From Tobacco to Rhododendrons

Lisa Leatherwood's face lights up when someone inquires about the jewel-colored rhododendrons she has for sale at the Western North Carolina Farmers Market.  The lush plants beautifully fill a booth under the exhibit shed during the 22nd annual Asheville Herb Festival.

The Leatherwood family has been growing the hybrid rhododendrons for a little over three years. They purchase young plants described as liners and grow them to the right size for home gardeners and landscapers.  "It's been slow to start with," says Leatherwood, "but last year was better, and this year was even better.  We're having better sales."

Leatherwood & Sons Farm was not new to agriculture when they began the rhododendron effort.  In addition to having cattle and tomatoes, they grew tobacco as a big cash crop on their Haywood County farm until 2004.  That's when a grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund helped them make the conversion to the landscaping plants. The Fund resulted from the landmark 1998 settlement with the nation's largest cigarette manufacturers.  The Leatherwoods also grow flame azaleas, sourwood trees and a variety of vegetables for sale.  

Now that the Leatherwoods' sons are nearly grown, work on their family farm mostly falls with Lisa and her husband, John.  She enjoys the variety, "I love it, I do.  I like working in the greenhouse and being by myself part of the time, and then I like getting out and selling."  In addition to exhibiting at the Asheville festival, they take part in a festival at the Waynesville tailgate market. Their plants are sold each spring at regional farm markets in North Carolina.

You can reach Leatherwood & Sons Farm at 828-734-3572.

Meet the co-founder of a young company already setting deep roots in the Asheville community and planting hope around the world!

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