Hand in Hand - Building a Food System by Accompaniment and Participatory Organizing
We seek to refine a model of food system development that utilizes accompaniment and community development theory as an organizing strategy.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, Inc.
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Farmer Co-Op or Farmer Business Organization: Maple Syrup Producers Association, Pocahontas County Farms Market, WV Raw Dairy Association
Small Company: Rt. 18 Farm Market, Blue Ridge Bee Company, Camp Run Farm, Dragonfly Farm,
Trail 12 BBQ, Vagabond Kitchen,
Small NGO: WV Community Development Hub, WV Center for Budget and Policy, Sprouting Farms,
Grow Ohio Valley, Linwood Alive, Reconnecting McDowell
Large NGO: Robert C. Byrd Institute
Youth Organization: McDowell Youth Producers Association, Patch 21
Research Institution: WVU Center for Resilient Communities, WVU Extension Family Nutrition SNAP-Ed Program, WVU Extension Agents, Future Generations University
Government: Ritchie County Economic Development Authority, Region 1 Planning and Development Council, City of Princeton, City of Wheeling, Town of Cowen, Clay County Business Development Authority,
City of Spencer, WV Department of Agriculture, Appalachian Regional Commission
Investment Organization: Reinvestment Fund
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Charleston, West Virginia, United States of America
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
West Virginia, a state in the United States of America, has an area of 24,038 square miles/62,258 square kilometers.
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
The West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition’s relationship to West Virginia is one of deep community organizing roots and closeness with players in the local food system. West Virginia farmers and food-based businesses are at the heart of every single thing we, as an organization, accomplish. We participate in our own food system creation while on and off the clock. We walk hand in hand with the communities we serve - accompanying them, learning from them, and working towards giant dreams together. Their success is our success and we are there as cheerleaders, coaches, and resource providers every step of the way. We know our communities well and can meet them exactly where they are. While building relationships to host a farm-to-table dinner in an area of the state where nobody said it could be done; we’ve sat next to a farmer at 2 am while his wife was in the hospital to provide support; and, we’ve fought hard in Charleston for legislation that provides food for our most vulnerable populations all while laughing and crying alongside them.
West Virginia is a challenging place to engage in fair and equitable food system development, and yet, we do so every day. We are constantly evolving, shifting, and growing new relationships to build strong and resilient local food systems in the state. We work together as a team, with our partner organizations, farms, and food-based businesses to highlight the rich fabric of Appalachian food culture and to tell the exciting stories of the food that is grown and consumed in West Virginia. We empower those making change and who are taking great risks to build fair and equitable food systems.
Our relationship with West Virginia is one of giving a voice to those who are not often heard. We ascribe to the idea that it’s more important to build a larger table than to turn people away. Our work and our relationships are often messy, but this is how community, farmer, and small business-driven change happens.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
West Virginia (WV) is a state of remote beauty and deep history. Her people are the descendants of Native American weavers, Scotch-Irish potato farmers, Italian stone workers, African American miners, and Eastern European craftsmen. Born out of the Civil War in 1863, the state was created to provide resources for the Union during the war. Although the motto is “Mountaineers are Always Free”, the people of West Virginia have never truly had control over their own food supply.
Nicknamed “the Mountain State,” the topography is rugged, with the Appalachian range running through much of the area. Rivers and creeks cut through valleys, often flooding. With only five cities populated over 20,000, no area in West Virginia meets the definition of urban.
The state contains 55 counties that make up several regions, each of which has its own distinct personality. The northern panhandle matches culturally to the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Historically, there has been a large number of manufacturing jobs creating steel beams and other products utilized in construction. The eastern panhandle is primarily agricultural with many contract poultry producers and with its close proximity to both the Baltimore and Washington DC markets. Recently, much of this historic farmland was purchased by land developers and turned into high-end housing. The central region of the state has a mixture of hardwood production, agriculture, and chemical and salt manufacturing. Farmers primarily raise beef and poultry, but there has been a recent influx of produce growers on a small scale. The southern part is known as the southern coalfields, which once produced enough coal that powered the entire eastern seaboard.
The state is known for its high poverty rates, the area is built on extractive economics, in past generations it was not uncommon for families to get creative with their food for survival. Whether a pepperoni roll from Fairmont or the mortgage lifter tomato, created in Logan, the state boasts many unique food cultures. Additionally, the Mountain State is home to Appalachian vinegar pie, chili and slaw hot dogs, ramps, morel mushrooms, chow-chow, skillet cornbread with pinto beans, and buckwheat pancakes.
While these foods are part of our culture, the extreme prevalence of fast food and limited access to grocery stores, combined with persistent poverty, have led to incredibly poor health outcomes. West Virginia ranks first in adult diabetes, first in adult obesity, second in childhood obesity and second in percentage of the population diagnosed with heart disease, according to the 2018 State of Obesity report. In order for both health and the economy to stabilize, it is imperative that we as a state provide culturally appropriate foods that are healthy, fresh, and locally produced so that wealth is generated and stays in the state.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The challenge across the state of West Virginia (WV) is the lack of control communities have over the decisions being made that directly impact their own lives. Thus, we have a restricted ability to influence the food system. Many food system challenges can be tied back to a culture of power struggle and out-of-state corporate interests. Without interventions that shift power into the hands of residents, power-holding individuals will continue to be the only voices heard. Historically, extractive industries have left our communities impoverished and desolate, while maintaining a strong voice in state-level policy decisions.
WV has a history of power-struggle, from the March on Blair Mountain where coal miners demanded better working conditions to advocates fighting for clean water in their streams and rivers. One example of this is found within the planning of our local infrastructure. In other regions of the country, communities are often involved in the decisions about the location of transit systems, however, throughout West Virginia, the people are not consulted. This resulted in the location of interstate systems to run through historically African American neighborhoods, decreasing the value of those neighborhoods.
Loose regulations on extractive and chemical industries allow pollution in our water and soil. Much of the flat land was created by strip mining, which leaves behind rocky, acidic soil. The water in West Virginia is not clean due to acid mine drainage and this affects the ability to farm the land. Today, fracking has continued to destroy accessible, clean waterways and is further limiting the amount of available land to farm. Existing farmland is either too expensive for beginning farmers or being purchased by out-of-state developers for housing Washington D.C. commuters. Additionally, lack of investment in technology, cell towers, and broadband internet across the state has left West Virginia residents and entrepreneurs void of the opportunity to access resources and markets to grow food and farm businesses.
This history leaves us wary of putting trust into government, outsiders, or new systems-driven approaches. Communities have struggled to determine for themselves which direction might lead to improvements. The combination of all of these challenges has caused residents to be reticent toward entrepreneurial endeavors, this is an issue across all sectors, but small business is what is needed to economically grow our state and feed our communities. The economic reality is that viable options in farming seem daunting and access to markets and consumers is literally an uphill battle. Fresh fruit and vegetable access is limited especially in rural areas where 33% of people living in a food desert and over 70% of the population live more than 10 minutes from a grocery store. Grocers offering fruits and vegetables are leaving rural areas exacerbating this challenge. West Virginia was once positively characterized by self-sufficiency, supportive community, knowledge of how to grow our own food, and courage to take on risk. We are losing our collective knowledge of self-reliance, and soon it will be completely lost.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
We envision the year 2050 as one in which communities have power, and people not only have access to food but choices from where to purchase it. West Virginians working and living in our state will have taken back power thereby making decisions that create more equity within the local economy and food system. Small family farms and food businesses are able to make a living feeding their communities. Clean water, rich soil, and adequate land support our farmer and food-entrepreneurs.
The big question is how does power shift from a few West Virginians and corporations to being held within the community. We believe the solution lies in a strategy that encourages individual and community voices to be heard while walking alongside people as they make strides to become leaders developing businesses, changing policy, and creating systematic improvements to local and state governance. WV Food & Farm Coalition (the Coalition) uses the theory of accompaniment in every aspect of our work. Described best as the intentional practice of being present with an individual or group, accompaniment emphasizes processes and relationships over outcomes. Modeled after the Partners in Health, a global health organization focused on social justice in healthcare, the Coalition uses this theory focusing on social justice in the food system. We are committed to walking hand-in-hand with individuals and communities as we navigate food systems development together. We will stay as long as the community or individuals desire for the relationship to continue.
Through accompaniment, we have already seen changes that can make this vision a reality. The Coalition continually seeks to bring people with similar interests together to build bigger projects than what they can accomplish alone. In the past two years, we have supported the creation of several groups, one centered around local food education for chefs, WV Cooks; and, the other around rural grocer models. Both the chefs and rural grocers are working with local growers to production plan in order to purchase as many products from West Virginian farmers as possible. As a result, our foodshed coordinators, the staff members specifically tasked with walking daily in accompaniment with their community, are working with groups of family-owned, independent farms collaborating to develop cooperatives.
Farmers increase their power as they organize into associations and cooperatives. They increase their ability to influence policy, demanding access to clean water, incentives for farmland protection, and access to broadband internet. They increase their ability to access supplies and place their products into bigger supply chains, growing their fiscal bottom line. They are inherently producing culturally appropriate foods that are healthy and fresh and doing exactly what they want to be doing: feeding their communities.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
It’s 2050 and a few years back our home state stopped hemorrhaging its population, in fact, our population started to grow. We’ve seen boomerang children return and bring others home with them. We’ve seen an influx of young farmers relocate to this state. These young people have found a home in West Virginia because it’s a place that is politically, environmentally, and economically hospitable to farmers.
Through many years of intense advocacy work at the state capitol, food-business entrepreneurs and consumers joined together to pass state legislation which encouraged an upturn in agricultural livelihoods. Innovative tax-incentives to keep farmland in production and encourage succession planning. As a result, young farmers have discovered places to farm. In addition, the state appropriated funding that subsidizes farmers to grow food for the state’s most vulnerable populations, such as seniors, children, and individuals with disabilities. Groups of farmers and others from across many sectors came together to demand clean water necessary to grow healthy crops. These courageous advocates also demanded access to cellular service and broadband internet, so that businesses could expand their market reach.
Even the smallest of rural communities have local stores where shelf-stable foods and fresh produce can be purchased, regardless of income level. With access to technology and the generous supply of fresh foods, people are using these inputs in unconventional ways and are experimenting with them in the larger, untapped markets.
Above all else, when a community problem is identified, whether it’s identified as one in a food system, community health, or economics, the community knows how to solve it. A culture of perpetually learning and re-learning how to solve community problems has evolved. The community knows how to come together to make a community-driven, community-informed plan, seek the needed resources, and implement the plan.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
We begin this vision with a true story - it’s one that we’ve heard over and over again in West Virginia. Lucas has recently fallen back in love with his home state of West Virginia, after having lived for 10 years outside of the state, chooses to return home. Like many of our boomerang children, he cannot explain why - there’s just something that draws him back. He wants to farm, and not participate in the extractive industrial economy the state is still married to. His parents support Lucas by offering his old bedroom temporarily. It’s all that they can provide. They grew a garden when Lucas was little but they do not have the land or space that a farming enterprise requires. Lucas’ dream is a diversified farm operation with several different types of livestock, a strong community supported agriculture program, and direct to restaurant sales.
Upon returning home, Lucas attends several farming conferences where he meets up with agencies and nonprofits who promise to help with conventional farm financing, education related to livestock and help with growing sweet corn. Lucas sits down at his parents’ kitchen table, distraught that his voice was not heard, but understands that these service providers have one idea of agriculture that differs from his. Lucas learns that his credit score does not qualify him for a farm loan. He attends a workshop being taught five hours away on a Tuesday at noon, but the county extension agent isn’t teaching about organic controls because their funding doesn’t allow for it. Lucas is starting to lose sight of his dreams.
The West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition (the Coalition) is working to break down and challenge existing systems in the state to build an entirely new food system - one whose priorities and agendas are informed by the farmers, businesses, and communities we serve.
In the year 2050, West Virginians will be able to make a living working in agriculture and all West Virginia residents will have access to foods that help them thrive instead of simply survive. This is a bold statement, and it is also a variation on the statement that guides our organization’s vision - we seek to refine a model of food system development that utilizes accompaniment and community development theory. This is something we have been working on for a decade, in one of the hardest regions of the country.
The Coalition has a history of convening stakeholders, community members, and seemingly unrelated groups into conversations surrounding the local food system and its development in West Virginia. We will continue to do this work, both in smaller regions as well as statewide in order to further our food system vision. We will find joy and inspire others to find joy in building their local food systems. We will celebrate wins, and elevate the voices doing the work in our communities.
Imagine a system that raises locals into leadership roles within their own communities and utilizes the Tupelo model of community development. This model, brought forth by Vaughn Grisham, places local control at the heart of it and operates by the following guiding principles:
· Local people solve local problems
· Every person is treated as a resource- Community development process begins with the development of people
· The goal is to help people help themselves
· Meet the needs of the whole community by starting with the poorest members as partners in solution creation, not recipients of top-down efforts
· Leadership is important and must include organization and structure
· Must be done both at the local level and the regional level for prime results
· Never turn the development process over to an agency which does not involve the people of the community
· Expenditures for development are an investment
Imagine building a system focused on accompaniment-at every step of the way, there is somebody to help and guide individuals who are working to make a radical change in our food system by participating in it. Used primarily in health work and piloted by Dr. Paul Farmer with Partners in Health in Haiti, community workers accompany patients to the hospitals or clinics to aid in navigating a sometimes-complex system of specialists, doctors, and technicians. In essence, the worker walks alongside the patient to remove barriers to good health and to aid in the discovery of tools for improved health. The worker also knows, through his or her personal relationship with the patient, the entire patient’s health story. This allows the worker to act as an advocate for the patient’s needs.
Borrowing from the Tupelo model and combining it with accompaniment, we see a food systems development practice which raises up local community members as guides for other farmers, business owners, and the community itself in navigating the tangled web of resources, agencies, and regulations which exist to serve the local food community. By pouring knowledge, experience, and support into these community leaders, who then walk with our food systems players and meet them at their experience level, we will see a transformation in the way West Virginians work. This culture shift and democratic transfer of knowledge and power are central to our model’s success.
We’ve already started this important work with a 2018 Appalachian Regional Commission POWER grant (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) to support economic development work in 17 of the state’s 55 counties. The Coalition has staff members who are trained in community coaching around food systems which are placed geographically into foodsheds. In most cases, these foodshed coordinators are both from those communities and are participants in their own local food system as farmers themselves. Additionally, we have a food equity director and a placemaking coordinator who are practicing community coaching principles and accompanying communities and individuals on their own food systems journeys.
Imagine now that our frustrated farmer Lucas has access to the Coalition’s staff. A foodshed coordinator would drive to Lucas’ house or meet him for coffee and listen to his vision for his own life and community. She would listen to Lucas’ farm dreams, his history of growing the best cherry tomatoes in his 4-H club, and his frustrations with moving back to his childhood bedroom. The coordinator would listen to Lucas’ desire to grow for a prescription produce program so that he can play a role in his community’s health.
After this initial meeting, she starts contacting individuals who can help Lucas. She emails our food equity director to schedule a phone call and to ask her to pull the latest policies around food equity financing and investment. The coordinator then attends that call with Lucas and supports him by asking questions that he has not yet imagined. Lucas learns about funding reserved for beginning growers in food equity programs. The coordinator connects Lucas with other farmers who are also growing for health-oriented programs near him so that the group can collaborate. She facilitates the first few meetings that help the team develop a plan for a prescription produce program. During these meetings, all of the growers make sure there’s adequate space in Lucas’ and other growers’ land to meet the demands of the expanding program.
Along the way, she encourages the team to visit with potential recipients of this program and to learn about what they would enjoy eating the most and about how they prepare their food. Involving those consumers most affected by the business decisions assures that the project is a good fit for the community.
The season begins and Lucas plants his tomatoes. Because of his personal relationship with the foodshed coordinator, when things go better than planned, she receives a call asking if there are any markets for extra tomatoes. The coordinator, relying on her deep knowledge of the area, gives Lucas several restaurants and offers to accompany him on his visits. This is the relationship the coordinator has with all of her farmers and business owners in the multi-county foodshed.
At the end of the long, rewarding season, Lucas asks his coordinator if she knows of any land that he could lease for next year. The two set out on a new adventure to allow him to expand at his pace and at his income level.
This approach to food systems development may be messy and slow going at times, but it assures that the development work continues and that the decision-making power rests within community-driven processes with local individuals. This culture shift will transform the food system in West Virginia to empower community members to engage at all levels.
Environmentally, our vision supports small diversified farmers and small business owners, which according to The Regenerative Organic Alliance is the way to return our soils and waterways to pristine conditions. Our vision improves the central Appalachia diet by getting more fresh unprocessed food in the hands of those that need it most. We are working to build a local food-based economy with our communities so that we have good jobs and employment for generations to come - we all have to eat and food is central to the Appalachian culture. Culturally, our vision preserves our foodways and traditions while shifting power from a select few into the hands of our farmers, small business owners, and community members. This approach will allow us to design a technology future for West Virginia which works for small business owners and allows us access to larger markets and a regional food system. Throughout this entire process, we will continue to advocate for communities and design good policy solutions with our farmers and food-based business owners which affect the health and economy of our state. Our vision streamlines and simplifies policies that were created by those outside of the sector for those operating a local food-based business.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Appalachian Regional Commission
Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.
The West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition (WVFFC) partnered with fellow WV semi-finalist Sprouting Farms to produce a single, well-informed, and articulated vision for our 2050 food system. Though the work of both organizations differs, our ultimate vision is similar. We wish to foster a food system that is owned and operated by the people who live here and to see policies, infrastructure, and training implemented so that our farmers, food entrepreneurs, and ancillary industries may earn a living wage.
While the team planned for more than thirty stakeholder meetings to further define this vision – ideas that were informed by years of work on the ground, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to creatively reframe how we collected information and feedback. Technology became the sole means through which we gathered our data, including phone and Zoom interviews with farmers, food businesses, adolescents, municipal leadership, university extension, and other organizational partners.
Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).
Sprouting Farms/Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective
West Virginia University Center for Resilient Communities
McDowell County Youth Producers Association
Future Generations University
Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.
Originally, the Vision 2050 team was planning to conduct stakeholder engagement meetings where participants could discuss and envision their future for West Virginia, using a true community-driven framework. The Vision 2050 team would then aggregate all of the information collected from these meetings into a single vision, then publicly share this vision for more input. More than twenty stakeholder meetings were scheduled when the COVID-19 pandemic halted both travel and gatherings. The team adapted by shifting from in-person collaboration to a technological, interview-style format.
Our team created an interview guide to conduct one-on-one conversations with target populations throughout the state. Once we identified stakeholders, we began interviews, inquiring about stakeholders’ food system visions, key assets, and obstacles. We noticed participants were struggling to envision the future- the panic stemming from the pandemic made any kind of future seem impossible. So, our team adapted again. We conducted multiple shorter calls with those same stakeholders to develop a full understanding of their vision. The team conducted conversations via Zoom with groups of teen and youth farmers so they, too, could reveal their ideas.
The Vision 2050 team sees its role as purely facilitative - it's our job to incite this visioning process, then provide the resources and infrastructure necessary for making it come true. Our vision has been woven by the individuals and groups who were kind enough to share their thoughts with us. We collectively interviewed over 100 people ranging in age from 8 to 83, urban and rural producers, business owners, elected leaders, residents, and those who are living with and serving organizations that respond to food insecurity. Even 17-year-old Meredith, the farm manager with the McDowell Co. Youth Producers Association and Karen Milnes from Future Generations University jumped into the project to help develop visuals to represent the vision.
What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.
For several years, it has been the mission of the Vision 2050 team to work on-site with communities in building a grassroots-level, resilient food system for West Virginia. Throughout our time in the field, we have identified the following signals and trends that are guiding our 30-year vision:
· Student loan forgiveness programs for young farmers - Over the past 2-3 years, our team has given substantial attention to this very real possibility. In July 2019, for the first time, the Student Loan Forgiveness for Farmers and Ranchers Act was federally introduced. Such a policy would be valuable as the need for younger farmers continues to grow.
· Communities investing in aggregation points - Sprouting Farms, a vital partner of the Vision 2050 team, is spearheading the nascent beginnings of smaller aggregation points around the state in efforts to improve efficiency and access to growers. Such a project hinges around the need to overcome the current cultural obstacles, such as lack of trust, that prevent farmers from working with one another. It is imperative to improve the foundation trust necessary for cooperative business models.
· The “Buying Local” COVID-19 Response - The current increase in sales of local agriculture products serves to illustrate just how broken our global industrial food system really is. Individuals are now becoming more open to conversations about keeping supply chains local, especially considering the direct impact they now feel from the global hierarchy. However, the challenge is becoming obvious: keeping individuals engaged in these conversations while keeping local food affordable and convenient.
· A 5% local buying requirement for institutions - This legislation, which passed during the 2018 legislative session, marked the first time the state of West Virginia made a tangible investment in local agricultural products. Such an investment should create more opportunities for introducing local products into West Virginia’s larger markets.
· Buying power of food security programs - Many of the food security and food access programs in the state are purchasing from local growers in serving their target audiences, whether these are youth-based farmers' markets, senior boxes, or produce prescription programs.
· Appalachian Culture - The arts and foodways of the region have become increasingly present in the restaurant scene of the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Over the past three years, chefs such as Mike Costello of Lost Creek, WV, and Travis Milton of Castlewood, VA have created entirely successful business models around showcasing heritage and heirloom Appalachian foods.
· The 2018 Passage of the Cottage Food Bill – This bill has led to an increased interest in creating value-added foods that are specific to the geographic area. Producers are looking for their next market beyond the farmer's markets and, in many cases, are being led to producing value-added products.
Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).
This graphic was made by 17-year-old Meredith, who is the 2020 farm manager for the McDowell Co. Youth Producers Association. Meredith was not only a stakeholder in vision development but took the time to read the entire vision to get a full picture of what she needed to create.
Right now, a beet is currently being harvested from the hillside on a plot of land being tended to by a young, aspiring farmer, thanks to a local community apprenticeship program. This beet has now received the nutrients that it needed to grow from compost and components added to the soil. On this day, the young farmer’s work has paid off - the beet was packed with hundreds more just like it, and will be hauled to a local aggregation center by the farmers themselves, which will also serve as the site of the day’s local farm cooperative meeting.
Building the cooperative was a challenge in and of itself - after nearly twenty years of establishing its legitimacy, it is now home to some of the newest, brightest, and energetic people who have committed themselves to feed their community. Farmers like these are the reason why this singular beet is now cooling off in storage, and will soon feed a family that would have otherwise gone without its nutrients.
The beet, and hundreds of other additional goods, are now being moved to a truck that belongs to another member of the cooperative who will be delivering the beet to a larger distribution facility a few counties away. Once arriving, state cooperative members will take these goods and load them onto larger box trucks, where they will then transport the goods over the mountains to customers in West Virginia and beyond to the larger Appalachian region.
This particular beet will be sold to a restauranteur, who will then use it to craft salads that will feed the community’s residents and visitors in search of authentic cuisine. The beet’s flavor is enriched by the other elements of this particular hearty spring salad, not to mention the delicious dressing that will make it all the more delectable. The salad will be shared by a family that has been out hiking, enjoying the day, and investing in this community’s rich heritage. Part of this very beet ends up on the plate of a little girl who asks her mom, “How do beets grow?”
Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?
Given West Virginia’s long history of environmental degradation - mainly through the removal of the land’s native resources through mining and natural gas extraction - the Vision 2050 team has made it their mission to mitigate continued resource depletion, and to develop a sustainable local food system using what natural assets remain.
West Virginia offers two unique opportunities that the state’s agricultural food system will embrace: the state is (1) home to 12 million acres of wooded forest land, and has a long history of engaging in “forest farming,” and (2) can grow crops not currently grown sufficiently, or in bulk, as a result of climate change. Within West Virginia’s forests are a vast array of non-timber forest products. The state's residents have a long history of sustainably harvesting these products to feed their family, neighbors, and to earn additional income. These “non-timber forest products'' showcase a unique connection to Appalachian heritage, as well. Products include ramps, mushrooms, ginseng, goldenseal, and black cohosh, just to name a few. These items have even been used for as medicine through many generations. Through both policy and interactive education, and long-term forestry management, West Virginians will be able to maintain these areas as viable landscapes, preserving the area’s heritage and economic sufficiency for future generations.
Forest management protects the nation’s landscape. By improving forest ecosystems with thinning and prescribed burn practices, producers reduce wildfire risk while growing carbon storage in new vegetation. Innovations such as biochar enable producers to use wooden debris, amounted after wildfires, to create durable charcoal that enhances soil water storage and sustainably traps carbon. West Virginians have the opportunity to collaborate, over the next two decades, in implementing these environmentally sustainable practices around the state through the continued development of various forest farming cooperative initiatives.
Undoubtedly, climate change is a wicked problem. Among its many unintended and inequitable consequences includes the fact that, in the Mid-Atlantic region, some crops will grow more efficiently than others pending longer and warmer summer months.
A “benign” warming trend (moderate warming, and no increase in extreme weather events) will benefit farmers attempting to grow crops that are currently a challenge to produce in the region because of traditionally cooler temperatures.
Crops like watermelons, tomatoes, peppers, peaches, and European red wine grape varieties will flourish in this environment. Though warmer climates will also see an increase in erratic changes in high day or night temperatures that can negatively impact production. The need will be for greater research around adapted crops, such as the tomato, which can yield reduced fruit quality if temperatures exceed 90℉ during critical flowering and pollination periods (Wolfe 2007).
In order to overcome this challenge, our stakeholders see a 2050 where:
People are using farming methods that replenish the soil instead of depleting it. They are using solar power and passive solar methods for extending the growing season (such as high tunnels). Up the hollers, people are growing on hillsides, either by terracing or by partially underground semi-high tunnel operations (for year-round growing). I see much much less plastic and more reusable containers and methods. -- Marilyn Blake, small-scale farmer of L&M Farms
As climate change gradually progresses, and farmers embrace more greenhouse production, they will slowly - over many years - shift to growing produce that can be grown in warmer climates, thereby embracing the inevitable. For years, key partners around the state have been working to implement season extension techniques. Local Natural Resource Conservation Services, in partnership with Sustainable Agriculture in Research and Education teams, have begun investing in such a reality. In fact, in 2007, “no more than 20 high tunnels (greenhouses) were in use…” There was, “more than 150 by 2011,” and more than 250 by 2020 (Jett, 2011). With the use of high tunnels and other structural methods, “we can buffer the crop against our erratic climate and consistently grow a good crop” (Jett, 2011).
Regenerative practices that foster soil, environmental, and human health will come to complement the work of stream and water restoration, and reinvent a built environment that emerged to serve an extractive logic into one that nourishes and fosters community well-being. Edible landscapes in cities and towns will compliment rural spaces that include perennial crops and fruit trees native to the region. Foraging, the hunting and gathering culture that still defines many food sourcing strategies in this region, will flourish as lands are protected and harvesting practices become regulated to sustain long term food security.
Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?
For the last several decades, the United States has sought to engineer their way out of the “food desert” dilemma. Scientists and engineers alike have modified genetics so as to produce foods bolstered with added chemicals and preservatives through both monocropping and importing global goods. In the name of a “quick fix,” this approach has stripped our foods of the essential nutrients needed for healthy consumption. In the name of profit, we have lost the healthy qualities of our foods. To deliver highly nutrient-dense food to the people, you must organize - not engineer - your way out of this dilemma. By 2050, we envision the infrastructure as having been built up and improved to provide healthy food that is accessible and affordable to all.
In 2020, the West Virginia University Extension CARDIAC study interventions found that, in one school in rural McDowell County, over 50% of fifth-graders screened positive for adult levels of high blood pressure. 4 children out of a class of 21 kindergarteners showed signs of Type 2 diabetes. When speaking with food nutritionists/advocates, we understood that, by 2050, they envision:
“newer generations of West Virginians who make healthier food choices, and for the whole of those choices to lead to lower rates of diabetes and hypertension than we currently have in our communities.” “...If we can model and teach today’s youth about their ability to be healthy and choose other alternatives, we can make a difference in their dependence on fast food.”
“Working with the younger generation I see their dependence on fast food, however, most of my students were excited to try whatever we had grown.” --Amanda Miller, McDowell County grade school teacher
Students will grow food on campus and learn about the intricacies of how the food system works. Aggregation/distribution infrastructure exists in enough communities that schools and other institutions can source their fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy from West Virginia producers. Because these items don’t travel long distances, they are harvested at the peak moment of nutrient denseness.
As a result of climate change, disease, policy changes, and an ever-changing environment, our food system of 2050 will have grown into a resilient entity with a life of its own by adapting to an ever-changing world. Our farmers, food businesses, restaurateurs, and community leaders have spent decades working in accompaniment and cooperation with each other - sometimes making tiny shifts, and sometimes seeing huge opportunities in adapting to meet a community need.
If COVID-19 has revealed anything, it’s that the demand for locally-produced food products has increased. However, residents want to purchase these foods at a cheaper price. As economic trends have revealed over the previous decades, Americans want more for less. In theory, regardless of reality, Americans are now staying at home and dining-in more than ever before in recent history; yet, there still exists a large demand for fast, convenient meals that can be heated up and consumed in a matter of minutes. Once Americans return to their daily routines of hustle and bustle, such a trend will most likely increase, and will not disappear any time soon. Thus, farmers have begun to adapt accordingly and are now increasing production. Young people are now seeing a future in farming. Aggregation/distribution hubs care about the resilience of the food system and the health of the community. They, too, are adapting and changing alongside their farmers.
With the pandemic in full swing, farm stands and markets are investing in alternative approaches to reach their target audiences. Among these alternative approaches includes utilizing a local aggregation/distribution collective such as the Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective. To reach our full vision in 2050, farmers and food enterprises will adapt to the changing needs of our community. As policies change, as the environment changes, and as new diseases are introduced, leadership, ingenuity, and innovations exist within the food and agricultural community to adapt their models to meet new challenges.
Another example of adapting includes the common 2050 practice of using food as medicine. By this time, a doctor's first resource or prescription for a patient will be fresh nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables in stock and on hand at the rural clinic or office. Advancement in medication will still be needed for individuals suffering from chronic illnesses; however, for those who are in the early stages of Type 2 diabetes, this prescribed change in diet - paired with the goods readily available on-site - would enhance the accessibility of affordable foods to make a lasting impact.
Our 2050 Vision is reliable, resilient, and able to meet individuals’ nutritional needs in order to improve health metrics throughout the state, ensuring that today’s children - like those of the 2020 CARDIAC study - are living and healthy adults.
Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?
In the year 2020, the workforce and economy of West Virginia heavily rely on extraction. Although coal production has plummeted as an economic base, with less than 3% of the state’s workforce in the industry - and nearly 42% of coal jobs have disappeared since 2005, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission - the state has failed to adequately prepare for the nascent creative economy. Additionally, the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry is continuing its boom throughout north-central West Virginia. This sector employs many out-of-state workers, creating a secondary extractive economy. In essence, there is no “multiplier effect,” meaning that much of the generated income from the gas industry is not circulating through West Virginia- instead, it leaves the state.
Appalachia is steeped in creativity, ingenuity, and tradition. In 2050, these traits continue as part of the identity of our state. Our tourism industry sustainably embraces outsiders who want to raft rivers, hike trails, and spin ATV wheels. When guests are done playing outdoors, they stay in our rented-out home facilities, shop in our downtowns, take a hayride, and eat in our restaurants. It is at our restaurants that our visitors taste the flavors of Appalachia. They taste freshly harvested mortgage-lifter tomatoes and order the mysterious menu item known as chow-chow. They take home a mason jar of apple butter and even sneak a few sips of local moonshine. In order for all this to happen, our community leaders will be investing more into their own people and place, while worrying less about the “bottom dollar.”
In order to regenerate our economy, we’ve created a home where young people see a future. We see a state that invests in its young talents and has addressed the “brain drain” from the previous few decades. In fact, programs like the Generation WV Impact Fellowship first started in 2018, continue to matchmake bright individuals with locally-owned businesses, many of which will become full-time employees at the end of their fellowship. West Virginia will continue to lead the way in National Community Service, with AmeriCorps opportunities for bright current and future West Virginia residents. With over 3400 members in 2020 serving at 500 sites across the state, AmeriCorps continues to attract new talent.
We have protected our farmlands and eliminated the burden off the shoulders of our aging farmers by ensuring that their farmlands remain intact, and are passed on via easements, simple leases, and lease to own agreements. Everyone who wants to become a farmer will have the opportunity through apprenticeships and plot leases on community-owned farms, such as Sprouting Farms and the New Roots Community Farm. Providing alternatives to land access now helps young, aspiring farmers solve one of the two largest obstacles to beginning a career in agriculture and allows all genders to access resources without worrying about lending discrimination that is currently so common throughout the agriculture sector.
Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective will continue to add more farmers and support them by developing wholesale and retail markets. The more farmers who grow food, the more local food can be circulated, contributing to our economy. In order to support the food system and farmers in production planning, aggregation, distribution, training, and many other activities, there will be careers in food systems support roles. These roles help organize the system and communicate across sectors. Co-op, educational, and incubator farms will help to rejuvenate the agricultural economy, teaching people to begin farming businesses and others how to grow much of their own food.
We have listened to growers who insist on giving their produce away, understood what they value, and helped them embrace a business model that works for them. Social enterprises - which balance people, planet, and profit - will be utilized as a model for business development. Backyard and urban style growers will be organized into formal and informal cooperatives, increasing access to markets beyond small Community Supported Agriculture projects and occasional farmers market booths.
The Vision 2050 team has worked with individuals in rural communities to develop value-added product recipes, particularly those that come with family heritage stories, and helped communities develop manufacturing areas where these products can be made. Our community-based staff will have worked with farmers to produce a production plan in support of these new product lines. We have moved supply chains for these products close to the manufacturing point, further increasing local dollar circulation.
Perhaps most importantly, the Vision 2050 team has built confidence and pride in our state’s agriculture community. We have accompanied new and seasoned farmers on their journey to economic sustainability while also respecting the land and resources that make our state so special.
Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?
In the year 2050, the rich cultural heritage of West Virginia and the larger Appalachian region will be preserved through the celebration and elevation of the narrative of our unique history, stories of which are completed through the consumption of local foods. Our 2050 Vision will celebrate our deeply-rooted history while challenging us to ponder the future in confronting some behaviors and cultural norms, which have only harmed our social and economic well-being.
Events such as the Lenten Fish Fry at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church on the West Side of Charleston will continue to improve community relations, all the while embracing the food traditions of the past. This annual celebration, held every Friday of Lent since the early 1980s, intertwines traditions and recipes from the historically African American neighborhoods of the West Side, the Italian and Scotch-Irish working-class communities, and everybody in between. Every week, over 400 individuals enjoy fish prepared three different ways, West Virginia sweet slaw, and a myriad of delicious desserts. First created to support the school affiliated with the St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, the Fish Fry now unites the greater West Side community for a common purpose: to support one another in building something greater than itself through food.
The difference in 2050 is that it is commonplace and easy for events like the St. Anthony’s Fish Fry to source raw ingredients from within the state at any time of year. In fact, the Vision 2050 team will have utilized community-based coordinators to assist with production planning and contract development specifically for these heritage events. Our staff and partners will work as the translators between event kitchen staff, many of whom are volunteers, and farmers, in order to make this happen. These events will be attended by visitors who miss home and crave connections to it, and also by those who are just getting to know West Virginia and this amazing story.
We are proudly and lucratively showcasing our unique Appalachian foods in a larger market beyond our neighborhoods and community dinners. The recipes and stories of “Desperation Foods”, such as vinegar pie - which was developed to mimic lemon pie during times when lemons are unavailable or cost-prohibitive - are celebrated and retold. These recipes are used in restaurants across the region. Cornbread, made with bloody butcher cornmeal, is regularly served beside pinto beans with sides of chow-chow, cucumber and tomato salad, and finished with a slice of vinegar pie. Desperation recipes are not just stories of survival, but of ingenious innovations in food. Our vision embraces the innovation narrative and builds our food system identity from a framework of abundance.
Friendly businesses, like Two Seeds in a Pod Heirloom Seed Company in northern West Virginia, have helped to preserve our Appalachian heirloom varieties, such as the mortgage lifter tomato and the white half runner bean, in seed libraries throughout the state. At these seed libraries, farmers and gardeners may choose to grow the seeds of their ancestors coming ever closer to their heritage. Here, they can also learn the stories and the history of these varieties to find out that the mortgage lifter tomato was developed by a man called Radiator Charlie in the hollows of Logan County, and that what we know as the Appalachian half runner bean was developed in the rolling terrain of Calhoun County and so named because it was halfway between a bush and pole bean. Farmers will be members of seed co-operatives whose main focus is saving seeds for the next season, ensuring that seeds are around for generations to come and preventing extinction. In this way, we will preserve the larger regional foodshed of Central Appalachia and it will continue to hold the most seed variety diversity for North America.
Our broad definition of culture was crafted with careful intent; we want to be careful in preserving our rich, welcoming, and historic identity while overcoming the traits that have held West Virginia back for too long. West Virginians are proud, hard-working people often described as “stubborn” and “resistant to change.” West Virginians, both old and new, have a hard time asking for help and admitting when things aren’t going as planned. The Vision 2050 team, along with our partners, has spent time listening to community members, business owners, and farmers as they have deliberated to determine what is needed to move the local food sector forward in the state. We have concentrated on listening for what is, and more importantly, what is not being said; we have built grassroots coalitions in areas of food work, and looked for connections between them; we have gently coached individuals, groups, and organizations into becoming the best version of themselves in the food system; and most importantly, we have swallowed our egos and admitted that we, too, do not have all the answers.
Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?
Our food systems vision for 2050 can be summed up in a single word: connectivity. West Virginia’s terrain is rural, rugged, and challenging to navigate- it’s why we are so independent and tradition-minded. Despite this, mountaineers have always connected in unique ways: we have long histories of gathering on front porches, hollering across parking lots, and passing information through communities by word of mouth. And as we always do, we continue to find ways to reach one another in 2050, especially when it comes to introducing our locally-produced and manufactured products into the food system, supporting new growing methods, and connecting consumers to our farms.
Fiber-optic broadband and cell phone service are essential to progress, especially when it comes to food accessibility. Currently, in 2020, the internet is a necessity, much in the same light as brute manpower, clean air, and clean water. During the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen food systems innovations to get locally produced goods into people’s hands, through the use of internet preorders and drive up markets, shipping of items, and reserving produce for pick up later. All of these activities utilize our fragile internet and cell networks within the state, highlighting the gaps. Producers and food hubs may only expand markets when these markets can be reached through online storefronts and electronic communication channels. It has been a part of the WVFFC’s mission to tirelessly assist in resolving the existing cell service and broadband gaps in our communities, especially in rural areas.
By 2050, farmers have developed and prototyped farm equipment designed to work in Appalachia’s’ unique mountainous geography. Farmers will have assumed a leading role in developing ergonomic tools that work for them. Our partner, the Robert C. Byrd Institute has worked one-on-one and hand-in-hand with said farmers in developing their tools, patenting them, and placing them into manufactured production so that others can benefit from the creativity and problem-solving skills of those with lived experience. Our farmers have embraced resilient rotational grazing systems meant for small spaces and are utilizing hydroponics and aquaponics growing systems in our more urban settings to save space and grow indoors. In this way, many new farmers are now connected deeply to their place and able to produce successfully, whether it is 45 acres or 4500 square feet.
Local chef, Anne Hart, envisions that in 2050; the experience of the farmer can now be experienced without leaving your home via an “on-the-farm” simulated virtual reality approach. A family would virtually be connected to a farmer to grow their own food on his land. The farmer would provide a select assortment of seeds for a family to choose from. As the farmer plants the seeds and tends to them throughout the growing process, the family would also be doing so virtually, all in real-time. Once the produce was ready for harvest, the family could do so virtually, as the farmer does so in the field and prepares it for delivery to them. The family would come to understand the intricacy and the complexities of sustainable farming, and have an entirely new appreciation for the food sitting in their refrigerators while feeling connected to the farms where it was grown.
By 2050, our universities will have assisted farmers and performed crop trials on both new and traditional varieties of plants, as well as having modified varieties of heirloom seeds specific to Appalachian growing styles. We will have spearheaded the creation of biodynamic soil amendments for large scale and small farm use, in contrast to the chemical amendments utilized today. More growers will be utilizing beneficial insects as pest control as a result of the current research being done at our land grant universities. Our vision reinvigorates the original mission of the university extension systems, by connecting pertinent research to farmers who then utilize the new systems and processes widely.
In 2050, logistics software has advanced, making local aggregators more efficient than their larger corporate counterparts, especially in running routes through the state’s rugged terrain. Cold storage solutions are rightly-sized for the region’s producers and the markets in which they operate and are owned by the communities in which they sit. The aggregation and distribution of locally-produced foods are seamless and operate in near real-time, with a fleet of community and cooperatively owned trucks who deliver daily to the state’s restaurants, institutions, grocers, and consumers themselves. The seemingly simple looking act of aggregation and distribution literally connects consumers with their food and the food system as a whole.
Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?
West Virginia yields the unique opportunity to be a pioneer in transforming the regional and national food systems by placing people over profit, values over producers, and equity over happenstance. Though the state currently ranks near the bottom of most “quality of life” metrics, the WVFFC as an organization is placed at the epicenter of forging a food culture that will ultimately reverse the historical trends of exploitation and underdevelopment. Despite the challenges presented by constrained resources, remote communities, and high poverty rates, communities across the state have begun facing these perceived limits by planting the seeds for food freedom.
The Vision 2050 team is not advocating for a return to a romantic agrarian past nor a “vote with your fork” middle-class dream; rather, the people of West Virginia are seeking to regain, retain, and remain in control of their food system. We recognize the intricacy and ambition of such a vision and realize that power must be shared rather than solely given or inherited. West Virginia will take ownership of a food system that relies on ecologically sound and sustainable farming methods, where the end product is just as healthy as the growing process.
By 2050, West Virginia communities ensure that the most vulnerable of their populations are protected, and are using their right to take part in defending their collective food and agrarian futures. Policies will be written to prioritize the dreams and needs of those who produce, distribute, and consume food. We will pay particular attention to the voices of those facing food insecurity. This vision repositions West Virginians as key actors in the global food sovereignty movement where food producers and consumers are conscious of the need to ensure a healthier, celebratory, and more equitable future.
By 2025, West Virginia will have a robust workforce prepared for engaging with food system development through vocational and higher education. West Virginians will also be prepared and educated in seeking public office and working to enact policies that affect local food systems development. The state will have instituted an Office for the Right to Food and Nutrition under the purview of the governor. This office ensures that federal and state nutrition dollars are coordinated across the many different state offices currently governing food-related programs. Among the enhancement of other nutrition support programs, the SNAP Stretch Program, a program that doubles SNAP dollars when purchasing West Virginia-grown produce, is funded through the state and institutionalized within state agencies. Public institution procurement policy supports the economies of scale necessary to maintain our expanding food producer cooperatives. This process will guarantee that by 2030 at least 50% of all public food purchases in West Virginia directly support local food enterprises.
By 2050, West Virginians will support multi-level policy changes that better enhance the climate for a stronger food economy. The state will prioritize small, diversified farms instead of monocrop acreage. The Vision 2050 team will work to discontinue the current charitable model of food provisioning for the poor. Rather, we will support the state’s two food banks and their 600 local food charity affiliates to evolve into solidarity food markets that offer a vehicle for food surplus at very low prices to lower-income consumers. While gifting will always be part of West Virginia’s food system vision, the institutionalized charity will become an exceptional and temporary household food sourcing strategy, not a means to strengthen an industrial food system that simultaneously produces waste and hunger.
As of 2018, twenty-five companies owned nearly 18% of West Virginia’s 13 million private acres. Much of the state’s private land is owned by large, absentee corporations, and not a single of the state’s top-ten private landowners are headquartered here. At one time, these dominant landowners were coal, natural gas, and paper companies. Now, the owners are primarily major timber management companies; for example, the North Carolina-based Heartwood Forestland Fund, a timberland investment company that owns 500,366 acres in 31 counties, is West Virginia’s largest landowner.
In 2050, West Virginia’s general and tax policies will de-incentivize absentee ownership, and prioritize in-state stewardship and collective ownership. There will also be support in place for farmland protection incentives for land transfers from the last large generation of farmers to the next. With the proper incentives, hand-in-hand mentorship opportunities will begin to grow and prosper. By 2050, the 2019 Public Loan Forgiveness Act for Farmers and Ranchers will have finally come to fruition, and young farmers are becoming more aware of their benefits and loan repayment options. Younger generations are learning and are encouraged to pursue agriculture independent of family history.
Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.
In the six sections above, we have discussed the distinct themes in connection with our food system vision. It’s challenging to discuss any one section without referencing connections to another. Policy, for example, influences the environment, technology, economy, diets, and culture. Culture, on the other hand, exerts its influence over diets, the economy, and, to a large degree, policy.
Appropriate land stewardship, for example, is both environmental and ideological; yet, it is also rooted in useful policy by rewarding and incentivizing positive land activities. Land stewardship is also rooted in economics; farmers must be able to affordably practice stewardship while still earning a profit off their produce. Land stewardship is also heavily rooted in technology; as technology develops over time, land management techniques should become more ergonomic, feasible, affordable, and efficient.
When it comes to food, policy, sometimes more than the market itself, influences most aspects of our food system. USDA policy dictates the price of milk and subsidizes various commodities. Policy decisions have a direct reaction in practice, which is where we’ve seen, as a nation, the transition to corn and soybean monocropping - which has driven trends in technology such as GPS-enabled combine harvesters.
In 2050, policies will support and incentivize food producers, food manufacturers, and restaurants to produce food that supports healthier and more culturally appropriate diets. These policies may introduce tax credits for locally-owned restaurants instead of tax breaks for chain fast food restaurants. Policies may allow local aggregators and distributors to be subsidized by the state for their work, so that smaller farmers, paying fair wages to their employees, receive better prices for their crops.
From an environmental and climate perspective, in 2050 we will have learned to work with and around our climate utilizing high tunnel and innovative cropping systems. This increased production will lead to better economic opportunities for growers, and better diets as more nutritious food is available in the state. West Virginia University Extension Specialist Dr. Lewis Jett said, “It’s really helped our farm-to-school program,” in reference to the current utilization of high tunnels. This transition has been integral to seasonal extension, finding ways to work around our climate, increased economic opportunity, and has already led to improving the diets of many young people around the state.
Culture is defined as the customs and behaviors of a particular group of people and so it is intertwined with every other lens to examine our vision. It is the culture of a place that drives the environmental decisions, dietary choices, economics of how money is earned, adoption of technology, and the policies which are prioritized.
Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.
The Vision 2050 team, its partners, and stakeholders have identified the following exchanges that may need to occur in the development of our Food System Vision:
The culture of independence vs. cooperation - West Virginians as a whole subscribe to the idea that similar businesses must be competitive by nature, and cannot work collaboratively. This stems from our traditional “rugged individualist” mindset. Mountaineers and farmers separately value their independence, so the behaviors of West Virginia farmers are exponentially more so. Farmers may have to surrender some forms of independence to become more cooperative and must learn to work collaboratively in moving the state’s food system forward. The idea of doing what is best for entire communities of individuals instead of what is best for individual businesses will have to be adopted.
Expectations must be realistic - West Virginia’s food system did not industrialize overnight, and West Virginia’s economy did not collapse in three months. Thus, West Virginians must stop expecting our food system to repair itself in the next 3-5 years. West Virginians need to accept that time and process is everything in implementing this kind of system, and that change, especially cultural change, is very slow. Stakeholders may begin to lose interest if the process stops showing any kind of measurable progress. Additionally, traditional funders often expect results in a 2-5 year cycle which impacts the entire state and food system.
Equity does not equal equality - In order to build a food system that works for all, West Virginians must understand what it means to live equitably and to be supportive of one another’s work financially. Residents may have to change their cultural habits to account for a fair and balanced food system. Local businesses should not strive to establish the jobs or tax dollars that large corporations bring to the municipal table, but should rather strive to provide sustainable and resilient jobs that are reflective of all backgrounds, educations, and human rights.
Realistic broadband and technology - Our elected officials and organizations must determine what the appropriate use of technology looks like in our rural, mountainous areas. West Virginians are, just as they’ve always been, geographically isolated from both outsiders and their own neighbors; such a geographic situation is unlikely to change in the nearer future. With the introduction of technology, leaders must be careful that folklore, “storyweaving,” and cultural communication is not lost, as it defines the Appalachian region and provides economic opportunity, as a whole.
Balance our heritage of sharing with valuing our hard work - all West Virginians must weigh the importance of preserving the Appalachian culture of giving away food or undervaluing our products, with the importance of earning a living wage through local food systems jobs.
3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?
1.) A Community Development Financial Institution, or another lending mechanism formed specifically for West Virginia farmers - this will allow access to capital investment which works with farmers rather than against them. Current lending structures are not feasible for beginning or young farmers, not to mention those with very little or negative credit. This structure would allow farmers and food-based businesses to access small amounts of credit in high-risk business endeavors in order to build credit and business histories, so that larger amounts of credit can be accessed from traditional banks, revolving loan funds, the USDA Farm Service Agency loan programs, and investors.
2.) Aggregation/Distribution Structure - Within the next three years, the Vision 2050 Team should collaborate with fellow partners to establish the local food distribution chain in West Virginia. This includes determining appropriate routes for refrigerated trucks, developing and expanding small aggregation points along said routes, developing the cold chain and produce-safety infrastructure needed for growers; and working to educate farmers on how to use the system to their benefit. This work builds off of the nascent work that Sprouting Farms and Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective have begun in the past 2 years.
3.) Tell the story of local food systems and why they matter - much larger than a “Buy Local” campaign, this initiative seeks to shift the current “Amazon” and “Target” culture to be one of supporting local farmers, restaurants, products, and food-based businesses. Such a culture would be created to drive consumers towards local spending and to inspire young entrepreneurial-minded individuals to consider agriculture or restaurant work as potential career paths. This has been in the public eye during the most recent COVID-19 crisis and supply chain failures, so the team should seize this opportunity.
10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?
Immediately, the Vision 2050 team needs to begin the development of a strategic plan focused on community-owned and controlled food systems. This application is seen as the beginning steps to frame this work.
By 2025, the food sovereignty strategic plan currently under development, with the Vision 2050 team and its partners, will crystallize into two statewide cooperatives that include hundreds of farmers and dozens of rural retailers generating a surplus for reinvestment. The first is a producer cooperative under the Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective (TAFC), and the second is a grocer cooperative under the West Virginia Rural Grocer Network (WVRGN).
Have developed integrated, collaborative workforce training programs; a multidisciplinary workforce that is adaptive to the seasonal food system demand, and integrated into the community and economic development projects, such as the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia.
By 2030, have reformed food and agricultural policy to support local and regional economic development and nutrition programming as well as new and beginning farmers. This will include policies related to the following topics:
Student Loan forgiveness for farmers
School/institutional procurement policy incentives locally prepared meals
Absentee land ownership is de-incentivized
Farmland succession and succession planning is incentivized
By 2030 have clear and documented success stories of the accompaniment model in action with growers, farmers, local food-based businesses, rural grocers, and others who have received coaching and guided support.
By 2030, have worked to shift the narrative around local foods from one of scarcity to one of abundance. Show that local nutritious foods are meant for all consumers in the state.
If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?
The Vision 2050 team envisions that all funds will be invested in expanding infrastructure to further develop the food system. Infrastructure, in this sense, includes both physical infrastructure and social infrastructure - creating access to capital that is tailored to the needs of West Virginia farmers and food businesses.
Current interviews and assessments suggest that West Virginia is in need of more small aggregation points along distribution routes, and smaller trucks and the staffing to serve them. Communities are eager to purchase local food which is reliably delivered from Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective, the sticking point has been having farm product and aggregation points in specific areas of the state. By investing in additional infrastructure, this in turn will develop the cold storage chain and produce-safety needed for increased farmer participation in aggregation and distribution and increase food access across West Virginia.
In response to the need for access to capital, the team envisions developing a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), or another lending mechanism, formed to specifically support West Virginia farms and food entrepreneurs. Current lending structures are not feasible for beginning or new growers, or those with very little credit. This structure would allow farmers and food-based businesses to access small amounts of credit in higher-risk business endeavors in order to build credit and business histories so that larger amounts of credit can be accessed from traditional banks, revolving loan funds, the USDA Farm Service Agency loan programs, and investors. This award would provide us the opportunity to direct all loan monies back into the community at a 100% investment. Additionally, we would be able to leverage additional monies to grow the loan fund quickly to impact more small businesses.
If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?
Within our vision and our current work, our framework and approach are steeped in accompaniment practices. Accompaniment is the idea that we walk alongside our communities and participants in the work for a long time -- until they say that they no longer need us. We are willing to roll up our sleeves alongside community members, farmers, and business owners and do the work that is needed at the time. What we’ve learned from Myles Horton, Paulo Freire, Vaughn Grisham, FUNDAEC, and many others is that walking with, alongside, in accompaniment with community is the way to build community-led, community-driven social change.
We have learned that, particularly in our low-resourced communities, community members sometimes need a “cheerleader.” Sometimes, they need a networker. Sometimes, they need a model to follow. And sometimes, they just need someone to sit with them to empathize as their world is falling to pieces. Often, they need to see examples of someone else making a difference before they can envision themselves making a difference. Often, they simply need connections to resources and someone to help them navigate those resources. Being all of these things, and more, to a community isn’t glamorous, and we often end up on the negative side of criticism. When we've been working very closely with someone, however, and we happen to be the first person that they call when they have a new idea, it is then that this job becomes very, very rewarding.
Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.
Karen Milnes, is a Project Manager for Sweet Opportunities: Tapping West Virginia’s Maple Resource at Future Generations University. She is also an amazing artist. Fun Fact: this document is so high resolution that it could be printed into wallpaper.
The structure of the food system is depicted as an onion because the structure and operation of the processes of equitable systems are iterative and complex and must be layered.
Through this metaphor, the “forces” exert pressure on the food system and each "force" effects processes within the food system. The outer rings of the onion connect to how these “forces” impact “processes.” Each of these “processes” interacts with the “forces” and “stakeholders” creating the layers of a complex system.