How to start homesteading in North Carolina
North Carolina is one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the nation. From corn to Christmas trees, sweet potatoes to shrimp, the state’s farmers produce over 80 different kinds of commodities, growing crops and livestock on 8.4 million acres of farmland anywhere from the Appalachians in the west to the East Coast.
No matter what you want to grow, there may be a place in North Carolina for you and your farm or homestead. Here’s how to start homesteading in North Carolina.
Buying farmland in North Carolina
According to 2019 data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average cost of farm real estate in North Carolina was $4,680 per acre, compared to the national average of $3,160 that same year. The average cost per acre for cropland was $4,180 and $4,810 for pasture.
According to the USDA’s 2018 State Agriculture Overview, North Carolina has 8.4 million acres of farmland and 46,400 farms. The average farm size is 181 acres.
For working farms, the type of business your farm will be will determine where you register. If the business will be a sole proprietorship or a general partnership, then file with the county. All others file with the Secretary of State.
The North Carolina Agricultural Finance Authority was established by the North Carolina General Assembly to provide affordable credit for persons operating family-sized units for agricultural production and agricultural exports throughout North Carolina. The authority provides financing for farm real estate, starting a new farm, purchasing an existing farm, development costs, environmental improvements, starting an agribusiness, capital improvements and restructuring a farming operation.
The North Carolina Agricultural Finance Authority Programs assist farmers having difficulty qualifying for conventional loans and administers the North Carolina Beginning Farmer Loan Program.
Growing crops in North Carolina
Part of the agricultural diversity in North Carolina is thanks to the state’s own geographic and climate diversity. Warm weather plants and trees like citrus can even survive in the warmest areas of North Carolina as long as they are protected on the coldest days.
The USDA Hardiness zones in North Carolina range from zone 5b peppered throughout the western, mountainous area of North Carolina to 8b in southern coastal areas. The central parts of the state are comprised of zone 7a and 7b. Most plants will grow in these zones, with the exception of tropical varieties.
The growing season in North Carolina generally ranges from around late March to early November; rain falls year-round in a range of 37 to 50 inches annually. The state experiences some intense humidity, especially in the southernmost border and coast.
North Carolina grows more sweet potatoes than any other state, over 1.7 billion pounds annually. Other warm-season crops like beans, cantaloupes, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, pumpkins, southern peas, squash, tomatoes, and watermelons also grow well in North Carolina. Among cold-season vegetables, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips all grow well in North Carolina.
Biennial crops like artichokes grow the first year, and flower, fruit and die the second year, and perennial crops such as asparagus and rhubarb live for many years once established in North Carolina.
North Carolina is a state of diverse geography, ranging from sandy barrier islands on the eastern coast to the Appalachian Mountains on its western border. The state and boasts over 400 different types of soil. The most common soil (which is also the state soil) is Cecil soil, a fertile red clay soil containing decomposed granite and quartz, covering 1.6 million acres in the state’s Piedmont region. Over half of the Cecil soil in the state is cultivated for growing crops like corn, tobacco, and cotton, while the rest is used for pastures and forestland.
Raising animals in North Carolina
North Carolina ranks among the leading states in the production of hogs, broiler chickens and turkeys. Other livestock products commercially produced in North Carolina include milk, beef cattle, eggs and ducks.
North Carolina is a “fence in” state, which means that it is the duty of the owner of livestock or poultry to keep the same confined within adequate fences. Some western states have free range which means that animals are allowed to roam and it is the duty of one who does not want the animals on their land to fence those animals out.
According to North Carolina Fence Law, if any person that allows livestock or poultry to run at large is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to 20 days jail time and a fine of $200. Any person who finds livestock running at large may impound them, and once the owner is known and notified, the owner is liable for the costs of impounding and maintaining the livestock as well as damages to the impounder caused by the livestock. The impounder may keep the livestock until the payments have been made.
The owner of livestock is also presumed to know the propensities of certain animals and must exercise due care to prevent injury from reasonably anticipated conduct. For example, the owner has a duty to restrain his animal if that breed of animal is known to be particularly vicious when visitors are on the property.
When importing livestock to North Carolina from states with confirmed positive cases of Vesicular Stomatitis, they need Interstate Certificates of Veterinarian Inspection (ICVI’s). The issuing veterinarian shall write a statement on the ICVI stating, “The animals on the ICVI have not originated from a premises or an area under quarantine for Vesicular Stomatitis or a premises on which Vesicular Stomatitis has been diagnosed in the last 30 days; and the animals in the shipment have no signs of Vesicular Stomatitis.” No Equine Event Passports or Extended Equine Certificates of Veterinarian Inspection will be accepted. These requirements shall remain in effect until notice is given by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
There are several livestock auctions that take place throughout the state of North Carolina, including the Carolina Stockyards in Siler City, the Cleveland County Agriculture and Livestock Exchange in Shelby, the Harward Brothers Livestock Market in Turnersburg, the Stanly County Livestock Market in Turner and the WNC Regional Livestock Center in Canton.
Selling food in North Carolina
There are 153 farmers’ markets listed on the North Carolina Farmers Markets Directory website. Farmers interested in selling their goods can consult the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s guide to laws and regulations.
Entities and individuals engaged solely in the harvesting, storage, or distribution of “raw agricultural commodities — that is to say, fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables — are exempt from compliance with the Good Manufacturing Processes set forth in federal regulations, assuming that they have been adequately cleaned prior to sale.
North Carolina has adopted grading standards for certain produce, including apples, peaches, cucumbers and pecans, which are subject to inspection and certification by the state’s Department of Agriculture. Fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables may be sold in intrastate commerce without inspection or permit. The federal Food and Drug Administration has published nonbinding guidance for the safe production and processing of fruits and vegetables and to minimize food safety hazards.
North Carolina regulates cottage food production and the production of value-added products on the farm and at home.
Low-risk packaged foods are the only products allowed to be manufactured in home kitchens. These can include certain categories of baked goods; jams and jellies; candies; dried mixes; spices; certain sauces and liquids; and pickles and acidified foods. High-risk products (such as refrigerated or frozen products, low-acid canned foods, dairy products, seafood products, and bottled water) must be made in a non-home based commercial facility.
A small-scale producer is exempt from nutrition label requirements as long as the food producer makes no nutritional claims on the products or in its advertising, sells directly to consumers and has annual gross sales of $50,000. All food processors in North Carolina, without exemption, are required to comply with the Good Manufacturing Practice requirements set forth in federal regulations, which requires proper maintenance of waste treatment and disposal facilities, use of protective coverings, adequate lighting in hand-washing and food preparation areas, adequate ventilation and properly cleaning, sanitizing and maintaining equipment.
If you want to apply for a home-based business license, check with your local government for information about local zoning and licensing requirements to ensure that a home-based business is allowed in your neighborhood. If your home has municipal or city water, include a copy of your latest water bill with your application. Well water must be tested for coliform bacteria before inspection. Test results within one year of your application are required. Testing is offered by private labs and some local health departments.
The application should also include a brief description of the business with a detailed list of specific products produced in the home kitchen; ingredients and suppliers; a plan for storing supplies, equipment, and finished product; a general production flow including procedures and equipment; a plan for transporting products; and potential locations for sale of product.
All products sold to consumers must be packaged to prevent contamination. Labels must be affixed to the package and include the product name, the manufacturer’s name and address, net weight of the product in ounces/pounds and the gram weight equivalent and a complete list of ingredients in order of predominance by weight.
Within two weeks of receipt of your application, a Food Regulatory Specialist will contact the applicant to arrange for a home processing facility inspection.
When it comes to selling eggs in North Carolina, the grade and size or weight class must be clearly labeled on the container, along with the word “eggs,” the numerical count of the contents and the name and address of the packer or distributor. Words and numerals used to designate the grade and size shall be in clearly legible bold-faced type at least three-eighths inch in height. The term “fresh” may only be applied to eggs conforming to the specifications for Grade A or better. No other descriptive term other than applicable grade and size may be applied.
Producers are exempt from the labeling guidelines if they sell less than 30 dozen eggs per week. Any container used for the marketing of eggs shall be clean, unbroken and free from foreign odor. No license or permit is required to sell eggs on a farm, at a roadside stand or at a farmers market.
North Carolina organizations for new farmers
- Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
- Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
- Center for Environmental Farming Systems (especially the NC Choices Beginner Farmer Project)
- Carolina Farm Trust
- NC Growers Association
- Piedmont Grown
- Feast Down East
- Farm Bureau North Carolina
- Organic Growers School
- NC Farm Families
- Cooperative Council of North Carolina
- SEEDS: South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces
- Slow Food Triangle
- Slow Money NC
- North Carolina Small Farm Association
- NC State Extension (especially North Carolina Farm Link and the North Carolina Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education)
- North Carolina Agritourism Networking Association
How difficult is it to start homesteading in North Carolina?
North Carolina’s climate and geography are highly conducive to growing and raising livestock, and the state boasts and robust network for new farmers and homesteaders. If you are looking to break into homesteading, North Carolina is a great state to start.