Posts Tagged ‘Agriculture’

Children’s Gardening Program Cultivates Lifeskills from SCRATCH

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Megan Northcote

When state legislators arrived at an annual conference at West Virginia State University last year, a 7-year-old girl marched up to numerous government officials, pointed to a brochure photograph of herself holding a tomato, and proudly announced, “I’m famous because I grew this tomato and I’m going to give you my autograph.”

This level of confidence was enough to convince legislators that the university’s SCRATCH program really is effective.

Now in its third year, SCRATCH teaches more than 80 children living in the most impoverished areas of Huntington, W. Va., how to grow and sell food locally through hands-on, educational activities. Funded by a five-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the program is run by WVSU’s Extension Services, a community outreach branch of the university.

“We want them to learn how to be horticultural producers and entrepreneurs, but some of these kids have been through so much [hardship] that we primarily want them to seek solace in the gardens and build life skills and self-esteem,” says Melissa Stewart, a WVSU faculty member and principal investigator for the SCRATCH grant.

Raised garden beds located in abandoned lots behind two community centers and one elementary school provide the children with a place to cultivate basic gardening skills. The Junior Master Gardener curriculum provides weekly activities to teach these skills, such as planting seeds arranged on paper towels to learn proper plant-spacing techniques.

To combat community hunger, these amateur gardeners are given first dibs on the produce they harvest; the rest, including more than 20 pounds of sweet potatoes grown last fall, is sold at The Wild Ramp, a local consignment-based farmers market.

This May, the children participated in National Lemonade Day, selling lemonade and seed bombs — bundles of soil containing seeds — at the market. Under the guidance of Unlimited Future Inc., a business incubator resource center, the children developed basic marketing and accounting strategies, creating original jingles and posters and setting their own prices for their products.

“The children have full ownership and direct control over what they do in the program,” Stewart says.
In the coming years, participants will work towards creating a more interactive children’s section at the market and partner with community members to learn how to make soaps, jams, sauces and other products of their choosing to sell.

For more information or to volunteer, visit or call Stewart at (304) 532-1670.

Communities Pursue Revitalization Plans

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Carvan Craft

Convenient access to local food can be a rare commodity in rural communities. Thanks to the Appalachian Livable Communities grant program, founded in 2012, five Appalachian communities will receive a shared total of $375,000 to help make local food projects a reality.

The grant will fund a new agricultural education facility for local farmers in Berea, Ky. In North Wilkesboro, N.C., the farmers market will be moved to a new downtown location so local produce will be at the focal point of the town. The grant will fund local food networks that focus on education, sustainability, and healthy eating in Huntington, W. Va. The town of Albany, Mississippi will build a riverfront farmers market.

In Forest City, N.C., there are plans to build a Regional Agriculture Innovations Center where farmers can exchange new farming methods. Danielle Withrow, Forest City town planner, says this facility will be “the most comprehensive resource for agriculture in the foothills region.”

There are also plans to relocate the Rutherford County Farmers Market to downtown Forest City. Having a farmers market downtown provides greater access to locally grown food, explains Withrow. She says the city is promoting the farmers market to “give people a local alternative for buying local products.”

Withrow says other environmentally conscious industries will come to Forest City because the community is becoming more sustainability-minded. “In today’s world, people are looking for the places that are doing the right thing,” she adds.

The Appalachian Livable Communities grants are funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For more information, visit

Poll Finds Increase in Support for Environment

By Kelsey Boyajian

A recent Gallup-Healthways poll reports that more Americans favor prioritizing environmental protection over economic growth. When the poll began in the 1980s, most Americans gave priority to the environment, but this trend reversed following the 2009 recession, with more Americans endorsing economic growth even if it compromised the environment. In this year’s survey, 50 percent of Americans prefer environmental protection and 41 percent prefer economic growth. Support for environmental protection has increased among both major political parties, and is endorsed by two-thirds of Democrats and one-third of Republicans.

Appalachian States Debate Hemp Legalization

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Nolen Nychay

The legal hemp farming debate has come to Appalachia. The much-debated Farm Bill President Obama signed into law in February included a “hemp amendment,” which permitted the regulated cultivation of industrial hemp in states that have legalized hemp farming. Hemp is a cash crop in the cannabis family that, despite lacking most of the hallucinogenic THC found in marijuana, has been illegal to grow in the United States since the 1970 Controlled-Substances Act. U.S. imports of hemp and many of its 25,000-plus products, including building materials and biodiesel fuel, have an annual retail value of more than $500 million, according to the Hemp Industries Association.

Kentucky and West Virginia are currently the only Appalachian states with legal hemp farming, the latter restricting it to purely research purposes. Kentucky’s terrain and climate are well-suited for hemp, which contributed to the state being the country’s chief hemp producer during WWII. Kentucky plans to capitalize on the new law and initiate five hemp research programs that will identify medicinal uses, seeds best-suited for the region, prospective costs and logistics of a new hemp market, and whether hemp could effectively be used to remove ground contaminants from industrial sites. “We’re ahead at something that relates to economic development for once, so let’s pursue it,” said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in a USA Today article.

Other Appalachian states are close behind. The South Carolina State Senate unanimously passed a bill in March proposing to legalize industrial hemp — a State House vote is expected later this spring. Legislation is also under review in Tennessee, and as of press time had passed subcommittees in both the State House and State Senate and is awaiting committee approval. “Our motivation for doing this comes from the desire to bring jobs back from other countries right back to Tennessee,” said Tenn. State Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) to news media company The Examiner.

W.Va. Bill to Support Veterans in Agriculture

By Kelsey Boyajian

In March, the West Virginia House and Senate passed a bill to create the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture program. According to State Senator Ronald Miller (D-Greenbrier), many returned veterans from active duty struggle to find employment.

Once signed into law by the governor, the program will provide veterans with opportunities for agricultural training in hopes of job creation, and up to 15 acres of land from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture for instruction.

Charlie Jackson: Bringing Farms to Market

Monday, December 9th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

By Peter Boucher

Photo courtesy of Charlie Jackson

Photo courtesy of Charlie Jackson

Charlie Jackson found a simple answer to the complex problems of regional agriculture. He founded the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project in 1995 to create new markets for mountain farmers who had lost their cash crop. Tobacco had sustained farms for nearly half a century, but in the late ‘90s, farms were rapidly losing income as a federal support program for the crop was discontinued. Jackson and his colleagues decided to build local demand for these farms by writing and distributing a local food guide to link consumers to area farmers.

The idea caught on faster than Jackson and his colleagues imagined. They rapidly grew from distributing 5,000 copies of their guide in the first printing to 100,000 annually. These sustainable, local markets empowered consumers as well as farmers, by giving interested shoppers an alternative to mainstream agriculture. As Jackson says, ASAP strives to “transform the food system” by connecting “residents to the farmers that grow their food.”

Jackson has a knack for bringing people together. In 2002, he called together a meeting of representatives of regional farmers markets. While the farmers initially saw each other as competitors, he was able to organize them into the Mountain Tailgate Market Association, which allows local markets to collaborate with each other. He also feels blessed to have brought together the ASAP team. “I think of my role as one of providing the space for really smart, passionate people to be excellent at what they do,” Jackson says.

27 Visionaries

Jackson leads with a balance of managerial skills and a contemplative ability to see the big picture. “I’m the one who has the responsibility to reflect, to contextualize what we do,” he says, emphasizing that building an organization includes a lot of “starts and stops … testing and experimenting with ideas.” He has a lot of faith in the next generation to collaborate over the conservation issues that he holds close to heart.

To learn more, visit

Resourceful and Resilient: June/July issue of The Appalachian Voice celebrates farmers

Friday, June 21st, 2013 - posted by molly
Farmers Holly Whitesides and Andy Bryant grace the cover of the June/July 2013 issue.

Farmers Holly Whitesides and Andy Bryant grace the cover of the June/July 2013 issue.

From determined Virginia cattle farmers to entrepreneurial vegetable growers in eastern Kentucky, the latest issue of The Appalachian Voice showcases the resourcefulness and resilience of our mountain farmers.

In our features, Today’s Farming Frontier looks at how growers are adapting to changing markets. A special three-page section explores Appalachian farm ownership. In A Matter of Self-Preservation, writer Matt Grimley explores how aspiring farmers are struggling for land access and the ways family farmers are passing down the business. He examines the issue from a land ownership point of view in Making it Last, where he studies how aging farmers can plan for their farm’s future.

States have consistenty failed to protect water resources from toxic coal ash. But the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill to prevent the EPA from doing anything about it.

States have consistenty failed to protect water resources from toxic coal ash. But the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill to prevent the EPA from doing anything about it.

Former Appalachian Voices editorial intern Davis Wax explores the controversial aftermath of pesticide use in Toxic Legacy: Yesterday’s Pesticides, Today’s Problem. And in Addressing Food Insecurity, writer David Brewer speaks with some of the movers-and-shakers who are working to close the gap between healthy, local food and the consumers who need it most.

In addition to those farm-oriented features, we take several shorter looks at trends in Appalachian agriculture. Our editorial intern Alix John discovers the world of seed-saving and heirloom plants, and Brian Sewell examines how climate change might impact farming in our region, and surveys the growth of Appalachian agritourism.

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 - posted by Chelsey

‘Ag-gag’ bills Considered in Tenn., N.C.

North Carolina became the 11th state this year to consider a form of an “ag-gag” bill, which limits the spread of information about agricultural practices through laws about employee practices.

Called the “Commerce Protection Act,” the North Carolina bill was proposed by Senators Brent Jackson, Wesley Meredith and Jim Davis on April 2 and would make private investigations at all places of employment illegal. The bill would also allow prosecution of undercover investigators who exaggerate on their job applications and would also make any photography at a place of employment illegal. Animal activists, in particular, often use private investigations and photography to expose animal cruelty.

“The public has a right to know where their food is coming from,” Matt Dominguez, policy manager for animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, said to Public News Service.

There are currently five states that have a form of an “ag-gag” bill. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed similar state legislation this spring.

AmeriCorps Cuts Coal Country VISTA Positions

Due to federal budget cuts caused by the sequestration, 20 full-time service positions in Central Appalachia were cut, says April Trent, team director for the Appalachian Coal Country Team, a branch of the Office of Surface Mining’s AmeriCorps VISTA program.

The VISTA program is a part of AmeriCorps service network and promotes aid in rural and poverty-stricken areas throughout the country. There are 8,000 VISTA volunteers currently serving 1,100 different projects in the United States, according to

Before the cuts began, there were more than 30 positions at the Appalachian Coal Country Team, a group that works in coal mining communities in seven central Appalachian states to promote environmental quality and economic development. Currently there are ten positions, but the team could possibly be cut to three in the fall. All cuts will be final, unless funding is restored.

The changes, Trent says, have “really impacted our ability to keep momentum going in rural communities where a VISTA person contributes substantially to small organizations and really means a lot to those communities.”

In 2012, the OSM VISTAs generated $889,111 in cash and grants for the communities they serve and more than $300,000 in in-kind donations. Among the cuts’ many impacts, 568 acid mine drainage sites will go unmonitored and 23 community garden projects will lose their coordinators, says Trent.

AmeriCorps also has two other branches in the Appalachian region. Project Conserve works with land conservation, water quality issues, energy conservation and local food and farmland in western North Carolina. Project Power is a program that serves students in Buncombe County, N.C.

Kentucky’s “State of the Air” Shows Improvement

The American Lung Association released its “State of the Air” report this spring, showing positive trends in air pollution for numerous counties in Kentucky. Among the counties that received “A” grades in the eastern part of the state were Bell, Perry, Pike and Pulaski. Data was not available for all counties.

“The air across Kentucky is certainly cleaner than when we started [the report] 14 years ago,” Ellen Kershaw, Kentucky ALA advocacy director, noted in a press release. “But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution to protect the health of our citizens.”

Volunteers Needed for Breeding Bird Survey Along Tennessee River

Southern Appalachian Raptor Research and partners are currently conducting a bird breeding survey through August and are looking for volunteers.
SARR will use the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship protocol to conduct the study, and it will be held at the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee preserve. The study started May 18 and will take eight samples total.

Volunteers are needed for every aspect of the survey, and no experience is required. Children are welcomed with adult supervision.
For more information, call 828-524-2711.

In other news from Across Appalachia:

First National Monument In West Virginia Proposed
6,000 Acres of Blue Ridge Preserved

Microhydro Powers Mountain Farm

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 - posted by molly

Our spring multimedia assistant, Matt Abele, traveled to Woodland Harvest Farm in Ashe County, N.C., to see how Elizabeth West and Lisa Redman are harnessing their creek’s energy to power their small farm and homestead.

Worried about Water? The EPA’s New Tool Can Help

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 - posted by brian

Maps provide a valuable perspective of the lay of the land, the ability to identify local waterways, their length and proximity to urban or agricultural areas, and their connectivity as they wrap around hills or snake through open plains. But there was always something you couldn’t learn about rivers and streams near your community by just looking at a map, at least until now.

On the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act last week, Appalachian Voices was so caught up celebrating with the release of our “Clean Water Act at 40” report and video, we almost missed the release of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ingenious, easy-to-use website and mobile app, “How’s My Waterway?” Just enter your town, or let the tool find your location, and you’ll see a map like most others. But in a few clicks, you can find out which of your local waterways are polluted — and for those that are, what’s being done about it.

Once a river or stream is selected, “How’s My Waterway?” provides a rundown on the type of pollution reported for that waterway. Keep clicking and you’ll find a wealth of technical information and reports with descriptions of each type of water pollutant, likely sources and potential health risks. Pretty cool, huh?

Checking up on my local waterways using the EPA's new "How's My Waterway" tool.

So cool, that I’ve been digging into water data that I didn’t even realize was available. After letting the tool find my home in downtown Boone, I zoomed in on the Middle and East forks of the New River where they run through the eastern edge of town. According to the 2010 data used in creating “How’s My Waterway?”, both stretches of water are impaired for aquatic life. Looking at the map, the streams border the Boone Golf Course. (more…)

A Golden Wing and a Prayer: Restoring Warbler Habitat

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 - posted by Madison

By Brian Sewell

This map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service marks the golden-winged warbler focus area for the new conservation program

Appalachia’s favorite bird, the golden-winged warbler, has been selected as one of seven focus species by a new partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that aims to reverse population decline through habitat restoration. The “Working Lands for Wildlife” program will collaborate with private landowners and farmers to restore species populations while boosting rural economies by protecting working lands.

According to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the habitat of nearly two-thirds of all species federally listed as threatened or endangered exists on private lands. With $33 million in funding from the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, the partnership selected seven species, including the golden-winged warbler and the bog turtle, whose preservation will also benefit wildlife with similar habitat needs.

Traditionally, the golden-winged warbler has thrived in the forested hills and grasslands of the Appalachian Mountains. But land lost to development and changes in forestry and agricultural practices have caused populations to decrease.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The species is currently under review listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The “Working Lands for Wildlife” partnership aims to rebuild habitat on private lands necessary for the warbler’s spring breeding, by managing and maintaining forested landscapes near active agriculture or pastureland. By cooperating with landowners and local communities, the federal partnership can help the golden-winged warbler population remain at home in the region and off the Endangered Species list.

Tennessee PBS Harnesses the Sun

East Tennessee PBS announced that a 38-kilowatt solar system mounted to their building’s rooftop is now operating and generating electricity. The 162-solar panel system can power four houses for up to 40 years. Funded in part by a grant from the Tennessee Solar Institute and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, PBS says that the system will never cost the station or its members anything, but will decrease the station’s power bill by 20 percent. All engineering and installation work on the rooftop system was sourced by contractors in eastern Tennessee.

Appalachia to Furnish Asian Homes

Home-furnishings and wood products businesses in Appalachia are seeking to expand export sales from Asia to the Pacific Rim at the Furniture Manufacturing and Supply China 2012 trade fair in Shanghai. Qualified Appalachian businesses can apply to join the Appalachia USA delegation traveling from Sept. 11-14. For information on the trade fair, visit:

Saving Our Rivers (and Kids!) from Drugs

Organizers of the annual prescription drug take-back day in Watauga County, N.C., are stepping it up a notch this spring, aiming to collect one million pills in this year’s May 19 Operation Medicine Cabinet. The twice-yearly event, sponsored by the Upper Watauga Riverkeeper and area groups, is designed to keep prescription drugs from being flushed into the water stream as well as out of the hands of kids. For more information visit:

Breaking Down Job Barriers

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 - posted by Madison

By Paige Campbell

Nearly three-quarters of a million jobs were lost in Appalachia between 2007 and 2009. All but 35 of the region’s 420 counties, as designated by the Appalachian Regional Commission, saw negative employment trends during that lowest low of the current recession, and the slow crawl back out has been slower here than across the nation as a whole.

Of course, high unemployment doesn’t mean the total absence of available jobs. In West Virginia, which saw the region’s sharpest decline in employment rates with a 3.3 percent drop, some employers are still seeking workers. One community college’s job placement board posts a few new positions each week; In Logan County alone, employers are seeking truck drivers, home health aides, warehouse loaders and receptionists.

The existence of such jobs, even in small numbers and offering comparatively low wages — over half of those positions pay $10 an hour or less — may perpetuate the “pull-yourself-up-from yourbootstraps” sentiment shared by many opponents of public investment in job creation. But what sort of bootstrap does a low-wage job offer the average person in a region plagued by long-term economic distress? And what happens when physically getting to such a job is its own hurdle? These are the questions that Occupational Enterprises, Inc. of Lebanon, Va., an organization working to help Southwest Virginians become self-sufficient, is tackling.

“There are jobs here and there,” says OEI’s Doug Meade. “But what we’re missing are manufacturing jobs, jobs where the masses can get some training and go to work.”

Early OEI caseworkers encountered a variety of barriers to employment among their clients, beyond the problem of fewer jobs. Undiagnosed learning disabilities were common, as were struggles with substance abuse.

“Another big [problem] was transportation,” Meade explains. With almost no public transportation in many counties, he says, a few agencies offer van services to certain populations. “But even those can’t get into all the nooks and crannies of Southwest Virginia.”

In 2002, OEI launched a program to help low-income people purchase affordable vehicles. The Cars for Work program now partners with Vehicles for Change, a Baltimore agency that distributes donated cars and helps coordinate the low-interest, 12-month loans that enable participants to purchase their cars, tags and warranties. The participants also attend vehicle maintenance and budgeting courses.

Denise Leftwich, who oversees Cars for Work and runs trainings in 13 counties, says credit problems can make traditional financing impossible. Without a loan, “you can’t get a reliable vehicle,” she says. “And in a rural place … it might take 30 minutes just to get to the end of the hollow. If you can’t get your kids to daycare and yourself to work, [you can’t] be self-sufficient.”

Daycare costs, too, can hinder financial stability even in communities where jobs exist. In Kentucky, the Hazard-Perry County Community Ministries program has offered childcare since 1981 as a crucial part of its workforce development strategy.

“When the organization was founded, they wanted to focus on two things,” says Adrienne Bush, interim executive director. “First, basic crisis assistance for families who were hungry or just needed help. But they also quickly realized that lack of childcare was becoming a huge issue.”

New Beginnings, the agency’s daycare, helps low-income families navigate the process of applying for subsidized childcare tuition through a state-administered federal grant. About 70 percent of its clients receive subsidies.

“We see child development and early childhood education as critical pieces of educating our workforce,” says Bush. “And in terms of economics, you can’t have a stable workforce on a macro level or individual economic stability on a micro level if workers are worried about where their kids are staying.”

To receive the reduced rate, low income families must be employed or attending school; many are doing both, Bush says. “Our mission is to serve people who are struggling to get ahead,” she adds. “We believe that they deserve just as high quality care as those who can afford to pay for it.”

Chickens, Internet & Entrepreneurs

A "spoiled" chicken in Scott County, Va., takes a drink of clean water from the Avian Aqua Miser. Photo courtesy of Appalshop

By Willie Davis

The chickens on Mark Hamilton and Anna Hess’ farm in Scott County, Va., don’t fear humans. “We’ve spoiled them,” Hess says. Not long after they first bought their 58-acre farm, a friend gave them chickens. What followed — thanks to innovative thinking and high-speed internet access — is an invention that has sold worldwide and is a model for rural economic development.

Scott County was once a hub for big tobacco farms, and its location — nestled between two coal-rich areas — provided an opportunity for residents to work in the mines. Once the income from the tobacco industry and the coal companies dried up, however, the county suffered. Filling the void these tobacco farms left are small, self-sustaining farms. But with small farms come small farm problems.

Like many small farmers, Hamilton and Hess had a problem leaving out water for their chickens. Leave too much water and it becomes dirty and unsanitary, leave too little and they can practically never leave the farm because they have to constantly replace the water.

Hamilton creatively solved this dilemma with an invention he calls the Avian Aqua Miser, a nipple on a plastic container that allows chickens to drink the water only as they need it, a drop at a time.

They knew they had a winning idea, but the problem was selling it. Hess saw the time needed to set up and staff a farmers market booth as a hindrance. “But the internet is at the booth all day,” she says. By selling their ideas online, “We were able to pay ourselves a living wage, not just minimum wage. That’s hard for a lot of people around here to do.”

Because the Scott County Telephone Cooperative provides high-speed internet access to the Hamilton/Hess farm, they have been able to sell the Avian Aqua Miser around the country and overseas. Access to high-speed internet also enabled Hess and Hamilton to start their business with just five hundred dollars.

Hess and Hamilton hope to act as models for Appalachian youths who have good ideas but few resources and think they have to leave home to be successful. Their invention has offered them the economic freedom to devote their time to what they really love — their farm. “We think it’s paradise here,” Hess says, waving her arm around to indicate either the farm, Appalachia or both. “The people who leave the mountains, they still think it’s paradise, but they don’t think there are any jobs or opportunities.”

With innovative ideas, and the right tools in place, maybe local residents won’t have to separate their paradise from their daily bread.

Editor’s note: A longer version of this article
was originally published in June 2011
by WMMT/Making Connections News
and is available online at: makingconnectionsnews.