Central Appalachia: Growing Opportunities Through Local Food

Since 2015, ARC’s POWER Initiative has invested millions in projects working to create jobs, fuel new industries, and prepare workers and students for new opportunities in coal-impacted communities. The largest POWER funding package to date was awarded in October 2022, with particular momentum for one emerging sector: local food. 

ARC’s Agriculture and Local Food Economies in the Appalachian Region report shows increasing attention has been given to the potential of local and regional food systems across the United States. While enhancing the resilience of communities’ food supplies, local and regional food businesses also have major impacts on local economies.  

Though the Appalachian Region is characterized by smaller farms compared to the United States as a whole, the region’s population participates in farming at a rate higher than the U.S. For every 1,000 residents of Appalachia, there are 16.8 farmers, about 50% more than the U.S. overall.

This year, POWER is investing more than $9.7 million in projects harnessing that agricultural participations and potential, specifically in the Central Appalachian states of Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.  

Assisting and Equipping Entrepreneurs 

A majority of local food projects are providing equipment and technical assistance to meet the needs of, and pursue the opportunities available to, local agricultural businesses. In Prestonsburg, Kentucky, Big Sandy Area Development District received $1.2 million to conduct sitework for a regional apple sorting and packing hub serving nine counties. Similarly, the Appalachian Resource Conservation & Development Council in Johnson City, TN received a $991,546 to address the need for increased meat processing capacity among local farmers. The Kentucky Horticulture Council is using nearly $1.46 million to help new and established producers launch controlled environmental agriculture (CEA) operations that enable year-round growing.   

Growing Business Opportunities  

Another focus of many of the projects was helping to provide business development and market growth opportunities to existing programs, helping to aid their progress in growing their network. In Duffield, Virginia, Appalachian Sustainable Development received $1.5 million to help businesses address challenges faced as they scale their operations to reach wholesale markets. Grow Ohio Valley, in Wheeling, West Virginia, received $1.5 million to provide business development support services to small farm and food businesses in the upper Ohio Valley. Bluefield Economic Development Authority will use their $400,000 grant to offer a food truck incubator program for communities in Bluefield, West Virginia. And finally, the University of Pikeville received $1,500,000 to develop an agricultural research facility to aid the region’s growing sustainable agricultural sector.

Training New and Emerging Workers 

No business would be able to expand without providing education and training for new workers, which several of our POWER partners are taking on! In Eastern Kentucky, the Kentucky Community & Technical College System is using over $1.1 million to implement a hands-on training program in AgTech, building a workforce pipeline for high yield agriculture jobs in the area. The Region 4 Planning & Development Council in Summersville, West Virginia is using $1.5 million to create recovery-to-work training opportunities in agricultural production systems.   

Together, the nine projects are anticipated to serve 1,121 workers and 1,794 businesses, creating 685 new jobs and leveraging nearly $43 million in private investments for the region. ARC looks forward to the progress made in years to come thanks to these programs.