At the Appalachia Grows Conference last weekend, I sensed a resolve to make the local food system work. Garrett County already has a food hub – the Garrett Growers Cooperative, Inc. It has been primarily selling to restaurants,but Extension Agent Willie Lantz said that they have been working with Frostburg State University to sell food to the cafeteria there too. At the evening dinner held for beginning farmers, attendees were treated to a tasty dinner of locally sourced food provided by the cafeteria.
A high tunnel vendor at a nearby table said that farmers in the Appalachia region, particularly West Virginia, were actively using the resources of the USDA NRCS Season High Tunnel Initiative to help them grow food in their region. Local food keeps the money in the local economy and it creates jobs, which the Appalachia Region sorely needs.
Frostburg Grows is a very cool project that won a 2014 Sustainability Growth Award from the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission. They have taken deserted, mined land and turned it into an “innovative 5-acre greenhouse and shade house complex designed to train community members for high quality jobs while producing local food and tree seedlings.” Solar panels provide the energy to pump rainwater collected off the high tunnels to water the plants inside the tunnels.
Between census years 2007 and 2012, the number of farmers under 35 grew by 20%. At the conference, there was a great deal of interest in marketing strategies to sell direct to the consumer and in ways to get access to more land, much of which is more affordable than in the rest of the state.
That quiet resolve to succeed was evident in the faces of the attendees. I look forward to a return of the Appalachia Grows Conference next year to see how they have progressed.