Posts Tagged ‘Agriculture’

In Defense of Food Security

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion
Veteran Logan Nance, director of operations at Growing Warriors, plants in a raised bed with a community member. Photo courtesy of Growing Warriors

Veteran Logan Nance, director of operations at Growing Warriors, plants in a raised bed with a community member. Photo courtesy of Growing Warriors


By Eliza Laubach

Mike Lewis, a U.S. Army veteran from Kentucky, came across this statistic while working on food security issues: more than 1 million veterans and active duty military personnel receive aid from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or food stamps.

Knowing this, and also that more than 70 percent of the nation’s military come from rural America, inspired Lewis to create Growing Warriors, an incubator for connecting veterans to agriculture. Most Growing Warriors projects employ a community garden model, where staff, who have all served themselves, invite veterans to cultivate vegetables, community and self-reliance as they transition to civilian life. Lewis oversees seven projects across Kentucky and West Virginia, and his brother, a combat veteran, operates a training farm in Rockcastle County, Ky. in collaboration with Growing Warriors.

“It’s a different type of defense of the land, caring and nurturing [it],” says Lewis. “We’re teaching [the veterans] how to grow food, but they’re [also] becoming community leaders.”

Lewis believes that to change the economic landscape of Appalachia, more focus on agriculture is needed. That ideal is epitomized in Williamson, W.Va., where a reclaimed surface mine site is the future location of a new Growing Warriors chapter.

Jason Linkenholder began organizing this new chapter with fellow veterans in the Williamson Community Gardens, where six veterans are growing food and selling excess produce to local restaurants and at the farmers market. Linkenholder intends to grow hemp, vegetables, fruit and poultry on the three-acre plot at the reclaimed mine site, following a few years of soil remediation. A high school also sits atop the barren land, and Linkenholder’s vision includes engaging high school students alongside local veterans in farming.

A lot of the veterans Linkenholder encounters have minor to severe post-traumatic stress disorder from their time in the service. “Working with the PTSD, working with soil, it’s very therapeutic,” says Linkenholder.


Last year, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture launched the new West Virginia Veterans to Agriculture program, which created an educational farm in Lakin, W.Va., to offer agricultural training. The same initiative provided beekeeping equipment and supplies for 48 veterans to start their own hives. Backyard Victory Gardens, a program funded by Grow Appalachia — which addresses food security out of Berea College — provides support and training for 10 veteran families growing home gardens.

In Kentucky, produce or value-added goods grown by farming veterans are recognized under the Homegrown by Heroes label. Kentucky Proud, out of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, manages the label as well as the Jobs for Vets program, which places veterans in agricultural jobs.

The Veterans Healing Farm in Hendersonville, N.C., founded by U.S. Air Force veteran John Mahshie and his wife Nicole, offers a community farm membership to veterans, who receive a discount, and civilians. Members collectively grow and harvest on a quarter-acre garden plot, which John maintains full-time. This year, 13 veterans and 16 civilians and their families are participating. “It’s important to have the mix because part of the purpose is to transition veterans back into civilian community,” says Nicole.

A $35,000 grant from the Entrepreneurship Boot-Camp for Veterans, which the founders attended last year, has allowed the Mahshies to expand their scope. They bought two shipping containers, one outfitted to be a bunkhouse and the other to be a kitchen and pantry, so that they may hold extended workshop retreats on sustainable, healthy living skills for veterans from across the country.

The grant also allows the Mahshies to take a salary from their farm, actualizing these entrepreneurs’ dream project into a career.

One Appalachian College Strives to Reforest Haiti

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - posted by interns
Sewanee students and Partners of Agriculture members monitor coffee tree saplings in their Haitian nursery. Photo by Charlotte Henderson

Sewanee students and Partners of Agriculture members monitor coffee tree saplings in their Haitian nursery. Photo by Charlotte Henderson

By Carvan Craft

Sewanee – The University of the South, is a liberal arts school with a big heart. In 2005, Sewanee Outreach — a group of students and faculty devoted to service work — started taking trips to Haiti to provide medical and dental assistance. On these trips, associate professor of biology Dr. Deb McGrath saw how deforestation was damaging soil and water quality and decided to get involved. Every year since, students have visited Haiti to work with “Partners in Agriculture,” a Haitian program working to restore the island’s agricultural productivity by giving farmers an incentive to reforest their land with native seedlings.

The Sewanee project created a system that pays farmers for the ecological benefits of planting trees, since healthy forests remove carbon from the atmosphere. Seedlings planted through the initiative will help farmers and landowners to protect the land against erosion and take care of the surrounding rivers. McGrath hopes that once the seedlings start producing fruit and coffee the project will become financially self-sufficient.

The University of the South is familiar with forests. The school has a 13,000-acre campus filled with rare old-growth trees, meadows and caves. Along with their work abroad, Sewanee has a broad range of environmental initiatives on campus and is projected to be the fifth school in the nation to become carbon neutral by 2016.

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


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 interns

‘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…)