The Conservation Exchange

Find out more about The Center for Working Lands programs, workshops and engagement opportunities.

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For years we have been a leader for sustainable land management. Now we want to share our knowledge to help landowners in our region and beyond. The Conservation Exchange uses Warren Wilson’s applied learning philosophy to spread hope and meaningful action against the backdrop of climate change.

Addressing Critical Needs

We know housing and commercial development in Western North Carolina is encroaching on the open spaces and natural communities.

We know climate change more adversely affects low-income communities and communities of color.

We know we need people who can deftly navigate the ecological, social, and economic realities of protecting our changing world and that inclusivity is at the heart of finding those solutions.

We know these things because Warren Wilson College has provided a leading Environmental Studies Program since the 1970s.

We now have the opportunity to define and implement a curriculum in which the College campus itself can become the delivery system for, and the direct focus of, our academic programming.

A Regional Model

Landowners in Appalachia and around the world have their own mixed-use landscapes and, in many cases, struggle to make a living from their land. Many are forced to sell to developers and further fragment the landscape, which increases carbon emissions and decreases biodiversity.

Under the Dean of Land Resources, we are developing a model by creating new resources for landowners. And, we are reaching out to engage local, national, and international stakeholders in sustainable, economically viable innovative land stewardship.

We are contributing to the knowledgebase of sustainable land management by testing the economic viability of current operations and measuring the sustainability of not-yet-tested new ideas.

The goal of the Land Innovation Program is not just to “do what works” but to “see what works” and to broadly disseminate that information to landowners.

A Unique Position

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina are one of the most biodiverse non-tropical regions in the world. Climate change threatens the unique mountain microclimates, the only remaining homes to several endangered species. The incredible biodiversity of the region has a potentially devastating capacity for loss.

The Blue Ridge Mountains have a vital need not just for conservation, but for research into what actions actually help. And realistically, landowners need examples of practices that will make conservation a financially viable option for them.

Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Warren Wilson College is uniquely placed to meet these challenges. On our more than 1,100 acres of farm, garden, and forest, students work and conduct original research every day. Hundreds of hands and minds mean hundreds of potential solutions.

Our unique ability to take a leadership role in climate action lies in our living laboratory and our applied learning model. There are unmatched opportunities for research, action and leadership.

Warren Wilson students learn approaches to mitigating the effects of climate change and managing an integrated landscape, and they do it with hands-on action. They’re not only preserving our own land for generations to come, their work is affecting the entire region. Students will leave Warren Wilson College as applied thinkers and capable agents of change no matter where they land or what issues they address.

Building Our Model

The first step in being a leader in sustainable and innovative land management was to begin to build our model.

Non-Timber Forest Products

In order to prevent deforestation – and carbon increases as a result – landowners need a forestry model that is economically viable.

We have a model to show them. For several decades now, we have used the College Forest to develop innovative ways to make profitable forestry a reality through non-timber forest products.

Recent experiments determined effective propagation techniques for wild medicinal plants that were overharvested nearly to extinction in the past– including ginseng, wild ginger, goldenseal, black cohosh, and ramps. We have started selling these “Guaranteed from Seed” seedlings to the public and distribute them to landowners. This program is supported, in part, by the Clabough Foundation:

Some non-timber forest products have proven more viable than others, but that is part of the point. Landowners don’t have time or resources to experiment and figure out what works, but with your help, we can. After students work out difficulties and streamline the process through experimentation, we can show landowners proven models for profitable forestry and prevent deforestation in the region.

Carbon-Neutral Cattle

Because livestock farming usually produces a very large carbon footprint, we are using several regenerative farming methods in an effort to reduce that footprint.

While most farms specialize in either growing crops or farming livestock, at Warren Wilson all of the grains students grow on our land are kept on the farm to feed the animals. We will test the carbon sequestration in the soil of our regenerative agriculture and rotational grazing techniques in order to mitigate the carbon footprint of our farm and determine whether it’s possible to have a carbon-neutral cattle operation.

We’re operating as a regenerative model in the Southeast for an integrated crop and livestock system.

Climate Change Gardens

We recently established the Warren Wilson College Phenology Stewardship Program to contribute phenological observations and research to the USA National Phenology Network. We established several phenology garden plots and a phenological monitoring trail on campus to serve as long-term research locations. Students and faculty observe and track seasonal changes in select plants growing on these plots and trails. They are encouraging community members to get involved, take the training, and become “citizen scientists,” contributing to global climate change research.

“Ultimately, it’s our hope that this kind of work – in dedicated research plots and through our ‘citizen science’-focused phenology trail – will help us to answer some of these questions that I think are really pressing, as we consider how our wild places may change as the climate changes.” – Biology Professor Alisa Hove, Ph.D.

Plan for the Future

Help us experiment and take risks. With your help, we can undertake the following initiatives:

  • A Commercial Kitchen to produce our own value-added non-timber forest products, garden products, and farm products in-house—not only saving processing costs and reducing our carbon footprint, but also providing teaching and learning opportunities for students and our community
  • A Land Institute to create a hub for regional, national, and international research and consulting on land planning, diversification, management, conservation, and development.
  • Conservation to explore easements and other long-term conservation methods.
  • New academic programs to explore new programs in land management, climate change solutions, and conservation biology.
  • Green Entrepreneurship to build an academic program that combines our environmental studies program paired with a new business major to inspire innovation and new green businesses.
  • Renewable energy for equipment including solar farm equipment and solar fields.