Whippoorwill Dairy Farm, a beautiful, historic Burke County farm, will soon be permanently protected thanks to a unique partnership between Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina and Fonta Flora Brewery.
With funding from private donors and the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Foothills Conservancy has purchased the majority of the scenic farm, approximately 40 acres which border Paddy’s Creek, and will donate the land to the adjoining Lake James State Park later this year.
Fonta Flora Brewery, a local craft brewery in Morganton, has purchased 8 acres of the former dairy farm fronting Highway 126, including most of the old stacked-stone barns and structures, to expand and create a farmhouse brewery and will convey a permanent conservation easement on the property to Foothills Conservancy.
Fonta Flora plans to restore the buildings, with a priority of keeping the old stone walls intact. The walls are built of river stones from Paddy’s Creek, which flows along the back of the property before draining into Lake James. The new 15 barrel (Bbl) brewhouse will have 30 Bbl fermentation and conditioning tanks which will allow Fonta Flora to brew approximately 2,500 Bbls during the first year of production. This will roughly quadruple their current production capacity.
The farm’s backdrop is the beautiful scenery of Shortoff Mountain, the Linville Gorge and Pisgah National Forest. The parcel that will be added to Lake James State Park also contains an important piece of American history: a segment of the National Park Service’s Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.
“Permanent protection of the Whippoorwill Dairy Farm is a wonderful success story— it’s one of the most historic and scenic sections of the landscape around Lake James,” says Andrew Kota, Foothills Conservancy stewardship director. “Adding most of the farm to Lake James State Park will extend protection and public access along Paddy’s Creek. This acquisition effort is a great example of the creative collaborations that can form around protecting our region’s special places. Fonta Flora’s mission is focused on agriculture and sustainability and depends upon clean water, so having their brewery expand to this historic land is a natural fit.”
“This property will be a valuable addition to Lake James State Park, and just as valuable are the community partnerships we’ve been able to forge in developing this park,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “The collaboration of Foothills Conservancy and Fonta Flora Brewery is a great example of creative thinking for conservation.”
Fonta Flora brewer and co-owner Todd Boera refers to the project as a dream come true. “[Fonta Flora co-owner] Mark Bennett and I spend a lot of time roaming around Morganton on bicycles. I kept riding past the Whippoorwill Dairy property and thinking it was so gorgeous — a dream for anyone interested in historic buildings and agriculture. We knew we wanted to build our second brewery out in the country, but Whippoorwill always seemed like an unattainable dream. Thanks to our partnership with Foothills Conservancy it has become a reality.”
Establishing its new brewing operation at Whippoorwill Dairy is especially meaningful for Fonta Flora because of its namesake—the Fonta Flora sharecropping community that existed along the banks of the Linville River in the late 1800s, before being flooded to create Lake James.
“We adopted this name to honor and revive this part of our region’s history,” notes Boera. “Now we have an opportunity to put our second brewery right near where the original Fonta Flora settlement existed more than a century ago.”
Fonta Flora’s brewing, bottling and packaging will take place in the main barn, and barrel conditioning will eventually be housed within the former milking parlor building. In keeping with its commitment to using local Appalachian flora in its brews, the brewery has plans for gardens and orchards on the property to cultivate harder-to-find ingredients like pawpaw and persimmons, as well as herbs, vegetables and berries.
“The addition of a farmhouse brewery at Whippoorwill dovetails well with Fonta Flora’s overall focus on local and sustainable ingredients,” says co-owner David Bennett.
Funding for Foothills Conservancy’s Whippoorwill purchase included a challenge contribution of $172,000 from Fred and Alice Stanback, which required a two-to-one match. The match was met with a generous leadership gift from George and Ann Costello combined with individual donations from Mike and Betsy Blair, Javier and Yngrid Chacon, Andy and Bridgette Davis, Joseph and Katharine Lagedrost, Dan and Lisa Oberer, and Charles and Jerelen Ohrt. Grants from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund and Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s Mountain Mini-Grant Program completed the project’s matching funding.
Founded in 2012, Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton, NC integrates the soul of agriculture with the artisanship of zymurgy to create a menagerie of rustic and savory libations. With an emphasis on seasonal flora, Fonta Flora brings English tradition and Belgian inspiration to the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Fonta Flora utilizes local artists to help conceptualize the notion that fermentation is yet another medium for creating art. This uniquely artisan approach to beer yields a sustainable product filled with culture from our very own community. For more information visit fontaflora.com.