North Carolina Soil Wealth Areas

Soil Wealth Areas are new place-based financing districts that connect regenerative agriculture producers and value chain businesses with aligned capital and technical assistance, creating a magnet for regional soil health and community wealth investments. 

We do this by:

  • Coordinating financial and nonfinancial technical assistance (TA) to improve business strength and the success of investments;  
  • Unlocking aligned capital through direct engagement with regenerative producers, enterprises, and capital providers; and
  • Organizing regional stakeholders to build stronger collaboration and decision-making in place. 

Regional farm and food systems designed around social equity and ecological resilience have the power to address today’s leading challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and human and animal health. However, the finance pathways for the transition to regenerative agriculture are often unclear.

Traditional capital has not aligned with the specific needs of underserved producers, nor producers looking to transition to regenerative practices or grow for regional markets. Even community-based or food-system focused investors often need a collaborative support system to understand impact investment opportunities and to manage the perceived risks of working with producers generating social and ecological benefits. The most effective way to sustainably finance these regenerative transitions is through capital rooted in place, meaning that community values, culture, leadership, and priorities inform the structure and flow of capital.

Timeline

June 2020 - November 2022
January 2022 - December 2024
2023 - Onward

Feasibility Phase

Supported by a two-year NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG), we worked with 25 different collaborating organizations and 40 diverse farms across more than 25,000 acres. During this initial phase we leveraged $700,000 in federal funding from NRCS and more than $1.5 million in non-federal, private sector and in-kind matching contributions. Read more about the feasibility state in our 2023 “Soil Wealth Areas: Place-Based Financing for Conservation, Rural Communities, and Regenerative Agriculture Report”.

Equitable Governance Model

Supported by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, we are working with five long-term, place-based partners to develop the equitable governance model of the NC Soil Wealth Areas. Equitable governance relates to the inclusive decision-making and representation (of diverse geographies, backgrounds, producer and value chain enterprises, racial and ethnic identities) to ensure the effective distribution of opportunity within Soil Wealth Areas. Eventually, Soil Wealth Areas will be independently-governed entities similar to conservation districts.

Implementation Phase

We are seeking funding for this ongoing effort in North Carolina to unlock more capital, resources, and community development strategies for the three regions in the state: Appalachian, Piedmont, and Down East Soil Wealth Areas. Beyond the feasibility phase, we aim to provide technical assistance to our network of producers and value-chain businesses by leveraging public and philanthropic capital. With our unique connection with both capital and place, the “Magic in the Middle“, we’re able to uniquely assist producers.

Project Highlights

Rural Beacon Initiative's Free Union Farm

Beginning in 2022, Croatan Institute has collaborated with Rural Beacon Initiative on the Free Union Farms Sustainability Hub in Martin County, NC. For more information on the Free Union Farms partnership, see this infographic.

Pink Hill Project

The North Carolina Soil Wealth Areas team works with this partner to provide conservation technical assistance, land management strategies supporting regenerative agriculture and forestry, and market access opportunities through our network of partners across North Carolina. To learn more, click here.

Meet the NC Soil Wealth Areas Team

Anna Aspenson

Associate

Anna is the coordinator of the NC Soil Wealth Areas. She helps manage partner relationships, assist with project development, and implement the NC Soil Wealth Area Equitable Governance Model.

James Smith

Analyst

James helps support conservation technical assistance for county, state, and federal programs for the NC Soil Wealth Area, manage producer relationships, and liaise between the Soil Wealth Areas and Croatan's Financial Health Investment Project.

John Fenderson

Senior Fellow

John is in the process of becoming a certified forester and has expertise in a range of USDA programs. John meets with producers in the NC Soil Wealth Area network to help establish conservation practices on their land. John also manages Croatan's relationship with Free Union Farms.

Josh Humphreys

President, Senior Fellow

Josh directs the Institute's Soil Wealth program and advises farmers, landowners, and place-based partners on conservation finance and resilient investing strategies. He also operates Pont Reading Farm, a regenerative agroforestry farm in Oaks, NC.

Sponsors & Partners

Initiatives Related to Soil Wealth