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A Vision for the Right to Food in a Food Sovereign West Virginia

Our vision is to see the right to food realized in West Virginia through a food system that fosters food sovereignty.

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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Sprouting Farms

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.

Our team has three organizational frameworks: Food For All Coalition (F4A), Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective (TAFC) and West Virginia Rural Grocery Network (WVRGN) Blue Acre Aquaponics -TAFC Blue Ridge Bee Company -WVRGN Facing Hunger Food Bank -F4A, TAFC Grow Ohio Valley Public Grocer -TAFC, WVRGN Hunters for the Hungry -F4A KISRA and Paradise Farm -TAFC, F4A, WVRGN Lost Creek Farm, Lost Creek, WV -F4A Mountaineer Food Bank -F4A, TAFC New Roots Community Farm -TAFC RCBI/MURC -TAFC Refresh Appalachia -TAFC Route 219 Rural Retail Project -WVRGN Sprouting Farms -F4A; TAFC; WVRGN Wayne County Farmers Cooperative -TAFC, F4A West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy -F4A West Virginia Department of Agriculture -TAFC, F4A West Virginia Department of Education -F4A West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources -F4A West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition -F4A, WVRGN WVU Center for Resilient Communities -F4A, TAFC, WVRGN WVU Family Nutrition Program -F4A, TAFC

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Talcott, WV

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?

The state of West Virginia, located in Central Appalachia, has a total area of 62,259 km².

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

West Virginia is at a crossroads. After more than a century of extraction and profiteering from the rich natural resource deposits in these mountains,  there is a dire need to elevate and celebrate new patterns of economic development that can begin to reverse the decades of exploitation and structural poverty that have left communities with few opportunities to define their economic futures. Visionaries across the state and region are coalescing around the urgent need to transition away from histories rooted in fossil fuel extraction toward a cooperative model of resource sharing and equitable wealth redistribution that can sustain a more just and ecological future. The resources that have dedicated to these efforts in the food system have set into motion fruitful experiments with beginning farmer programs, cooperative production plans, aggregation and distribution networks, and food policy coalitions that are building the institutional foundations for such a vision. 

We aim to restore meaningful livelihoods here through a food system that draws on the rich heritage of Appalachian foodways; from the indigenous communities that first settled here, to the rich diversity of working class immigrants that maintained their food and culinary traditions over the centuries. We elevate and celebrate stories of hope and resilience in the face of adversity through our work as seed stewards, farmers, cooks, caregivers, story tellers, researchers, policy makers and logisticians who care deeply about this place, and remain hopeful for a future that points to potential pathways toward food system restoration elsewhere.  We are making locally grown nutrient dense food available for our communities, not just those who can afford it but for everyone. We are actively building a multi-stakeholder group of trainers, agricultural cooperative developers, food access and address policy practitioners that are addressing barriers opportunities for equitable food system change.

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 is located in the heart of Appalachia, a cultural and economic crossroads. The state formed out of conflict, seceding from Virginia in 1861 and continues to cultivate a spirit of independence, and self reliance as expressed in the state motto “Mountaineers are always Free”. West Virginia’s location along major rivers along with abundant timber, coal and gas deposits made the state a key place for fueling the industrial revolution at the cost of being locked into patterns of extraction and the systems of exploitation that accompany them. The low wage, manual labor involved in developing these industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries attracted waves of migrants and West Virginians now form a diverse cultural fabric that continues to be celebrated through local festivals, fairs and recipe books. 

While the temperate climate offers four seasons, elevation changes and meteorological convergences create micro-climates that offer a rich variety of plants and food crops for cultivation. The mountainous landscape also maintains many communities in relative isolation. The largest urban centers have populations below 100,000 and every county in the state is considered rural. Topography has impeded the development of large scale agriculture and West Virginia thus remains the state with a high number of small farms per capita, despite a land tenure system that favors large absentee landowners. 

Boom and bust cycles of extraction have left their social and environmental marks on a place that is facing one of the highest poverty rates in the U.S. Only 53% of civilians over 16 are employed or actively seeking employment. The lack of meaningful work is leading to rapid emigration and population decline, leaving an ageing population in its wake. 18.2% of residents are over the age of 65, and West Virginia has the highest percentage of people drawing disability income in the U.S. Added to this complex demography, the state is also the epicenter of the opioid crisis, one with reverberating effects on community well being. 

The relatively large number of small farms, alongside traditions of maintaining large subsistence gardens maintains diverse foodways that are a defining element of community life. Even if folks are poor, almost everyone knows someone with access to some land. Significant forested properties and public lands reinforce a strong culture of self-provisioning that includes hunting, fishing and foraging. Despite these assets, uneven food environments exacerbate food access problems for people in this extremely rural state. Demographic shifts have led to grocery store closures in small towns, a desertification that combined with low incomes results in 350,000 people that cannot regularly cover their food costs.  In this context a cross-sectoral group of food system and anti-hunger stakeholders have come together to tackle these issues, designing interventions alongside those directly experiencing food insecurity. 

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.

There are five key challenges facing West Virginia’s food system. 

First is the history of extraction detailed previously and the state’s complicity in subsidizing these industries. Policymakers are focused on maintaining a failed model of economic growth that benefits the few, though shifting political winds also offer opportunities for drawing on the institutional power and purse of the state to foster sustainable alternatives that support a food system that can offer meaningful opportunities for all West Virgians to flourish.

Second is the structural poverty born out of the first. West Virginia’s severely depressed economy, combined with an inadequate social safety net has had a catastrophic impact on the lives of the poor. Access to nutritious food is limited by low incomes and a built food environment that places profit above community well-being. Rural grocery store closures are exacerbating problems associated with access to nutritious food options, including fresh produce, factors that contribute to high rates of obesity decreasing life expectancy.

Third is the dominance of agro-food supply chains and corporate capture of our food system. Capital concentration has left small farmers and retailers in rural communities unable to compete with a food sector that offers commodified food at the expense of restricted consumer options. Alienation from the processes involved in producing, processing, transporting and selling food has created difficulties for regional food system advocates attempting to bridge the value/s gap between local and global food systems.  

Fourth is the climate crisis. Our food economy depends heavily on imports from distant agricultural production and processing centers such as California’s central valley. West Virginia must decouple its dependence on these unsustainable supply chains by creating opportunities for a resilient regional food system to emerge.

Fifth is ongoing challenges within West Virginia’s public institutions. There is a lack of collaboration among various state officials in positions of power to address our state’s food challenges. While there are key actors that are willing collaborators on our vision for a more just food future such as the director of Child Nutrition Programs, the SNAP EBT administrator and key staff within the Department of Agriculture, and the Appalachian Regional Commission at the federal level, the state does not yet have an office that can effectively coordinate the patchwork of public programs into a coherent plan for building long-term resilience to achieve the right to food. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

West Virginia’s food system challenges are opportunities for catalyzing a resilient food future. Principles of wealth redistribution will address histories of extraction and poverty. F4A advocates for a fiscal policy that redistributes income from the fossil fuel economy to enhance the viability of cooperative food enterprises. Building on the work of the TAFC, we will develop wholesale and retail markets for farmers and by farmers, ensuring that anyone seeking to produce food in the state can access markets. This includes farmer training and technical support, production planning, land access as well as workforce development opportunities in processing facilities, transportation, logistics and retail. A nascent cooperative grocer network is capitalizing food retailers in rural communities to leverage wholesale purchasing power for grocers, by grocers. This includes pop-up and mobile markets that combine cooperative surplus with state nutrition subsidies to expand food access. 

This cooperative approach will also address the dominance of agro-food supply chains. Food system stakeholders across the state, including the TAFC, WVU CRC, trade and vocational schools, food banks, WVU FNP, and others working to preserve Appalachian food heritage are the foundation of an expanding Food Sovereignty Network that challenges the corporate capture of West Virginia’s food system. Pop-up markets in K-12 schools and food pantries provide education (tastings, recipes, demos) that includes a focus on the contradictions of agro-industrial food systems. The Nourishing Networks popular education workshops compliment these efforts to foster local, regional and state-wide food sovereignty initiatives. These approaches are already in motion, replicable and scaleable.

The climate crisis offers opportunities to reframe food conversations and take advantage of shifting meteorological patterns. Farm incubator programs are already working to educate a new generation of food producers who understand environmental limits and incorporate sustainable practices across each node of our food system to insure that we will rise to this challenge. Increased precipitation and warmer growing seasons in Central Appalachia will increase food production capacity, and our proximate geography to large urban centers will mitigate food security concerns while providing supplemental market opportunities for our cooperative food economy. 

Finally, we will address policy challenges through a commitment to the Right to Food. F4AC is a multi-stakeholder coalition that is actively developing policy proposals at the local, state and federal level that ensures that everyone has access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food through the investment of our public institutions. Informed by a food sovereignty framework, this initiative links popular education and policy advocacy to raise the human resources necessary to enact institutional changes within public, private and cooperative organizations.

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.

By 2050 West Virginians will have access to high quality, nutritious food. Every neighborhood will have the opportunity to access food a price that considers household capacity to engage in this new food economy. Food access points will include mobile markets that supplement brick and mortar grocers to ensure that at least once a week, every household in the state is within walking distance (1 mile) of a food retailer. Congregate feeding programs such as K-12 schools, restaurants, senior centers, daycares and faith-based groups will also be integrated into this network, contributing to the value generated through cooperation, and reinvesting surplus to capitalize and maintain diverse food enterprises.  

Opportunities to develop a viable livelihood along different parts of the value chain will be open to anyone desiring to engage in this new food economy. Educational programming will compliment access to capital for farmers, food processors, logisticians, and retailers working to realize the right to food in WV. Cooperatives organized by sector will elect representatives to their state-wide producer, processing, transportation and retail collectives to ensure that the interests of each are held in relationship to the social and economic needs of the other. Our public officials will enact a legal framework that creates the conditions for this economy to flourish. Communities that were held captive by extractive economies will find restoration in and through a food system that values their well-being and opens opportunities for engaging in parallel sectors of our economy that contribute to a just-transition. While this challenge seems immense, community based conversations around such a vision have already begun to take place all across our state. Our collective will continue to foster these to ensure that all West Virginians, regardless of their social status, have access to both the knowledge and the resources they need to enact a democratic about their food future.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

West Virginia is in a unique position to lead a food system transformation that places people over profit, values food providers, and equitably distributes the surplus generated by this new food economy. Though our state currently ranks at the bottom of many quality of life metrics, we are in the midst of forging a sovereign food future that can reverse historical trends of economic exploitation and underdevelopment. Despite the challenges of constrained resources, remote communities, and high poverty rates, communities across the state are already transcending these perceived limits by creatively building the seeds of a food sovereign future. We are not advocating for a “return” to some romantic agrarian past nor a “vote with your fork” middle class dream. Rather we will regain, retain, and remain in control of our food system; being careful of nationalist and secessionist ideas about control. We will lead our region toward a food system that is built on healthy and culturally-appropriate food sourced or produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. We will empower even the most vulnerable of our neighbors with the right to take part in defining our collective food and agriculture futures. Our laws will be written to put the dreams and needs of those who produce, distribute, and consume food at the heart of food policies, with particular attention to the voices of those facing food insecurity. This vision restores our purpose and repositions West Virginians as key actors in the global food sovereignty movement where food producers and consumers are connected and conscious of the need to write a future that rights past wrongs. 

Our vision will foster positive change throughout West Virginia, Central Appalachia, and beyond by learning from and building on the daily challenges faced by those currently struggling to make ends meet in a broken global food system. It elevates histories of resilience in Appalachia and celebrates our diverse foodways to foster a sense of pride and hope for a future free of dependence or interests that do not value the people in our communities, nor the land that sustains us. We envision 3 key phases in this process. 

The first is building and fostering theories of change among the diverse stakeholders involved in the component parts of West Virginia’s food system.  By 2025, the food sovereignty strategic plan under development with the organizations identified above will crystallize into two state-wide cooperatives that include hundreds of farmers and dozens of rural retailers generating 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 (WVRGW). Local democratic governance of these state-wide cooperative networks will directly inform surplus redistribution and capitalization concerns, while leveraging resources from public and foundation investments. These two entities will also serve to shape food policies at the state legislature and advocate for a federal farm bill that ensures public funds are leveraged to serve the long-term viability of farmers, food producers, and retailers incorporated in West Virginia. Concurrently, we will integrate these plans with partners working beyond the food system through a multi-stakeholder climate change mitigation plan for the state. This includes allies working to restore our waterways, those advocating for a carbon free energy future, and those working to ensure fair wages, affordable housing, healthcare, and transportation. 

The second phase will integrate and improve upon the unity of purpose achieved in the first to accelerate the vision’s motion. By 2025, we will have trained a robust workforce that can engage in multiple aspects of food system cooperativism through vocational curricula and higher education. We envision many of these human resources also running for public office and working to enact food policies that facilitate the execution of our food sovereignty and climate mitigation plans, rebalancing public subsidies away from agro-food supply chains and toward our regional food economy. We envision creating an Office for the Right to Food and Nutrition under the purview of governor. Such an office would ensure that federal and state nutrition dollars, along with their attendant food and farm promotion programs, are coordinated across the many different state offices currently governing food related programs. This would include the institutionalization of the SNAP Stretch Program within the state (among the enhancement of other nutrition support programs) and leverage the purchasing power of public institutions to support the economies of scale necessary to maintain the viability of our expanding food producer cooperatives. This intentional import substitution process will guarantee that by 2030, at least 50% of all public food purchases in West Virginia directly support Mountain State food enterprises. 

Our public institutions, particularly K-12 schools and daycares, in partnership with the Office of Child Nutrition at the WV Department of Education, will become vital nodes for the processing and distribution of food. This includes existing initiatives such as summer feeding sites that have significant room for growth and integration within the regional food supply, but also the design and implementation of new after-school ready-to-eat meals for families short on time yet desiring access to healthy and affordable food dinner options. Such programs are currently being piloted providing learning that is being integrated into opportunities to capitalize viable cooperative businesses that employ chefs and their kitchen staff to source, process, and sell food to people on the go. 

As consumptive food dollars circulating in the state remain in the state and opportunities for meaningful living wage work emerge from recapturing our foodways, poverty will decline. Beginning to end hunger is the first step toward equipping our communities with the tools they need to address other structural problems including obesity, addiction, homelessness, and the number of children in the foster care system.  In this second integration and improvement phase we will thus also intentionally work to discontinue the current charitable model of food provisioning for the poor, one that subsidizes large agro-food concerns by revaluing their waste. 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 have a place in our food system vision, institutionalized charity will become an exceptional and temporary household food sourcing strategy, not a means to undergird an industrial food system that simultaneously produces waste and hunger. Existing spaces of caring labor will instead be transformed into places that foster conversations about our food system vision and present opportunities to engage as active participants therein. 

By 2040, phase three will see every community in West Virginia directly implicated in the production of its foodscapes through a robust network of cooperative food enterprises. Multi-county food hubs will ensure that food is travelling the shortest distance possible, easing the financial burden on the farmers selling products and supplying a coherent cost-saving logistics stream. This will be facilitated by technological systems that automatically settle payments, and mobile RFID technologies that direct product to the next appropriate hub. These micro-hubs will each be connected to processing facilities and certified kitchens that offer the means to prepare food for wholesale, retail or ready-to eat delivery. Many of these kitchens will be in public K-12 schools, but cooperative facilities will also emerge focused on the manufacture of cottage foods. 2 or 3 larger facilities will be capitalized to fulfill demand from large institutional markets including state and federal contracts. These will be worker-owned and operated offering significant manufacturing opportunities upstream as well. 

Leaning on principle 6 of the cooperative movement this collection of enterprises will strengthen the fabric of solidarity across the state’s food system. The surplus generated within this network, along with the labor that comes out of the training programs that undergird this ethic, will transform our communities and landscapes. 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. The foraging, hunting and gathering culture that still defines food sourcing strategies in this region, will flourish as lands are protected and harvesting practices regulated to sustain long term food security. This includes celebrating and reviving wild foodways that the advent of industrial agriculture eliminated from our plates. People will come to know themselves again in relationship to the foods they consume and the social relationships forged through that food. We are protecting the seeds of this vision, preparing good soil for them, will water if the rains do not come, tend their sprouts and maintain the expectant hope that each will bear much more fruit than we can now envision. Our limited imaginations for what a food sovereign West Virginia will mean to this place and its people will not hinder its evolution by those that have been here for centuries or decades, and those that will migrate here anew to labor in this work alongside us.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Attachments (3)

Turnrow - Timeline.pdf

Our Timeline for achieving our Full Vision.

NN curriculum.pdf

Nourishing Networks


Join the conversation:

Photo of Charlotte Flechet

Dear Sprouting Farms , thank you for a very inspiring vision, I very much enjoyed reading it ! In your full vision, you describe a new model of " after-school ready-to-eat meals" for families short on time. The description seems to indicate that the model is currently being piloted. I'm curious about the results of such a programme. Has such an initiative already managed to become a viable business? Do you have any documentation available on the topic? Or a link to more information?
Good luck with the refinement phase!
Charlotte from the Citizens in Quito transform their food environment to ensure access to healthy and nutritious food  team

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