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 focused exclusively on 15 counties in northeast TN and southwest VA. Today the works has expanded to include eastern WV and KY and southeast OH. ASD uses 5 strategies: closing the knowledge gap, increasing local food production, developing markets, increasing distribution of local agriculture products, engaging strategic partners, and researching/consulting and advising.
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. 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 the region has the available workforce, land and resources to meet demand. For more than 20 years, ASD has been working with farmers and other agricultural partners and is committed to strengthening local and regional economies by helping beginning farmers focus on building their farming businesses and plans around market demand.
Agriculture as an Economic Development Driver
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 markets. In 2000, ASD created Appalachian Harvest, a food hub, which connects small/medium scale produce farmers with large wholesale grocers. To support these farmers, ASD offers training, technical assistance, marketing, aggregation and distribution services. Since 2000, Appalachian Harvest has generated over $13MM in revenue. Appalachian Harvest represents an immediate opportunity for farmers, as demand has historically exceeded supply by 100 to 200%.
For farmers who wish to pursue direct markets, ASD launched the Appalachian Farmers Market Association (AFMA) in 2008. AFMA, a volunteer association, produces an annual food guide of 15,000 pieces and supports farmers markets with training and technical support. AFMA also implements SNAP/EBT benefits at local farmers markets for low-income populations to increase their access to fresh healthy food, help local farmers earn income, and create social connections. In addition, ASD 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 from the community to purchase seconds produce from farmers which it then donates to Feeding America food banks and other food pantries. This program provides local farmers with additional revenue for their seconds (which otherwise would not likely be harvested) while providing hungry families with nutritious produce. Since 2004, ASD has 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 families grow over 65K pounds of food. In July, ASD launched the Practically PerfectTM program with national partner, Wholesome Wave, to further increase food access points for families and to provide farmers with additional income streams. Created as a three year pilot project, produce is being sold at a 30% discount at four local grocers now, expanding to over 20 outlets by 2019.
Over the last two years ASD has merged programs that address food insecurity with work to educate beginning farmers and is now filling a new farmer pipeline and creating more economic opportunities for youth, veterans, inmates re-entering the workforce, and others.
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.
For more information about ASD, go to: www.asdevelop.org, facebook / twitter, or call 276-623-1121.