Nowhere is the promise of a new Appalachian economy more apparent than in the food and farming sector. Local and regional food systems are beginning to realize their great potential as a means to address economic, health, and environmental goals simultaneously. Local food is booming nationwide, with rapid growth in consumer demand and increasing support from federal, state, and local government. Here in Central Appalachia, a strong local food movement has emerged, with a well-connected network of development practitioners and food-focused funders. Together, these regional actors are pursuing aligned strategies that grow food businesses, create jobs, preserve food heritage, conserve farmland, protect natural resources, and increase food security and access to fresh, healthy foods.
Food Systems Working Group
The philanthropic and non-profit infrastructure in Central Appalachia is especially strong in the local food sector. Non-profits in the region have been collaborating to pursue food systems development for decades, and are increasingly organized and aligned in their approach. Significant investments from grantmakers such as Kellogg Foundation, Ford Foundation, USDA, Appalachian Regional Commission, and various regional foundations have laid a strong foundation for the region’s food system capacity. Now, the Central Appalachian Network, a group of non-profit organizations, has partnered with the Appalachia Funders Network to coordinate a regional Food Systems Working Group. This working group connects food system practitioners across the region, and brings together funders who are interested in food systems to learn from practitioner efforts, build a shared analysis of investment needs, and share funding strategies. The working group objectives are:
- Create and deepen relationships between grantmakers and practitioners working in local food systems
- Foster deeper learning and analysis between grantmakers, practitioners, and supporters within specific sub-regions and across the region
- Increase resources within the region targeted at creating stronger local food systems
- Enhance the connectivity and capacity of the region’s key food system actors
The Food Systems Working Group has focused on developing a collective set of capacity-building strategies within each of four sub-regions of Central Appalachia. Across Appalachian Ohio, southwest Virginia and east Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, and Western North Carolina, the working group brought together funders, non-profit leaders, government officials, and grassroots groups to create a shared analysis of the capacity gaps in their food system and a set of priorities for strengthening that capacity. The resulting strategies were organized into a multi-state application for a USDA Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) grant, which will support implementation of those strategies at the sub-regional level. The RCDI project goals are:
- Develop common analysis of capacity gaps and establish shared strategies to build food system capacity within each sub-region.
- Connect funders and practitioners through strategy-sharing, peer learning, and other activities, to better inform food system development efforts across Appalachia.
- Leverage federal, state, and philanthropic resources to influence grantmaking strategies and increase external investment into Appalachia’s food systems.
- Strengthen the capacity of local food actors, including farmer groups, non-profits, local government, public officials, food banks, schools and other institutions, and food entrepreneurs.
As noted in Goal #2, the working group structure will also allow approaches and models to be shared across Central Appalachia, as funders and practitioners come together through regional convenings, peer learning exchanges, calls, and other forms of coordination. By bringing together the analysis, best practices, and strategies developed in each sub-region, we will be able to understand the leverage points and prioritize actions that can accelerate the development of healthy and resilient food systems across the entire region.
Food System Strategy Areas
While the Food Systems Working Group provides an important platform for aligning strategies, connecting food system actors, informing funder approaches, and leveraging resources, it is building on a broad body of food systems work that is ongoing across the region. Some of the current food system development strategies that are moving work on the ground in Central Appalachia right now include:
Producer Capacity-Building and Business Training: Farmer capacity-building around production techniques such as season extension, and business training to help farm businesses navigate regulations and increase financial viability.
Intermediated Local Food Value Chains: Local food value chains to connect farmers to wholesale markets through a fair trade supply chain of produce auctions, food hubs, processing centers, and purchasers.
Access to Fresh and Healthy Foods: Efforts to address obesity, malnutrition, and food insecurity through increased access to fresh healthy foods and nutrition education, and collaborations to get fresh food into pantries and food banks.
Join Appalachia’s Food Movement!
This document offers a glimpse into the major strategies and philanthropic investment prospects in the region’s food systems. These sector-specific opportunities are embedded within the region's historic context and build on collaborative philanthropic infrastructure and the locally-rooted momentum for Appalachian Transition. We invite you to learn more about the region, this work, and the organizations and networks working to leverage the wide variety of existing resources in the region. If you want to get involved, possible next steps include:
- Contact Sandra Mikush (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more about a particular strategy or the region
- Join the Food Systems Working Group and the Appalachia Funders Network to access additional learning and networking opportunities
- Visit the region and participate in learning journeys and site visits to demonstration projects