Get Outside Mountain Relay

gomrJune 2, 2017 will usher in the inaugural running of the Get Outside Mountain Relay (GOMR).  Runners will be treated to scenic mountain backroads flanked by thousands of Frasier Firs and farms that have been tended by the same families for decades.  The winding route will cover 104 miles of Alleghany County landscape that ranges from the high ridgelines of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the New River bottom lands.

Teams will be comprised of 4 to 12 individual runners.  The 104 mile route will be broken into 18 separate legs with an exchange point at each leg.  Depending on team size, each runner will run 3 to 9 legs.  Teams will cover the course twice for a total of 208 miles.


So, what sets GOMR apart from similar races?  Other relays have a point to point route and requires teams to provide their own transportation during the race.  This leads to team members often being strung out along the length of the relay and spending little time together.  GOMR organizers will provide transportation to and from each exchange point, resulting in cost savings for the team.  Since GOMR has a circular route, teams will be provided a campsite that serves as a hub or base.  This base camp will have a festival atmosphere where runners can interact with local artisans, food vendors, volunteers and other teams.  The desire is to create a strong sense of community between the teams and local citizens as together they form the “GOMR Nation.”

“Community” is a word that comes up often when talking with race organizers Donny and Wendy McCall.  The course covers virtually all communities in Alleghany County.  The McCalls anticipate 300 Alleghany County residents volunteering to make this race a reality.  They want runners to get a feel for the varied landscape of Alleghany County and the warmth of its residents.

Donny is known by many for his appearance on the reality television show, Shark Tank.  As he pitched his idea to the venture capitalists, a recurring theme was his desire to use his business as means of adding to the economic vitality of Alleghany County.  That unwavering commitment to the community and Donny’s unwillingness to outsource production elements of his product frustrated the sharks who were focused on the company’s bottom line.  His refusal to bend led to numerous blogs, articles and this ABC report that debated the merits of his steadfast desire to have his product made in America.  Donny’s focus on social entrepreneurship have carried over to GOMR.

The McCall’s desire is for GOMR to provide an economic “shot in the arm” for Alleghany County.  Their goal is to bring 100 teams – 1000 runners – to Alleghany County for the weekend.  They hope those runners have such an enjoyable time that they return to bike those same backroads, take a float trip down the New River, start a business, or listen to some of the finest traditional music in the region.

The Get Outside Mountain Relay is much more that a race.  It is a chance to be a part of something new and a way to exchange the hot temperatures of the lowlands for cool Alleghany evenings.  It is a way to explore a mountain community up close and personal.  Most of all, it will be a weekend where a new running community formed.


For more information on the Get Outside Mountain Relay, visit their website here.  You can email them at or talk with them by phone at 336-363-4984.  Or you follow them on Facebook.

Click here for registration information and discount deadlines.

For more information on Alleghany County visit their website here.

Material for this blog first appeared in the Alleghany News.


Hannah Brady – Honey Bee Cuttery

img_4572Twenty-six year old Hannah Brady is continuing a tradition as old as the mountains of Alleghany County – the home based business.  Throughout the decades, rural women have supplemented the family income in a variety of ways.  For some it was as simple as selling surplus eggs or freshly churned butter.  Others took in sewing or sold hand-stitched quilts.  It was in this same spirit that Hannah launched her business, Honey Bee Cuttery, in January 2016.  In a short 12 months, she has seen it grow beyond her expectations.

Hannah’s family moved to Alleghany County from Beech Mountain when she was ten years old.  Her father, Troy Ward, is a carpenter and her mother, Andrea, owned a landscaping business and each fall she operated a pumpkin and Christmas tree lot in Wilmington, NC.  Both parents installed a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit in Hannah and her brother, Austin.

A 2008 graduate of Alleghany High School, Hannah served as student body president, played volleyball and was on the swim team.  Her next stop was the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill where she received a degree in teaching.  She then returned to Alleghany County where she taught biology and general science at Sparta Elementary School before moving on to the high school as a biology teacher.  She is currently enrolled in graduate school at Appalachian State University.

Hannah’s mom became ill and battled cancer for 13 months.  Andrea had always been active so when she was sick, the family searched for ways to help keep her busy.  One item they used was a borrowed craft vinyl cutter.  Hannah and her mom spent valuable time together focusing their creative energies on intricate paper and vinyl designs.


T-shirt by Honey Bee Cuttery

Hannah’s mom passed away in 2011.  Hannah took over operation of the Wilmington tree lot for two seasons.  There she learned the value of developing networks within the community.  One repeat customer was former Boston Red Sox star, Trot Nixon.  Hannah remains friends with him and his family.  She also gained firsthand experience of the importance of marketing and customer service.

As she developed these business skills, she saw a possibility of taking her hobby of vinyl cutting to the next level.  She invested in a computerized craft cutter.  This enabled her to put her designs in an electronic format which are then sent to an automated cutter.  This process allowed her to do custom work in small quantities.  She began experimenting with apparel, decals, tumblers and Christmas ornaments.


Christmas ornaments by Honey Bee Cuttery


Easter totes by Honey Bee Cuttery

She knew from her days on the tree lot that having great products is only part of a successful business.  She also had to connect with customers.  To do that, Hannah formed an Etsy store so she can sell to customers online.  She pitched her products to the Alleghany High School Athletic Booster Club as a way for parents to promote the school and recognize their individual students. Because of the customized nature of her products, her Facebook page has become her biggest source of orders.  Approximately 90% of her sales are generated online.  10-15% of her customers are from outside Alleghany County and that number is growing.  She sums up her business strategy simply as her desire to, “Have a quality product at a reasonable price so that people can afford to shop local.”

Hannah is quick to give her husband, Chris, credit for much of her success.  Chris is a middle school teacher at Sparta Elementary.  He not only gives moral support to Hannah’s efforts, he often lends a hand to help with orders.



Custom mortar boards for graduates by Honey Bee Cuttery

There is a notion in rural areas that all the best and brightest young people have left for city life.  Hannah embodies the fallacy is that statement.  The former student body president, graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, Alleghany High teacher, expectant mother, who will graduate with a master’s degree in education this spring, somehow still finds time to manage her growing business.

Those women who sold eggs and quilts paved the way for contemporary women like Hannah Brady to carry that entrepreneurial tradition forward.  Across our county, young women, as well as men, are taking over family farms and opening small businesses.  They are guiding canoe trips, pouring gourmet coffee, working as welding contractors and tending to our medical needs.  Where some see obstacles, they see opportunities.  These young people are making a difference in our community.  While many of our youth do leave, not all of the best and brightest have crossed the county line.  If we open our eyes, we will see that like Hannah, they have been here all along.


View Honey Bee Cuttery’s products on their Facebook page by following this link

Or contact Hannah Brady by email at


Mitzi Biggins – Ms. Mitzi’s Bakery


Mitzi Biggins

Mitzi Biggins has been baking her entire life.  The Alleghany native enjoys taking a variety of individual ingredients, mixing them together, subjecting the mixture to heat, and then seeing a customer enjoy the new creation. This October she decided to channel her passion for food and people into a business venture, Ms. Mitzi’s Bakery.  In hindsight it is clear that Mitzi’s life journey has set her up for success.

Mitzi grew up just outside of Sparta.  As is the case with many young people, she heeded the siren call to experience life outside her childhood home and ended up in California at age 17.  One day, a friend came up with free tickets to Disneyland.  They spent the day at the park where Mitzi met a young man from nearby Anaheim, Dan Biggins.  After a year in California, Mitzi decided it was time to head home to Sparta.  Dan came with her and they have been married for the last 34 years.

In 2000, Mitzi, began a culinary course through Wilkes Community College.  It seemed a natural fit given her love of cooking. When her father became terminally ill, she had to drop out of the program to help with her dad.  She then spent some time working with the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce.  And many Alleghany residents may remember Mitzi from her ten years as the owner and operator of All Things Catering.  These experiences, along with helping Dan with his business, Roupe Brothers Electric, Heating and Plumbing, have given Mitzi and unique skill set to launch a business.  But, starting a new business always comes with challenges.


Rosemary Walnut Cake

First is the challenge of starting a retail business in a small community.  With a population of roughly 11,000 people, Alleghany County presents a retail business with a small customer base.  Second, her business is currently home-based. While working from home can create trials, Mitzi is quick to point out that Martha Stewart got her start working out of her basement.  Finally, Mitzi realizes that her product line contains items that may be new to some residents.  One of her favorite items is Baklava.  Since some people aren’t familiar with the Mediterranean dish, it is one of Mitzi’s staples when sharing samples with various organizations.



Even though she is faced with myriad challenges, Mitzi has well defined business goals.  She envisions growing into a Main Street business with repeat customers who feel satisfied and valued.  She plans to launch a gluten-free product line.  The Small Business Center of Wilkes Community College is helping guide her through the business end of her enterprise through classes, and individual, one on one business counseling.  And she has her eyes set on developing a customer base that extends beyond Alleghany County.  Luna Marketing, an Alleghany based marketing business, will help Mitzi develop her marketing strategy.


Apple Walnut with caramel glaze

A recent exciting development for Mitzi is an invitation to setup a display in Williams and Sonoma.  This national chain based in California, sells kitchenware and home furnishings.  Mitzi will be at the Winston Salem location on December 17 from noon until 3:00 pm in the Hanes Mall.

Baking is a fitting metaphor for how small communities like Alleghany County creates economic vitality.  The mixing of familiar, perhaps even common, individual ingredients to create something new doesn’t just apply to baking cakes – it describes what it takes to grow our local economy.  Both require experimentation and innovation to reach a broader audience.

Mitzi Biggins is doing more than baking delicious cakes and pastries.  She is modeling how to take smart risks and test new ideas.  It is a trait that is Absolutely Alleghany.


For current pricing or to place orders, call Mitzi at 336-830-3735.

Visit her Facebook page at Ms. Mitzi’s Bakery










Guillermo Camacho – OBX Seafood

Sparta is quite a ways from the seafood markets on the Outer Banks – somewhere in the neighborhood of 5½ to 6 hours.  Yet every Friday afternoon, Alleghany County residents can buy fresh seafood straight from the coastal waters of North Carolina.  This rare opportunity is kindled by a friendship that developed at Alleghany High School and a fueled by strong vision for the future.

Guillermo Camacho moved to Ennice in 2004 when he was eight years old.  His dad had moved here in 1989 and worked on a local dairy farm.  Guillermo began fourth grade at Glade Creek School and later attended Alleghany High School, graduating in 2013.

When Guillermo was a junior, Jordan Budd moved to the county and attended Alleghany High.  Guillermo and Jordan became friends.  Their friendship endured despite Jordan moving to Advance in Davie County after only one year in Alleghany.

Jordan’s family hunted and spent time in Hyde County in eastern North Carolina.  An acquaintance from Mattamuskeet Seafood suggested to Jordan that there was an opportunity to begin selling seafood in the Piedmont.  They worked through the details of how to transport the fish so that the product retained its fresh flavor.  Jordan contacted Guillermo and asked if he would like to join him in a business venture – OBX Seafood.


Guillermo Camacho

After initially buying solely from fish wholesalers (fish houses), Guillermo and Jordan began exploring along the coast with the goal of finding the highest quality seafood available.  They have since developed a network of contacts with fishermen from Manteo to Beaufort/Morehead City to Sneads Ferry.  Their weekly schedule is exhausting and illustrates their desire to deliver a quality product to the people of western North Carolina.

Monday:  Handle all the administrative functions, and clean their coolers and truck.

Tuesday:  Head east.  They begin calling their contacts as they travel toward the coast.  They check with the fishing boats to see what they are catching and what will be available.  They send this information out in an email to their customer distribution list and begin taking pre-orders.  Tuesday night they usually sleep in the truck or camp on the beach.  Guillermo refers this this as “getting salty.”


From sushi grade tuna to rainbow trout

Wednesday:  They travel the coast buying straight off the boat whenever possible.


Fresh oysters

Thursday:  They travel home late Wednesday or early Thursday morning.  Once back in Advance, they spend much of the day cleaning fish and preparing them for sale.  They have several restaurants in the Winston Salem/Greensboro area that they sell to on Thursday for their weekend menus.

Friday:  Guillermo sets up at Hawks Produce on Hwy 21 just south of Sparta.  Jordan and his girlfriend sell at the farmers markets in Advance and Greensboro.


“There is nothing like fresh fish,” says Marie Carlson. “It is really great to have them here.”

Saturday:  They setup at three different farmers markets.

Sunday:  They sell at the Greensboro Farmers Market.

On Monday, they start again.

Yet, as Guillermo describes the schedule, he doesn’t focus on the relentless grind or not having days off.  Instead, he is looks confidently to the future.

They are currently making home deliveries of pre-orders in Mooresville, Troutman, Advance and Mocksville.  They hope to expand this service and are exploring how to ship the product in a way that ensures that the fish maintains its freshness.  They want to develop better displays for their stands and hope to build a mobile “crab shack” that can be towed from one site to another.

Guillermo is a confident, 20 year-old young man who communicates well with his customers.  He can offer advice on how to cook a variety of seafood that results in an enjoyable meal.  He speaks of focusing on North Carolina products and protecting the environment.  He talks of growing their business into a large network that furnishes seafood across the state to a broad base of customers.  It would be easy to dismiss it all as a youthful dream, but it only takes moments to realize that this is no simple dream – it is a business plan with growth potential.

What spurs on Guillermo’s entrepreneurial spirit?  One could look to his family moving here to start a new life.  Perhaps, it was a teacher at Glade Creek School who shared with Guillermo that he could achieve anything he set his mind too.  Or maybe, it is something characteristic of Alleghany County where innovation has been a necessity, community relationships are a must, and there is a dogged reluctance to take “no” for an answer.


Go here to register for online purchases from OBX Seafood.  Or email them at for current prices and availability.

Guillermo Camacho can be reached at 336-200-1175

Jordan Budd can be reached at 336-978-8199

Or follow them on Facebook


Looking at Appalachia – One Year Later

It has been one year since Roger May brought the Looking at Appalachia photography project to Alleghany County.  The 75 photos were exhibited in the Blue Ridge Business Development Center for one month and were viewed by people from 12 states and two foreign countries.  The timing of the exhibit coincided with an ongoing effort to engage in economic and community development in Alleghany.  It was hoped that the exhibit would generate conversation about how we, and others, view our county and region.

Since last October, the photos have been shown in at Radford University (Radford, Virginia), the University of North Carolina – Asheville, Adrian College (Adrian, Michigan), Robert Morris University (Moon Township, Pennsylvania), West Virginia University and will be shown at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, NC this November.  After that showing, the current exhibit will be retired.


Roger May – photo courtesy of Meg Wilson

Roger has also been busy.  He has led an online class with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and taught a class on Multimedia Storytelling at the Appalachian Writers Workshop.  He has also started a new photography project, Laid Bare, which examines the effects of mountain top removal for coal extraction in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

In a recent interview, Roger reflected on the past year and shared insights he has gathered along the way.

When he looks back at the show in Sparta, Roger describes it as exactly what he envisioned when he and others began talking about taking the photos on the road.  “The reception was one of the best attended, and was supported by a cross-section of the community,” he said.  “I’m glad that Alleghany took a chance on us.  At that point, we weren’t completely sure what the trajectory of the project would be.”

Roger said that one of the most surprising aspects of the project is how interest continues to grow in Appalachia.  He said that the region is incredibly diverse and defies broad generalizations.  “When you consider the breadth of culture, economy and even dialect, there are vast differences across Appalachia.  We tend to forget that cities such as Asheville, NC and Chattanooga, TN are in the heart of Appalachia.” He points out that those urban areas are much different that the stereotypical hills and hollows, and th extractive economies tied to coal and timber that we often associate with Appalachia.  And even in the more rural areas, an interstate highway or major manufacturing facility can completely change the socio-economic conditions of a county.

What’s next For Looking at Appalachia? May hopes that the project will continue to evolve and take on new shape and form.  He hopes to expand the website to include audio and video stories.  He has ambitions to start a podcast as a way to amplify voices of those in the region, especially those who seek to document the people and places of Appalachia.

Perhaps his most thought-provoking statement about the future of the project also strikes at the core of any regional social or economic strategy:  “We (Looking at Appalachia) have to be open to change.  We have to be conscious of not only how we view ourselves, but how others see our region.  Once we limit our perspective, we lose the reason for the project.”



Photos from 2015 can be viewed at  Photos for 2016 can be submitted at the same site.




Andy Kakas


Andy and Vicky Kakas

From his home office in Ennice, Andy Kakas has an unobstructed view of Alleghany County landmarks Bullhead and Saddle Mountains. His home is surrounded by a community of hayfields, rows of corn, and rolling patches of bright orange pumpkins.  The setting is a stark contrast to his past life in south Florida.

Andy grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began studying drums at age seven and by his high school years he played in progressive rock bands. Progressive rock contains classical musical elements with lengthy instrumental breaks.  Andy and his band were influenced by the artistry and originality of bands like Yes and Genesis.

Hoping to land on the technical side of the music business, Andy attended college at the University of Miami.  A requirement of the music program was that the students continue to play in bands.  It was through this Music Engineering program that he was immersed in the studio recording world.  Andy graduated in 1981 with a degree in music engineering and a minor in electronics.

His first stop after college was a stint in a recording studio.  There he had the opportunity to work with national acts, but he describes his role as pretty limited.  He got bored.  He joined a band and for the next two years they performed up and down the length of Florida.

After two years on the road, Andy settled into a job with Off the Wall Sound.  The company provided light and sound for concerts, festivals and occasional private parties in south Florida. While at Off the Wall, Andy worked with a diverse number of performers such as Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alabama and Julio Iglesias. Andy spent much of his time at behind a mixing board, ensuring that the delivery of the music and/or vocals were of a quality expected by the artist and the crowd.


The Miami Sound Machine

Then an opportunity arose to work with an increasingly popular band, The Miami Sound Machine.  When Andy joined the band as an audio mixer in 1984, they were beginning to transition from a pure Latin band that was wildly celebrated in Central and South America, to one with an eye on a broader audience.  As their fan base grew, Andy traveled around the world with the band.  As the travel became more complex, so did Andy’s role.  He became the tour manager and was responsible for logistical planning for future shows.

The tour schedule was grueling.  Andy recalls one stretch when they were on the road for two months without a break in the schedule.  He says that was common to lose track of which town they were in.  He left the band just as they were reaching their commercial peak.  A platinum record on his wall reminds Andy of those hectic and exhilarating days.


Commemorating the sale of 1,000,000 albums

He went back to Off the Wall in 1988.  He continued with work with audio, but utilized the skills he honed on the road.  He added tour manger to his role and begin developing proposals for clients.

In 1995, Andy joined the Multi Image Group. Based in Boca Raton, Florida, the family owned business is an audio visual products company that designs sets, and provides sound and lighting for business events around the world.  The clients include Deutsche Bank, Sikorsky Aircraft, Nissan, and Proctor and Gamble.  Andy is responsible for client relations, developing proposals, and onsite logistics.  He does much of the planning and prep work at his home then travels to the site to assist with the event.

In 1989 Andy was introduced to his future wife Vicky.  They married in 1992.  Their son, Nathan was born in 1998.  Around 2000 a friend bought a home in Sparta.  Andy and Vicky were considering buying land in the mountains and the friend suggested the Kakas’ check out Alleghany County.  They traveled to Sparta and met with local realtor, Mary Crouse.  They fell in love with the area and bought seven acres in Ennice.

For the next several years, Andy, Vicky and Nathan visited Alleghany County.  They often camped at Stone Mountain State Park and hung out at their place in Ennice.  They enjoyed getting to know their neighbors and were overwhelmed with how nice the people were to them.  The pace of life in Alleghany County  was a good fit for them. With each trip, the pull to move here full-time became stronger.

In 2014, Andy floated the idea to his boss of moving to North Carolina and working remotely with the company.  The boss said they could work it out though it may require move travel.  During Nathan’s spring break that year they came to Alleghany County.  Nathan spent two days visiting Alleghany High School.  The staff showed him around and let him experience the school.  When Andy and Vicky asked how he liked it, Nathan enthusiastically said that he loved it.


They found a house for sale near their property.  The owners were looking to downsize and offered the house complete with furnishings.  The Kakas’ house in Florida was on the market for five days when they received a cash offer.  Vicky also works remotely, helping patients in Florida navigate from doctor through insurance carriers to medical specialists.  Andy says that the ease in which all the pieces came together tells him one thing that’s certain -Alleghany County is where God wants their family to call home.



Cody Hamm – Alleghany Office Supply

As we move through life, our experience of dealing with adversity and trials tend to add to our faith that things will ultimately turn out well.  We learn over time that the worry that led to sleepless nights as a teenager barely generate a raised eyebrow later in life.  But leaving a steady job to start a business can cause considerable angst regardless of age.  Cody Hamm recently made that step with confidence and isn’t looking back.

Cody is an Alleghany County native who grew up in the Whitehead/Pine Swamp community.  He graduated from Alleghany High in 2011 and moved on to the Alleghany Center of Wilkes Community College (WCC).  He completed an associate’s degree in business administration at the Alleghany Center and he says with a certain sense of local pride that he, “Never set foot on the main campus of WCC.”


Cody Hamm

His work path wound from Lowes Food in Sparta to work as an accountant at Truline Truss and then at Pioneer Eclipse.  While at Pioneer, local businessman DW Miles suggested that Cody consider opening an office supply business.  Cody took the advice to heart and opened Alleghany Office Supply in Trojan Village.

The location of his business is perfect for Cody.  It is a spot with established shopping traffic. His wife, Mackenzie, works with Blue Ridge Cardiology and can walk down to assist in the store on her lunch break or after her work day ends.  Cody’s mom also helps out and covered the store while he was still at Pioneer Eclipse.  But there came a moment when Cody had to decide if he was serious about owning a business or just flirting with the idea.  On June 13, 2016 Cody took what he acknowledges as a scary step – he left the security of working for someone else for the unknowns of entrepreneurship.

At first glance, it would appear that Cody has stepped into an unwinnable situation.  Office supplies are readily available online from a multitude of sources.  Box stores carry shelves of supplies.  A Virginia based company has customers in this area.  When asked how he plans to succeed in an extremely competitive market, Cody says that his plan is to build trust with local businesses and organizations that he can deliver quality office supplies to their door at a price that is comparable to that found online.  His hope is to capitalize on the desire to support local business and help grow the county’s economy.

His advice on starting a business? Don’t be afraid of that first step. He points out that many people have good ideas, but fear keeps them from putting those ideas to work.  He is convinced that if this venture doesn’t work out, he will take the lessons learned and move on to the next challenge.

So the question that begs an answer is, “How does a 23 year-old who has lived his entire life n Alleghany County make this kind of life altering decision?

For Cody the answer is simple – he relies on his spiritual faith.  He says with no hint of doubt that, “God won’t let me down.”  This is not to say that he feels God is guaranteeing his financial and business success.  No, Cody understands that all of his life experiences are preparing him for a higher calling.


Cody and Mackenzie Hamm

Cody is currently the youth pastor at the Full Gospel Church of Sparta.  His grandfather is the pastor there and his other grandfather is a Baptist minister.  Cody’s long-term goal is to go into the ministry full-time.  He views the office supply business as simply a vehicle to help make that goal a reality.  Cody Hamm is a young man with plans for both immediate and eternal impact.

As he speaks and sings in area churches, Cody will continue to build his business.  He is developing a website where he can sell products via the Internet.  His current sales are roughly 25% in-house retail (store sales) and 75% customer accounts.  He is making the rounds throughout the county, calling on potential customers pitching service and quality products to local businesses.

A common refrain in rural counties is that there are limited job opportunities for our youth.  However, a look around Alleghany will expose numerous young men and women like Cody Hamm who are carving out a niche and creating opportunities for themselves.  A question we have to consider is whether we will support their efforts.


Cody Hamm can be reached at 336-572-2592 or at

Alleghany Office Supply is located at 665 South Main Street #15, Sparta, NC 28675

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