By Sylvia Crum
Since 1995, Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) has been working in Central Appalachia to further its mission to transition Appalachia to a more resilient economy and a healthier population by supporting local agriculture, exploring new economic opportunities and connecting people with healthy food. In the beginning ASD worked exclusively in 15 counties in northeast TN and southwest VA. Today the work has expanded to include eastern WV and KY and southeast OH.
ASD’s goal is to collaborate with a variety of partners to significantly expand the impacts to rural, economic development by leveraging the intersections between agriculture, economic development, community building and health. ASD feels that agricultural strategies play a key role in that transition. By partnering inside and outside of the region, ASD simultaneously addresses workforce development, economic development and food insecurity in Appalachia, where 1 in 5 citizens are at or below the federal poverty line.
Amidst food insecurity and poverty, Appalachia has bountiful natural resources, including ample water, a history of agriculture and the advantage of being within a 500 mile radius of more than 50% of the US population. There is a great demand for agricultural products, and in our region there is an available workforce and land and resources to meet that demand. ASD has over 2 decades of experience working with farmers, and traditional and non-traditional agricultural partners. ASD works to strengthen local and regional economies by helping beginning farmers focus on building their farming businesses and plans around market demand. ASD continues to expand its work and have greater impact through larger projects that involve numerous partners who value strong local food cultures, public health and economic development.
Agriculture and immediate opportunities for local farmers
ASD believes in a multi-layer strategy to build rural food systems at the local level while also bringing urban dollars back into rural areas by providing interested farmers with access to large east coast markets. In 2000 ASD created Appalachian Harvest, a food hub which connects small and medium scale produce farmers with large wholesale markets. To support these small scale farmers, ASD offers farmers training, technical assistance, marketing, and aggregation and distribution services.
Total revenue generated since 2000 is well over $14MM. Appalachian Harvest represents an immediate opportunity for farmers, as demand has historically exceeded supply by 100 to 200%.
For farmers interested in direct market opportunities, ASD helped launch the Appalachian Farmers Market Association (AFMA) in 2008. AFMA is a volunteer association that produces an annual food guide (15,000 pieces), and also supports the creation and sustainability of farmers markets through training and technical support. AFMA encourages the use of SNAP/EBT benefits at local farmers markets for low income populations, to help them increase access to fresh healthy food while helping small, local farmers earn income. ASD also operates programs that educate farmers (and market gardeners) on food safety, organic certification, production practices, and business and market plan development.
Addressing Food Insecurity
ASD’s food access programs are designed to promote self-reliance using food production as a means of improving health outcomes while also providing the opportunity to generate income, increase social capital and build community partnerships. In 2004 ASD began Healthy Families – Family Farms, a program which raises money to purchase seconds produce from farmers which it then donates to Feeding America and other food pantries. This program provides local farmers with additional revenue while providing hungry families with nutritious produce.
Since 2004, we have donated more than 1 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.
In 2012, Grow Your Own was added and in 2013, Garden Box Project was launched. Both programs teach people how to grow food in home-based, community, school and club gardens or in small, raised garden boxes on stands. Since 2012 these programs have helped local families grow over 80K pounds of food. In 2017 we launched the Practically Perfect program with national partner, Wholesome Wave, to further increase food access points for low to moderate income populations and to provide farmers with additional ways to earn income. Created as a 3 year pilot project, Practically PerfectTM produce is being piloted at a 30% discounted price at 4 local grocers in 2017, expanding to over 20 by 2019.
You can help ASD continue its important work! Visit: www.asdevelop.org to learn more, volunteer or donate.
About Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD)
Nationally known and respected for its commitment to local farmers, Appalachian Sustainable Development is transitioning Appalachia to a more resilient economy and a healthier population by supporting local agriculture, exploring new economic opportunities and connecting people with healthy food. Since 1995, ASD has served 15 counties in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. As ASD’s work continues, it will expand its focus to include regional partnerships that build important connections to increase market access and bring necessary resources to the rural communities in its physical footprint. ASD operates programs that create jobs in farming and agriculture and address food insecurity. To learn more, go to asdevelop.org or visit Facebook or Twitter.