Senior Federal and State Officials Join ARC for Appalachian Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour in West Virginia
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2013—Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl and senior officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Education, and the State of West Virginia completed a three-day leg of the Commission's Appalachian Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour on May 23, highlighting the economic opportunity created by local food systems in West Virginia and exploring community activities in the burgeoning local-food sector of the Appalachian economy. The West Virginia tour showcased innovative local models and successful partnerships, examined practical obstacles, and celebrated regional success stories.
West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, ARC's 2013 states' co-chair, welcomed the tour, noting that ARC has been a "vital partner to West Virginia by assisting with local economic and community development issues." Tomblin said he looked forward to discussing with ARC federal co-chair Gohl the "many successes, opportunities, and challenges in our state's food sector as we work together to expand the Appalachian economy and improve the health of our people."
Gohl praised the growing local food economy in the state, which he described as impressive in both scope and enthusiasm. Local food systems such as those in West Virginia would "strengthen and make more vibrant many communities in Appalachia," he said.
Gohl also pointed out the role ARC was playing in supporting local food systems, noting that ARC has funded foodways activities in each of the 13 Appalachian states, investing $7.6 million since 2001.
Savanna Lyons, program director for the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, which partnered with ARC in organizing the West Virginia tour, noted that there were two aspects to the benefits created by local food systems. "There's the economic development half of this, which is often communities looking for a way to create energy, to create excitement, to reflect the character of the place. On the other side are health advocates and people advocating for food access. And both are equally powerful."
Joani Walsh, deputy under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs at USDA, and John White, deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the Department of Education, were among the officials who joined Gohl on the tour.
The stops made by the officials included the following:
- Hampshire High School, for discussion with educators and students about the school's agriculture education tracks and to visit its high tunnel and field crops;
- Tucker County High School, for an overview of its farm-to-school efforts, a visit to its high tunnel under construction, and lunch prepared by students in its ProStart food-service education program using local foods;
- The Morgantown Farmers' Market, for a briefing on the relationship of the market to the West Virginia Main Street program and the Growing Healthy Communities initiative;
- The Pierpont Community and Technical College culinary arts academy in Fairmont, for an overview of courses, student profiles, job opportunities, and expansion plans;
- The Tygart Valley Growers' Association, for a visit to a farm site and discussion of collaborative efforts with other partners in the local food economy;
- The Custard Stand in Webster Springs, for a visit to a successful specialty-food-product business and to discuss the challenges related to small business, entrepreneurship, and access to capital;
- Lone Willow Perennials, for an overview of the "Annie's Project" training program for women entrepreneurs in agriculture;
- The Spencer Walmart, to see an example of a "healthy checkout aisle" created through community partnerships with local stores to make fresh produce available and promote healthy food choices; and to meet with state and regional health officials to discuss the role of local foods in grant activities through the CDC Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative and Community Transformation Grant program;
- The Jim and Freida Wood Farm in Roane County, for a discussion of the county agriculture education efforts and youth leadership;
- The Spencer Farmers' Market, for an informal roundtable discussion of local food system initiatives in an economically distressed county; and
- The Charleston Area Alliance, for an export-trade roundtable discussion on agriculture and specialty food products.
Recent research indicates the economic potential of the local-food economy in West Virginia.
The January 2012 study West Virginia Food System: Seasonal Production Expansion and its Impacts (PDF), commissioned by the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, indicates that if West Virginia farmers grew enough fruits and vegetables to meet the in-season fresh produce needs of all state residents, 1,723 new jobs and an additional $35.7 million in local sales would be generated. The study found that growing the produce would require less than 10 percent of West Virginia's undeveloped prime farmland.
The study was released by Downstream Strategies along with the coalition, West Virginia University, and the West Virginia University Extension Service and its West Virginia Small Farm Center.
Downstream Strategies president Evan Hansen explained, "According to the study, if West Virginians bought their fruits and vegetables from local farmers during the growing season, about $190 million would stay in the state instead of flowing beyond its borders. These locally spent dollars would circulate in the economy as farmers spend more at supply stores and on other goods and services."
The study also shows significant opportunities for farmers to capture revenue from products that are currently under-produced in the state, such as greens, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, and strawberries. An estimated $6.3 million in consumer dollars could be generated from producing greens alone.