CRESTON — Ashe Outreach Ministries and its clients recently benefitted from an initiative by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project which enables local farmers to help feed their communities.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina invested $275,000 in the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, an Asheville-based nonprofit that works to help local farms thrive. ASAP links farmers to markets and supporters to build healthy communities through connections to local food.

This initiative is helping to feed 3,000 to 4,000 families a week including families served by Ashe Outreach Ministries.

According to Sinead Taylor, who serves as the Communications Specialist at Blue Cross NC, Ashe Outreach is currently the only feeding site in the county. However, ASAP is planning to expand the program and she anticipates the list of feeding sites in NC to expand in the future.

The onset of COVID-19 caused food insecurity in Western NC to increase by 60 percent, with 250,000 people lacking access to adequate nutrition. The impact on WNC farms was just as staggering.

In a survey completed by 900 WNC farmers, 80 percent reported a decrease in sales and 75 percent reported that if disruptions in sales persisted for several months, farm losses would result in bankruptcy or closure.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges facing Western NC’s food and nutrition security,” said Cheryl Parquet, director of community engagement and marketing activation at Blue Cross NC. “We are committed to increasing access to fresh, healthy foods for all North Carolinians, and supporting ASAP’s response efforts to address these challenges by keeping farmers and markets in business and helping to feed residents in need.”

Through its Appalachian Farms Feeding Families Program, ASAP buys food from farmers, and the farms then deliver the food to overburdened food pantry and feeding sites across WNC.

According to chairperson at Ashe Outreach, Dillon Culbreth, a working partnership was established by the AFFFP at ASAP between Ashe Outreach Ministries and Fishel Organic Farm in Crumpler.

“All of the stuff we got from Fishel is superb,” Culbreth said.

Among the items ordered from Fishel were two variations of Kale, nine variations of tomatoes, green cabbage, rainbow chard, mixed okra, yellow squash, zucchini squash, broccoli crowns and sweet corn.

He said pantry clients were able to receive a fair amount of the produce and their meal recipients enjoyed the addition of fresh organic vegetables in the food prepared for them.

“It makes a difference when you’re looking at close-dated product with produce and you’re looking at fresh organic produce,” Culbreth said.

According to Culbreth, about half of the product they receive from Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC is organic. This is because the price of organic items is higher and they do not sell as well in stores.

Culbreth said they averaged about two to three pallets of product per trip while delivering the produce to community members.

Office Manager at Fishel Organic Farm John Spencer described the active partnership as a “win-win” situation for both farmers and those experiencing food insecurity.

He added that he hopes the program continues because it has helped many people.

Additionally, Blue Cross NC’s funding helped ASAP support farmers with immediate-need grants, implement safe model operations for farmers markets to open safely during the pandemic and offer double SNAP incentives for eligible farmers market customers.

For more information about Ashe Outreach Ministries and its services visit the Facebook page @Ashe Outreach or call (336) 385-1314.

For more information about Blue Cross NC’s involvement or to address any questions or concerns contact Taylor by phone at (704) 249-8980 or email at

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