, North Carolina in search of agritourism in Graham County. To be fair we had a plan and a map; and an appointment with one farm; Yellow Branch Pottery & Cheese Farm. We knew full well there is a great deal of agritourism in Graham County we just needed to put in the foot work. Our goal was to encourage agritourism businesses in Graham County to join us and to increase downloads for the app. Oh and did I mention GPS does not work there as cell service is nonexistent through much of this region. Hence my map and more importantly trusty guide Ronda who has spent years working in Graham County.

The Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Graham County, NC

The Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Graham County, NC

The Artisan Gallery and Schoolhouse Cafe at Stecoah Valley Arts Center

The Artisan Gallery and Schoolhouse Cafe at Stecoah Valley Arts Center

The drive from Andrews to Robbinsville, North Carolina is nothing short of beautiful. Passing through Robbinsville our first stop was Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center. The history and mission of Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center is intriguing and varied.

Starting out as Stecoah Union School in 1930 it was constructed with native rock by many of the local residents. Today this nonprofit serves as a hub to the community offering over 20 programs to 10,000 people annually, live music, and festivals that promote and preserve Appalachian culture.

Food Distribution at Stecoah Valley Art Center

Beth Fields helping organize food distribution at Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Graham County, NC.

Apparently Wednesday is their local food distribution day with contributions from Manna Food Bank and local donors. Happily we are there just in time to help with the unloading. Seriously we were happy to help and talk with these extraordinary people who give so much. Director Beth Fields and her staff were gracious enough to talk to us without an appointment on an obviously busy morning.

Yellow Branch Cheese and Pottery in Graham County, NC

Yellow Branck Cheese and Pottery in Graham County is a new Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce Member, and participant in the Visit NC Farms program.

Next stop Yellow Branch Pottery & Cheese Farm located 1073 Old Yellow Branch Rd, Robbinsville, NC 28771. This farm had already applied to be on Visit NC Farms app; our first victory in Graham County. In business for over 31 years this local farm produces some of the best farmstead cheeses you will ever try from their small herd of Jersey cows. Such as the award winning Yellow Branch Pepper Cheese made with organically grown Jalapeno peppers from their garden. As Anxious to catch up with owner Karen Mickler we arrived a bit early for our appointment. This yielded an opportunity to explore the gardens around the store front. Awash with native plants this little slice of heaven is a photographer’s dream. But alas life on the farm is unpredictable and we did not have the pleasure of speaking with the owners but we were able to deliver marketing materials and enjoy the perfect tranquility of this gorgeous little valley.

Hunger pains urged us back toward Robbinsville where we had heard of a little place to grab a locally sourced lunch. After a mandatory stop at Stecoah Gap to take advantage of the clear view of the Appalachians and walk a small portion of the Appalachian Trail we found ourselves at a charming eatery; Willow Tree Catering, Baking, and Restaurant.

Delicious Italian panini served at Willow Tree Restaurant and Catering in Robbinsville, NC.

Delicious Italian panini served at Willow Tree Restaurant and Catering in Robbinsville, NC.

Homemade ice cream served at Willow Tree in Robbinsville, NC

Our waitress brings us homemade vanilla ice cream in homemade waffle cones.

The chalkboard menu outside this quaint dining destination boasted an interesting selection of sandwiches on homemade bread. Who could resist? We were seated on the porch after passing a dessert case overflowing with homemade confections. Lunch was everything we had hoped for right down to the homemade ice cream. Talking with the owner, Chef Shea Blalock we confirmed this was a farm to table establishment sourcing from local farms and the weekly farmers market. And heads up, not only is their lunch available but they cater and serve dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. Just a perusal of the upcoming Friday night menu made us wish we had waited until Friday to make this excursion. Then just as we were about to leave a fellow diner approached us and remarked that our advertising was working. Seating behind us she had noticed my Visit NC Farms shirt and had used the opportunity to download the app. Yah!

But alas the next destination was beckoning so we headed straight over to the Graham County Library and site of the weekly Farmer’s Market to meet Mary Griffin. Local farms set up in the library parking area from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm May through September offering everything imaginable in the way of fresh produce, dairy, eggs, honey, jams, canned goods, and so much more. Mary was gracious enough to take some of our marketing materials to encourage folks to participate and download the app.

Samples of Western North Carolina Heritage at Graham County Travel & Tourism

Samples of Western North Carolina Heritage at Graham County Travel & Tourism

Heading out we made one last stop at Graham County Travel and Tourism hoping to leave Visit NC Farms posters and stickers for visitors. We were greeted by a charming display of information on the region’s culture and history. The strong influence of the Cherokee nation and their historic struggle is found in a prominent position here. So do not miss the opportunity to stop by. This is the spot for information about Graham County sights and goings on, past, present, and future. And now information on Visit NC Farms.

Winding our way back up 129 towards Topton I felt a profound sense of gratitude that I had been fortunate enough to move to such an amazing place. While the world is rushing forward and change is inevitable it seems to slow down here. Family, community, and culture still hold incredible significance for the people in Western North Carolina. I realized we had not even put a dent in agritourism in Graham County but that is merely a great excuse to return to Where WNC Begins.

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