home | the mothership | bc's lecture notes
Webbifying the agritourism article
Keeping the family farm in the family
By Brian Jeter
Berry News Network Reporter
FAIRVIEW, N.C. - Janet Shisler is on Cloud 9. And she wants to stay there.
Shisler’s 200 acres, named “Cloud 9″ by her parents, has been in the family for 43 years. Located on the outskirts of Asheville, the property is a mix of working farm and vacation hideaway - and an example of how agritourism and conservation can preserve a family’s legacy.
In 1965, Shisler’s parents, Vernon and Mary Peterson, bought the land in Fairview, about 11 miles southeast of Asheville. The property comprised neglected valley farmland and a mountain top that had been scorched by an underbrush fire. The Petersons moved there from Morristown, N.J., in 1968. Retired, they lived on the land for 34 years.
“My parents wanted to live 30 minutes from a metropolitan area in a “safe” place, Shisler said.
Shisler, now 56, was 16 when she came to the mountains of North Carolina.
“I was a teenager so it was difficult enough to leave my friends in high school,” she said. “Besides, it was like stepping back in time to the ’50’s. They called me the hippie with my waist length braids and mini skirts.”
Despite the culture shock, Shisler decided to stay in the area after finishing high school. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education and literature from UNC-Asheville and took a job teaching elementary school four miles away from the farm. She retired in 2007 after 31 years.
In 1974, the Petersons opened a u-pick-’em blueberry patch with a five-acre plot of highbush blueberries brought down from New Jersey in a Volkswagen bus.
“Dad always said the blueberries had to pay the taxes,” Shisler recalled.
Shisler said the business has been open every summer since it started, except for two years when an early freeze nipped the flower buds.
“In a way, it was like going back to [my father's] farming roots in Minnesota, where my grandfather had a tree farm and raised strawberries in the early 1900s.”
After her parents died, Shisler inherited the land. She, along with her older siblings, had no doubt they wanted to keep it.
“My brother and sister never lived here as they were all grown and married before we moved,” Shisler said. “They still loved the land and want to have it in the family to come to visit with their grandchildren.”
Living off the land: Agritourism
Living in the “back to nature” movement of the 1970’s, Shisler said her family vowed to raise as much of their own food as possible.
“I grew up with that consciousness of living off the land,” she said. “Cows, chickens and honeybees along with the family gardens we’ve always had were natural things to do with the land.”
Shisler said she has long dreamed of developing agritourism at Cloud 9 because “so many people want the farm experience.
“I’m fulfilling that dream now,” she said.
At Cloud 9, visitors can:
Shisler is part of a growing number of small, sustainable farms in North Carolina that are turning to tourism as a new cash crop — and as a way to diversify from tobacco, according to Martha Glass, manager of the Agritourism Office for the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
Shisler said she also pursues cost shares from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Marketing, the Golden Leaf Trust Fund for Ag Options and the USDA Soil and Water Conservation Division to keep the farm operating.
Cloud 9 was the second farm in Buncombe County to take part in the Farmland Preservation Program, which helps slow the decline of farmlands and offers farm owners protection from development. Shisler also participates in the N.C. Forest Stewardship program.
“We were in that program already when I inherited the property,” Shisler said. “I had a chance to renew it and talk to the forester extensively about how to maintain this land to its highest potential for the trees and wildlife. My parents ran out of time and energy in their life to follow through with that end of it. When my husband died from cancer six years ago I realized, it was up to me to make it a better place.”
Selectively culling trees generates income to supplement revenue from the other farm operations and the vacation rentals.
This fall, Shisler was honored for her work to conserve and manage the forestry resources on her property.
“Janet’s energetic and innovative management style is evident throughout the property,” Kelly Hughes, a stewardship biologist, told the Asheville Citizen-Times in September.
“She has worked hard to make this place a showcase for good management practices. As a result, this property is an excellent example of a working farm and forest, and here in Buncombe County that’s getting harder and harder to come by.”
There’s rarely a lull at Cloud 9.
Animals need feeding. Crops need tending. Guests need pampering.
Jeff Hambley works with Shisler to make it all happen.
Hambley, 56, a friend of Shisler’s for 20 years, has been helping her run the farm since June 2007. His experience as a general contractor and in the timber framing business comes in handy. He takes care of the infrastructure and the equipment maintenance, what Hambley called “the problem-solving parts of these farm needs.”
Hambley also finished most of the inside of the Heavenly Hideaway cabin with the challenge of translating “cozy, rustic luxury” with wood, his favorite medium.
“I pitch in when I can,” Hambley said. “Janet needs lots of help. Besides, it’s fun.”
One of Hambley’s most recent projects was a gravity-fed irrigation system he developed to get water from the hills to other places on the property. This was especially important because Western North Carolina has been in a severe drought. And it’s one more step in making the land self-sustainable.
Hambley said he has many favorite things about the property, but he especially enjoys the “incredible wildlife,” including watching the fawns, seeing a hawk grab a rabbit, listening to the bees working the flowers and hearing strange bird noises that turn out to be the sounds of baby turkeys.
“Things like that are endless,” he said.
In addition to adding a sawmill to complete the timber management cycle, Shisler has other plans for the farm, including building:
In addition to keeping up with the land, the animals and her guests, Shisler also runs a small beauty salon in her basement. When asked where she gets the energy to pursue so many interests, Shisler laughed.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t even drink coffee.”