What is the story?

Before Europeans came to America, Native Americans moved from place to place, living off whatever they could harvest from wild plants and animals. They knew the seasons well and they understood the life and death cycle that existed on the land. Later, some Native Americans started to farm (corn, squash, and beans) while continuing to hunt deer and other animals, thus leading to the development of settlements. Raising livestock was not a farming skill until after Europeans arrived. Many of the first European settlers had worked on farms before arriving in the U.S. They built small settlements of family farms that grew enough food to eat and to sell or barter for other things that they needed. Along with crops, they raised livestock, such as cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry, . Over time, they also adopted native American-adapted cereals and vegetables that would grow more easily in these soils and climate.

Early European farms were found both in the Piedmont and in the mountains.  The European’s earlier efforts to settle were initially unsuccessful because the coastal plain, with its dense woodlands and large areas of marsh and swamp, was almost unlivable.

Diseases such as malaria took many lives in the Eastern part of the state.

Where are we now?

Between the two world wars, mechanization of agriculture transformed the farming industry.  Large machines, built to plant and harvest crops more quickly than human labor, led to large-scale industrial farming in North Carolina for crops of mostly corn, grain, tobacco, and cotton.

More recently, especially in the last 30 years, we have been able to grow plants and raise livestock more cheaply and efficiently. This situation has resulted in strong farming competition which, combined with the resultant relatively low prices for agricultural goods, has almost driven the small “mixed” farmer out of business.  Low farm prices led the more commercial or industrial farmer to intensify production of both livestock and crops even further to control costs. 

All these changes have dramatic effects on natural plant communities, replacing large wild areas with a single-crop species, and, in the case of the livestock industry, producing some potentially unhealthy situations.  In particular, there are health concerns regarding the disposal of animal waste, notably from the hog industry. Considerable efforts are underway currently to address this. 

However, farming in the U.S. may be at a turning point for the following reasons:

  • Development, particularly uncontrolled sprawl, is pushing up the price of land, especially around cities, to the point where agriculture is no longer economically worthwhile.
  • Farming is a hard life. In the Piedmont of North Carolina the average age of those actively involved in farming is now approaching 60 with few young people wanting to replace them. The resulting pressures create situations where many farmers see the sale of their land, which is often their only tangible asset, as the source of their retirement income.  If the land is inherited by the next generation, who have often moved away from the farm, rising sale prices tempt them to sell it to the highest bidder, without concern for how the land will then be used.

If this situation continues, some of our most productive farmlands will be used for other purposes, such as housing development. The loss of farmland reduces the possibility that the nation can feed a steadily growing population into the long-term future. Current predictions show the U.S. population rising to over 400 million (300 million now) before it stabilizes around 2050.  We are going to depend more and more on locally-grown food, especially for the basics.

Looking at global trends, particularly in the farming of foods such as grains, the situation is worrying. Countries like China, which until recently have grown enough for their own use, are now unable to increase grain production to feed their growing population.  China and other countries like those in the Middle East are beginning to look worldwide for their grain supplies. These pressures will increase the world price of grain. While this could make farming in the U.S. more profitable, this will also increase the cost of basic goods.  Many countries pay to have fresh fruits and vegetables flown in.  However, as food prices rise, countries will need to use better farming technology to produce their own grains, fruits, and vegetables. The U.S. will feel those same pressures.

How does this affect me?

Within U.S. urban areas, there is a rising trend towards purchasing fresh, high-quality ‘”known” origin foods produced close to home.  In the Piedmont we may see many of our small farms being managed by highly-trained, ‘”hi-tech” farmers using as little as 10 to 20 acres for the production of fresh foods that they can sell locally.  These farms will have the ability to be flexible, year to year, in meeting the demands for a changing market. U.S. citizens will become more dependent on these sources of food. If we continue to lose productive farmland at the present rate, and as the population increases, food prices will rise. Global competition for basic foods such as cereals will reinforce that trend.

Ultimately, loss of farmland impacts local production.  We cannot depend, in the long run, on importing food.  Bringing food in from "unknown" sources either across the country or from overseas has led to incidents involving bacterial or chemical contamination.

As a result of that, people will have a greater desire to know the sources of their food and will want much of it grown locally. 

Finally, as biofuels become increasingly accepted as an alternative energy source, lands now growing food may be growing "fuel, so again impacting the capacity to keep up with food demand. The supermarket (food) may be competing with the gas station (fuel).

We need to protect and support our local farmers.

What can I do?

  1. Write letters and attend regional meetings to encourage local and state leadership to keep farmers on the land. Encourage our leaders to include financial incentives in legislation to make farming a sustainable way of life for the next generation of farmers.  North Carolina requires a new generation of younger farmers to take the place of this current generation, who are nearing retirement.

  2. Support local farmers’ markets and eat as much locally-produced fresh food as you can. Locally grown food is much less likely to contain chemicals and other residues than imported food from less well-controlled areas.

  3. Ask produce managers of your local supermarket where they buy their produce. Ask them about any chemical treatment used on food before it arrives in the store. Find out whether the meat you are buying (pork, poultry or beef) has come from animals where there is extensive use of antibiotics and other growth hormones. Ask if organic meat is available. More and more producers are now selling meat that has been raised in a chemical/drug-free environment.

  4. The next time you go to the grocery store make a list of those things that you like to eat and examine the information on the package to find out where the food is grown.  Can you determine if this food is healthy for you based on this information?  If you aren’t sure that the information is on the packaging, ask the grocery department managers what they might know about the origin of the product. 

  5. Use a search engine, such as Google, on the Internet and type in the name of the product or name of the producer listed on the package.  If you find a website, is the information helpful in learning more about how safe your food is to eat?  If there is no website, how else might you find this information?


What is the story?

North Carolina boasts 18 million acres of woodlands, about 55% of its land surface (33 million acres). Originally, North Carolina was more continuously wooded from the mountains to the coast. Some Piedmont woodland areas gave way to prairies due to natural causes, such as lightning-induced fires, or man-made ones, such as when early Native American tribes needed to prepare village lands. Native Americans often used also fire to clear land.

North Carolina’s natural mix of trees, with varying species from mountains to coast, is one of the most diverse in the country, with around 250 species. These trees are merely the more visible part of an even greater diversity of plants within these woods.

Did you know?

Did you know that the Joyce Kilmer Forest in Graham County provides an excellent example of an ancient forest?

Where are we now?

Sadly, only about 2% of the old forests in the State remain untouched. All the rest have been logged at some time in the last 200 years, mostly in the late 19th century when a greater number of Europeans arrived.

Sprawling development eats away at our forests. Experts estimate that about 80,000 acres of our natural forest cover is lost every year, mostly to development. Private landowners hold more than 80% of all the State’s woodlands, while state and federal agencies manage the rest. So, the future of our forests depends on the roughly 600,000 citizens with woods on their land.

Although clear cutting (removal of all trees) is necessary in some instances, the trend will be towards more selective tree harvesting to maintain woodland diversity and allow younger trees to mature fully.

As loggers remove the natural mixed hardwoods, loggers often replace the hardwoods with softwood species, usually pines. Landowners prefer the softwood trees because they grow quickly and produce more timber per acre. Softwoods currently bring higher prices and are mainly used in construction, for wood chips, and in making pulp, which provides paper products.

How does this affect me?

Forestry changes affect the following:

  • The remaining hardwood forests, with a tendency to plant pines

  • Landscape and air quality

  • Tourism

Hardwood tree production

Currently, tropical countries, such as Africa, Asia, South America, and Central America, generally do not manage their hardwoods well. However, increasing demand for hardwoods (from China, especially), combined with stronger international control and certification will reduce the future output from these countries. This will make the better-managed oak and hickory forests of the Southeast U.S. among the most important hardwood resources in the world and therefore very valuable.

Did you know?

Currently the Southeast region provides the most hardwood tree products in the U. S.

If we manage our hardwood forests well for the future, we will benefit from a large economic return.  We are in the position to reap the benefits from sales outside of the state and from support for our own key industries, including furniture making and construction.

As we see hardwood forests decline in size internationally, North Carolina could become one of the most important global suppliers of hardwood timber. The global demand for construction, furniture, and flooring timber will turn buyers toward North Carolina and the southern U.S.

The prospect of rising prices for hardwood tree products and the fact that North Carolina is in a position to play a key role should begin to act as an incentive to protect our forests.

Landscape and air quality

We depend on woodlands to support the quality of our air and water. Large acreages of trees improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide in the process of growth. Trees produce oxygen, absorb air impurities, and lower surface temperature at ground level.

Woodlands also help filter water, particularly in mountain regions where tree roots slow the flow of water running off steep slopes and aid in natural water filtration.

Removing trees without examining the impact on local soils, air, and water can disrupt a delicate balance, an ecosystem where each of its parts is connected to the whole. When local governments do not monitor developers or logging actively to ensure that there is little erosion and siltation (dirt runoff) into creeks, we reduce water quality.

Replacing hardwoods with single-species pines greatly reduces the overall animal and plant diversity that exists in the ancient hardwood forests. 


Woodlands make up a large part of the natural landscape and are becoming increasingly important in supporting outdoor recreation and tourism economies, both through the mosaic of privately-owned wooded areas and through important attractions like the Blue Ridge Parkway and National/State Forests.  

We need to sustain our valuable woodlands for the following economic reasons:

  • Wood product sales
  • Tourism

  • Air quality

  • Water quality 29. The footer links are showing Trademark and Copyright symbols incorrectly.

 What can I do?