John and Barbara Kling’s 340 acre farm borders scenic Toole Creek in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia. Along with their two children and four grandchildren, the Klings manage a diversified operation that includes livestock, organic produce, niche market products and forest resources. This diversity is ecologically based and economically driven.
Among the enterprises you’ll find on the Klings farm are lamb and wool, elephant garlic, garlic braids and a unique and delightful garlic jelly. Additionally, they raise five different fruits and vegetables organically and produce nine types of peppers for two specialty pepper products developed by another local farmer, for sale to a major national retail catalog. Some of the timber from their 60 acres of forestland is used on-farm, while the rest is sold to Appalachian Sustainable Development for drying in its solar kiln. Like most small farmers the Klings struggle to make ends meet, keeping many irons in the fire, creatively using limited resources to keep their farm and household running.
Along with 30 other small scale farmers and dozens of agricultural product entrepreneurs, the Kling family is part of a rapidly growing effort to rejuvenate the Central Appalachian economy through locally based, ecologically healthy enterprises. One of the catalysts in this “sustainable development” ferment is a regional non profit organization called Appalachian Sustainable Development, or ASD. Begun in October, 1995 ASD is an action oriented organization comprised of farmers, loggers, entrepreneurs, community-based organizations, environmental groups, and economic development agencies. This unlikely association of interests initially came together around a simple but enormously challenging question: How can we diversify and strengthen our region’s economy and better conserve our environment?
In this context, ASD initiated a project to develop a more regionally centered sustainable agriculture system in the Central Appalachian region, boosted by a $173,240 grant from USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. ASD’s main partners in this effort included: Rural Resources (Greeneville, TN), Jubilee Project (Hancock County, TN), the Lonesome Pine Office on Youth (Wise County, VA), Cooperative Extension staff of both VA and TN, local staff from the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Resource Conservation and Development Districts, faculty and researchers from Virginia State University, Virginia Tech, University of Tennessee, East Tennessee State University and Walters State Community College, along with several lead farmers. The two and a half year long project also garnered support from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, the James C. Penney Foundation, and the Virginia Environmental Endowment.
The Central Objectives of this project were to:
1. Increase the understanding and use of sustainable agriculture practices among farmers, especially limited resource producers, tobacco farmers, and those in transition from more conventional farm practices. A broad range of farm-based educational activities, along with ongoing technical assistance and farmer led research were used to address this objective.
2. Build a cadre of innovative farmers in the region, closely linked to Cooperative Extension and regional universities, in order to create an ongoing learning and teaching capacity for sustainable agriculture in the region.
3. Increase public understanding of sustainable agriculture and develop high value markets for local sustainable products. These markets were to include community supported agriculture programs, retail farmers markets, partnerships with grocers and other wholesale vendors, and specialty markets.
4. Increase the viability of farming and agricultural entrepreneurship in the region in order to reduce the loss of farmland and farmers and to help diversify and revitalize the region’s economy.
The most significant accomplishments achieved through this project included the following:
* Forty nine workshops were held, attended by over 1200 people, covering a wide range of topics including livestock production and management, crop production, disease, pest and soil fertility management, value added products, and marketing. Additionally, the first Southern Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture conference was held in February, 1999, with a second conference planned for March, 2000. Overall evaluation of workshops, farm field days and the conference were very strong, with many repeat attendees.
* There was a substantial increase in sustainable/organic production over the two and half years: the number of certified organic farmers increased from just one to 18 in the region, with another 10-12 utilizing biological or low input practices for crop and livestock production. Ten demonstrations sites were initiated on farms in five counties throughout the region, providing opportunities for hands-on continuing education in sustainable production methods.
* A research and technical assistance core group was built, drawing in local and regional Extension staff, and faculty and researchers from four universities in Tennessee and Virginia. This group offers a long term commitment of expertise in commercial fruit and vegetable production, specialty crops, agriculture marketing, and sustainable livestock production.
* A region-wide analysis of consumer food preferences and buying habits documented wide spread, strong interest in local/sustainably produced meats and produce. It has been used to help build and cement partnerships with consumers and institutional buyers.
* The network of biological and organic farmers raising produce for market more than doubled, from 12 to 30, including at least six limited resource farmers.
* The Central Appalachian region’s first commercial “kitchen incubator” was completed at the Jubilee Center in Hancock County, Tennessee. This is providing opportunities for start-up entrepreneurs to test and develop high value agricultural products.
* Two other communities in the region initiated partnerships with existing facilities to provide opportunities for development and testing of preserved food products.
* A partnership with a locally based grocery chain – Whites Fresh Foods – was initiated, the first time a grocer in the region allocated a designated section for locally produced, organic farm products. Using the name Appalachian Harvest, locally raised organic produce was included in seven stores in the East Tennessee region. This should expand to additional stores in 2000 and will eventually include value added products and meats.
Although the project results are in many ways preliminary, there have been a number of benefits to farmers and consumers growing out of these efforts. To farmers, these include:
* Increased understanding and improved research on a variety of sustainable production issues, such as control of tomato blight, cucumber beetle, Colorado potato and Mexican bean beetles, organic soil fertility, pasture health and weed management, low cost water and fencing systems for intensive grazing, multi species grazing, and use of warm season grasses for enhanced livestock production.
* A widely dispersed group of farmer-innovators demonstrating one or more of these sustainable agriculture practices and accumulating knowledge to share with other farmers in the region. In fact, at least five “sustainable farming hubs” developed during the project wherein one farmer’s innovation has garnered interest in new practices among several neighboring farmers.
* Increased market access for organic and sustainable farm products.
* Increased availability of education, technical assistance and expertise from researchers in sustainable production practices.
* Facilities and technical help to begin the development of commercial specialty food products.
To consumers, the benefits include:
* Much more widely available organic produce in the region.
* Increased availability of sustainably produced meat products, particularly beef and lamb, and to a lesser degree, poultry.
* Increased opportunities to visit innovative farm operations and to access materials on sustainable agriculture.
Goal A CONSUMER EDUCATION, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING.
Purpose: To be viable at both farm and community levels, all sustainable development efforts must ultimately be market driven. At the same time, “organic” markets, relational marketing and niche marketing are evolving markets wherein considerable consumer education and public outreach is integral to their development. Thus the process of analyzing the market for local, sustainably produced agricultural products entails a great deal of product development and testing, along with creation or expansion of marketing systems that more effectively link consumers with the producers of their (our) food.
Objectives and Approach
1. Expansion of Regional Markets, including CSA’s restaurant networks and wholesale opportunities.
a. Expand existing community supported agriculture projects to three CSAs and 160 participating households in 1997, four CSAs and 200 participating households in 1998. Expansion will be led by Team B and a resource team as outlined in Goal B, Objective 2.
b. Expand and improve regional restaurant marketing network to increase total sales by 30% each year, and to improve access and efficiency for growers. Restaurant markets will be expanded through off farm contacts with new restaurants and cultivation of ongoing contracts with new and existing restaurant partners; additional development of table tent cards (sample enclosed) will be used to solidify restaurant commitment to local growers; on farm season extension techniques will extend season for fresh produce; introduction of meats and processed items, particularly in year two and beyond will also expand sales.
Improvements in farmer access and efficiency will focus on improved distribution and delivery systems, which has been identified as a critical need by local growers.
c. Gain entry into regional wholesale markets for at least 10 local, biological producers by year 2. Entry into national and even regional grocery chains has proved to be difficult, primarily due to season limitations and demands for product uniformity and consistency. This potentially large market will continue to be cultivated, drawing upon the soon to be opened Weber City regional farmers market; (we are actively involved in the Steering Committee for this); additionally, we will continue to develop a “local, chemical free” identify and cultivate a consumer demand with this at the retail level. We will use high value specialty items such as raspberries, exotic peppers etc. to also help gain entry to these markets.
2. Identify and cultivate markets for value added products
a. Conduct basic market research on high value, niche markets at the national level. Market research will include examination and interviews with leading catalog marketers as well as regional and national retail outlets specializing in exotic and biological/organic food products.
b. Continue test marketing, development and evaluation of existing value added products such as the Mountain Gift Basket ( an assortment of 11 locally produced items sold in a locally made basket/trug), and the “Peck of Peppers”, which has been developing for six years under the leadership of Chestnut Ridge Farm.
c. Expand wholesale market for organic/low input livestock products, including beef, pork and poultry. Building on markets developed by Emerald Family Farms and Thorntree Farm, partnerships with whole foods groceries such as Earth Fare in Western North Carolina will be cultivated and/or expanded.
d. Utilize existing regional market structures – CSA households, restaurants, health food stores – as markets for meat products and processed foods. Coordination between existing CSA farmers and restaurant marketing network and food product entrepreneurs will be facilitated by the marketing staff and team.
e. Develop and disseminate educational materials on nutritional and ecological advantages of “lean, clean” meats. This will build on materials already developed by Emerald Family Farms, Joel Salatin and others.
3. Test and develop high value processed food products
a. Develop a commercial capacity within the region for processing high value food products. Focus in year one will be on the development of the Sneedville Farm Products Center which will serve as both an incubator training center and a facility for development of commercial grade, high value products. In subsequent years additional commercial processing capacity will be developed in other communities in VA and TN.
b. Link farmers, food processing entrepreneurs, and marketing specialist to increase the marketability of locally raised and processed products. The close collaboration which our team structure facilitates will help ensure that product development is market driven, enhancing viability for small scale entrepreneurs.
4. Expand & increase effectiveness of relationship-based markets
See Goal B, Objective 2
5. Initiate research on high value, non food agricultural products.
Working with institute for local self reliance in Washington, D.C., and the VA State, VA Tech and UT, examine existing research on potential markets, products, and technical requirements in developing non food agricultural products. Special attention will be given to carbohydrate based chemicals and fuels, especially those that can be manufactured with modest facilities and capital needs.
Goal B PRODUCER TRAINING, EDUCATION & OUTREACH
Purpose: We will develop a wide range of practical, farm-based educational opportunities for youth and college interns, focusing on sustainable farming practices and value added products and innovative markets in order to reverse the exodus of young people from the Region’s farms and communities.
Objective 1: Provide experiential training for youth and potential farmers in the principles and practices of sustainable agriculture.
a. Establish the Hancock County School Farm Project to offer hands-on learning experiences where students play a lead role in the management and operation of a CSA. Hancock County HS has established a farm space adjacent to the school. The voc-ag teacher and a school farm manager will teach organic production methods along with marketing.
b. Expand the Rural Resources Farm School (Holly Creek Farm)in Greene County, TN offer internships which give students hands-on experience working alongside farmers practicing aspect of sustainable agriculture. New Harvest Produce CSA located on site as well as the Lee County Demonstration Farm, Emerald Family Farms, and Chestnut Ridge Farm will be primary resources for interns. In addition, students will be responsible for readings and an experimental garden. In addition, the Education Team will assist in the placement of apprentices and interns who choose to spend their summer working on a farm in the region such as New Harvest Produce CSA, the Lee County Demonstration Farm, Emerald Family Farms, or Chestnut Ridge Farm.
c. Coordinate workshops, field days, and other seminars at schools and on farms to promote awareness and support of local, sustainably oriented farms.
Objective 2: Promote and support the development of Community Supported Agriculture and related direct marketing systems.
a. The Education Team will promote Community Supported Agriculture, utilizing New Harvest Produce, the Hancock County School Farm, and the Highlands BioProduce CSA for farm tours and field days, involving potential growers as well as interested consumers. The Team will also coordinate off-season town meetings utilizing church, farm and consumer groups for out reach.
b. Develop educational materials to encourage support and patronage of local agricultural producers. Through restaurants, retail outlets, health and environmental organizations, disseminate information on availability of local, sustainably produced ag products. Work closely with Virginia Association Biological Farmer’s “Green Label” program now under development.
Objective 3: Provide educational opportunities in the area of value-added product development, entrepreneurship, and marketing.
Promote hands-on classes, seminars and other learning opportunities being offered around the region by team members such as Business Start, Jubilee Project, and Lonesome Pine Office on Youth. We will work closely with 4-H and vocational/technical schools in this effort, and will coordinate with the Marketing Specialist in product identification.
Objective 4: Increase collaboration with local and regional economic development agencies, Cooperative Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service, State Departments of Agricultural, and Land Grant schools in the design and sponsorship of educational activities focused on agriculture and value-added products.
The Education Coordinator will work with representatives from each of these organizations to identify common objectives and to address them by mutually supported educational activities. Because the ASD Sustainable Ag Task Force already has representatives from Extension and NRCS on it, and there are strong working relationships with faculty from UT, VPI and VA State, this collaboration should grow steadily.
Goal C – ON FARM RESEARCH AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
Purpose: To improve understanding of sustainable agricultural systems and practices among Central Appalachian farmers, as well as community based and publicly supported agriculture resource people; and to encourage and assist farmers in the adoption of these practices through demonstrations, on-farm assistance, market oriented incentives, and the development of “farmer trainers” who help encourage and train their peers.
Objectives and Approach
1. Develop and maintain four farm demonstration sites for research and dissemination of sustainable agriculture practices. The four demonstration sites, ranging in size from 250 acres to a 1 acre High School based farm, will provide venues for “field days” and public demonstrations, as well as sites for ongoing, hands on research into sustainable agriculture practices. Two of these farms – the Hancock County High School Farm and the Holley Creek Farm in Greene County, TN are operated by not for profit organizations. Both of these will focus on fruit and vegetable production and the development of value added food processing facilities. The other two farms, in Washington and Lee Counties, VA, are privately owned, and will demonstrate various dimensions of integrated livestock operations, along with some fruit and vegetable production. All four farms will have some commercial dimensions (the non profits to help generate revenues); all four have also undertaken a long term commitment to farmer training and public education, and will make their farms available for such well beyond the life of this project.
The rationale for four sites in a ten county region is threefold: first, farmers often will not travel far and thus need sites close to home and similar to their own circumstances; second, each site offers different soils, terrain and other ecological factors, thereby broadening our testing of the applicability of sustainable ag practices; and third, all these sites will also be integral parts of our consumer and public education efforts and thus must be dispersed throughout the region.
Overall coordination of TA and research will be shared by the Team Leader, a 25% time staff person and practicing farmer, and Mr. Andy Hankins, Cooperative Extension Specialist from Virginia State University. Mr. Hankins will oversee the design, set-up, monitoring and evaluation of field-based research, drawing upon colleagues at VPI, UT, NRCS, and local Extension offices. All research issues will be determined by local farmers and agricultural producers, who will also be integral to their design, application and monitoring.
2. Assess the research and technical assistance needs of farmers, especially those interested in a transition to more sustainable practices. With help from Extension, NRCS, and the Nature Conservancy, we will continue and expand our farmer outreach efforts in order to identify their primary technical and research needs. Field days will be used to gather farmers, and presentations through Farm Bureau, 4-H and other farm organizations will further identify interested farmers and their concerns. The Team Leader will coordinate the farm demonstrations and TA requests, and help link and integrate the research and activities of the four demonstration sites. He/she will also coordinate outreach to local farmers, drawing heavily upon ASD’s network of farmers community based organizations, Extension staff including Mike Cassell (Scott Co., VA) and Steve Hale (Greene Co., TN), and NRCS staff, including Bill Keith (Lee Co., VA) and Colin Loring (Hancock Co., TN).
3. Conduct on-farm research into rotational grazing and integrated livestock production practices, and convene 3-5 on farm demonstrations and workshops for farmers and the public. Working with Joel Salatin, an internationally recognized expert in this field, we will strengthen existing rotational grazing operations (Emerald Family Farms, Thorntree Farm) and expand application of these and other integrated livestock systems to our Lee County farm and other sites.
4. Set up research trials in a variety of farm settings, focusing on biological production methods for fruits and vegetables. The exact topics for research will be determined in consultation with farmers and agriculture resource personnel. Some of the key issues that have been identified by growers thus far include: diseases in solanaceae, especially tomatoes; biological insect control, especially in potatoes, corn, leafy greens and cucurbits; season extension techniques to expand markets and increase production; no till or minimum tillage in vegetable crops; and obtaining adequate soil fertility with minimal off farm or chemical inputs.
Working with Dr. John Caldwell (VPI), we will utilize a “farming systems research” approach by which issues and innovations are tested across a cluster of farms/farmers, thereby strengthening the validity and applicability of the results, and helping to build a core of local, “farmer trainers”. A written summary of this process will provide both an evaluative tool for ASD and a key element of our future planning.
5. Provide research and training to prepare entrepreneurs for food processing. This will include production, equipment and facility issues, as well as food processing regulations, labeling and related issues. As with all other research and technical assistance, information gathered here will be closely coordinated with our product and market development team.
A key component of our efforts to broaden the base of sustainably oriented farmers will be the provision of high value market-based incentives, many of which we have already begun to establish. Further development of market incentives will help guide research and technical assistance priorities.
Appalachian Sustainable Development, formerly known as the Clinch Powell Sustainable Development Initiative, initiated a Regionally Centered Sustainable Agriculture System project with $173,240 of USDA/SARE support in August of 1997. The project was also supported initially by private foundation funds from W. K. Kellogg, Jessie Smith Noyes, James C. Penney and the Virginia Environmental Endowment, and later garnered additional matching support from the Appalachian Regional Commission. A very substantial amount of in-kind support was contributed to the project by Cooperative Extension agents, University faculty from Virginia State, Virginia Tech, the University of Tennessee, and in the latter stages of the project, East Tennessee State University.
The “regional systems approach” of this project and the emphasis on a market driven effort to spur farm diversification was supported by a range of literature.
Concentration of agricultural output and decline of farm share of total agricultural market.
Moderately sized “family farms” continued to decline in the United States throughout the past decade, with over 600,000 lost from 1981-88 alone (USDA Census Bureau). As would then be expected, concentration of farm output is extremely high: 29% of all US farms accounted for 94% of total farm output in 1989 (ibid). Along with USDA Economist Stewart Smith’s analysis of the steady and dramatic decline in the farm share of total agricultural output (Austin), it is clear that smaller farms need to develop either more or better markets if they are to remain viable.
Aging of farm population
The average age of US farmers is increasing, with more than twice as many now over 65 years of age, as those under 35 (University of Nebraska), due in part to a general increase in the costs of equipment and land associated with conventional farming (ibid), and in part with the continued out migration of youth – especially from Appalachia – to urban areas (Obermiller & Philliber). Within our own region, a Farmer Survey conducted by Rural Resources in Greene County, TN, identified migration of farm youth off the farm as among farmers’ biggest concerns.
Development of higher value markets – Trends and Potential.
In addition to the general growth in markets for organic foods cited earlier (Steuteville & Riggle), other forces are driving growth in markets for higher value agricultural products, including consumer concerns about pesticide residues on foods (Meeker; and Goldman & Clancy, pg. 89-92). Additionally, many farmers have begun to see higher returns, either because of direct marketing systems, (Freedgood, pg. 17-19; Community Farm Alliance, pg. 10; and Van En, pg. 31) or because of better overall profitability from lower input farming systems, (Cunningham & Hanson, pg. 4-5; Cavigelli & Kois, 1988; Goldstein & Young, 1987). A 1996 Virginia Tech study concluded that “… biological/organic production may be an effective method for producers to increase household incomes” (Zhou & McGuirk, pg. 8). Direct marketing systems, in which growers keep 80% or more of the retail share of food products, compared to 10-25% in conventional markets, have also grown dramatically in the past 20 years (Van En, pg. 30).
Technical Support & Farm Adoption of Innovations.
A study by the University of Nebraska and the Center for Rural Affairs demonstrated that adoption of alternative crops and/or alternative farm practices required “several exposures to alternative agriculture ideas or several years experience…” and that farmer inexperience and risk aversion with such practices made demonstrable success by neighboring farmers of the highest importance (Center for Rural Affairs, pg. 6). Thus it is clear that dissemination of alternative practices, including more sustainable crop and livestock systems, require more outreach and hands-on assistance to farmers. Unfortunately, this reality coincides with diminishing, rather than increasing support for technical assistance: Virginia’s Cooperative Extension, for instance, is funded at the 3rd lowest level among the 13 Southeastern States (VA House Doc. # 67, pg. 2).
Adopting a Systems Approach
Although concrete evidence of the superiority of more systemic approaches to rural/agricultural development is hard to identify, growing interest among farmers, universities and public officials is not. The President’s Council on Sustainable Development stated in its 1996 Report, Sustainable Agriculture: “Agricultural research tends to focus on individual aspects of agricultural production rather than on whole production systems, including the ecological systems that are the settings for farming and ranching operations. Moreover, agricultural research tends to emphasize the insights of single disciplines rather than combining the expertise of multiple disciplines, including biology, chemistry, ecology, and economics. This narrow focus, which has evolved in response to institutional pressures for specialization, impedes the acquisition of knowledge that would enhance the sustainability of U.S. agriculture.”
Agriculture in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia is in the midst of a system-wide crisis, reflective of problems facing agriculture across the nation. Building pressure upon family farmers is causing dramatic and negative changes in the rural culture of the Appalachians. Small farms are failing at a tremendous rate. In Greene County, TN , for example, farm land is being lost at the rate of 15 acres/day (U.S. Agricultural Census). Even the regional mainstays of tobacco and beef are losing their viability. With a decline in smoking in the U.S. and increased importation of tobacco, burley production in the region has declined by almost 30% in the past 20 years (Purcell et.al., p. 1-2) “Adding value” to local foods, once common throughout the Southern Appalachians, as evidenced by past proliferation of community canneries, has declined dramatically. The problem runs from soil to market and as such, must be addressed by systemic – and practical – initiatives.
American agriculture is among the most productive in the world. However, the driving force behind American productivity – the infusion of capital in the form of heavy machines, the four fold increase in use of pesticides (1950-1980), and the 300% increase (1960-1980) in use of petroleum-based fertilizers (Gussow, pg 23) – is largely responsible for the the precipitous decline in farm health and farming communities. As Austin pointed out in his “Spiritual Crisis in Modern Agriculture” (Austin, p. 1), most of the expansion of the agribusiness sector over the past 70 years has occurred off the farm, with packaging, transport, and other off-farm inputs now accounting for 90% of total agriculture related sales. Farmers, on average, receive 25% or less of the final value of their harvest, as increasingly their product is both processed and sold in distant places. This trend holds true in the Appalachian region, where, since 1980, tobacco farmers have seen a 30% decline in the real price of burley leaf, while the wholesale price charged by manufacturers has increased more than threefold (Purcell, p. 1-2). Simultaneously, the off-farm costs of unsustainable agriculture practices have increased: A 1989 USDA study estimated that sediment damage from farm runoff cost $4-5 billion annually (Ribudo).
Public attitudes play a key role in this as people – “consumers” – often no longer know where their food comes from. The driving force in agriculture is consumer demand for cheap, readily available products in all seasons. Indeed, Americans spend about 10% of their total household income for food, compared with 16 to 22% in Western Europe, and nearly 50% in much of the developing world (World Bank, p. 196-197).
Although evidence of significant pesticide residues on our food has been inconsistent, the widespread contamination of wells and ground water is thoroughly documented. (Gussow, pg. 30-31). Whatever the indirect or cumulative health impacts for U.S. consumers, these are dwarfed by the 20,000 world-wide farm worker deaths and 750,000 poisonings attributed to pesticides each year (Wright, p. 3).
Economically, the region suffers from chronically high unemployment and poverty, combined with serious problems of environmental damage and resource extraction. The Virginia coal industry continues to decline, with 1343 jobs lost in the last year alone (Igo, p. 3B). Unemployment rates in the Virginia ASD region have hovered between 125% and 210% above the statewide rate for more than 10 years. Dickenson County’s July 1996 unemployment rate was a staggering 20% (Virginia Employment Commission). Poverty rates in the Tennessee counties we serve run to a high of nearly 40% (U.S. Census, 1990).
The rationale for ASD’s sustainable agriculture has grown out of our own experience, reinforced by academic research and comparable experiences in neighboring states. The rationale rests upon the following propositions, each of which will be further tested in this project:
1. Tobacco is to be in a long term trend of decline in terms of profitability for small farmers (Purcell et al), and therefore its role as an agricultural and economic anchor in many Appalachian communities will erode over the next several decades.
2. The feasibility of developing alternatives to tobacco rests in large part on the creation of higher value products and markets than those that currently exist.
3. Higher value markets and increased small farm viability will be enhanced by more direct, regionally-oriented markets, lower input practices, and diversification at both farm and community levels.
4. Young people continue to leave rural Appalachian communities in large numbers, and to an even greater degree are giving up on farming, primarily because of the high costs of entering farming (conventionally) and its general lack of profitability.
5. Many sustainable practices, from rotational grazing to bio intensive crop production, are relatively complex, multi dimensional systems which need further research and application through Land Grant Universities, Cooperative Extension and other professional agricultural support agencies, and farmers. In our experience, technical support personnel need and often want additional sustainable agriculture information and resources themselves, in order to encourage such practices among farmers.
6. Farmers, especially older or lower resource farmers tend to be prudent, even risk averse. Adoption of new farming practices, crops or marketing systems require demonstrable success (of neighboring farmers), access to capital, and relatively easy access to new information or systems.
Taken together, these six propositions lead to the basic premise that building healthy, viable farms and agricultural communities requires the development of an infrastructure for sustainability. The Appalachian Sustainable Development’s efforts to build such an infrastructure will have far reaching impact in our region and beyond. Training and technical assistance for farmers will help support the transition to more sustainable crop and livestock systems. Further expansion of regional markets, supported by our own experience and by dramatic national growth in demand for organic foods (Steuteville & Riggle, p. 18-19), and in development of local marketing systems (Schantz, p. 59), will improve farm profitability. Development of the markets and infrastructure for value added food products will generate additional income for farmers, create linkages to other local entrepreneurs and help “plug the leaks” in the region’s economy. And education of young farmers, potential farmers and youth will help institutionalize support for sustainable agriculture.
This project examined three interrelated areas within the framework of sustainability: Agricultural production, education, and markets. In each of these three areas, the project was designed to undertake research and analysis, and then to attempt to apply the findings. The project design involved farmers, other agriculture entrepreneurs, and a wide range of agriculture leaders and professionals at every step of the process, increasingly so as the project unfolded. The methodology utilized in each of the three major goal areas is described below.
Because of the complexity of the project and the large number of farmers, university and Extension personnel, and others involved, the project was implemented through three teams, each corresponding to one of the major goal areas: Research and technical assistance; Education and outreach; and market analysis and development. These teams met (or otherwise communicated) regularly to plan, coordinate activities, delegate tasks, and evaluate progress. The leaders of each team met monthly (for most of the project period) with the ASD director who also served as project manager. This structure helped encourage an on-going learning process among the numerous project leaders and participants. It also facilitated more “efficient” collaboration, providing ways for key resource people (e.g. the University personnel) to maximize their time in our area, while minimizing unnecessary cost and travel.
Agriculture Production Research and Technical Assistance
Under the leadership of Dr. John Caldwell and Dr. Herman Warren of Virginia Tech, Mr. Andy Hankins of Virginia State, and Dr. Mark Schonbeck, (an independent researcher), sustainable agriculture production research was carried out on 10 small farms scattered throughout the region. Specific research topics undertaken during one or both years included:
1) Tomato blight control (early blight and late blight), undertaken on four farms.
Three materials were used, along with a control on each participating farm to examine impact on early and late blight in tomatoes: Kocide, a copper fungicide used as an acceptable but restricted material on the OMRI organic certification list, Soap Shield, a copper-soap formulation low in copper, and Trilogy, a neem oil derivative. The extent and spread of disease was examined, as well as impacts on production.
2) Control of cucumber beetles, undertaken on three farms;
Two different control strategies for cucumber beetle were tested: use of a reflective aluminized mulch, and the development of a beneficial insect habitat Cucumber beetle populations and crop production data were monitored.
3) Pasture improvement using organic amendments undertaken on three farms.
Two pasture improvement strategies were employed: the application of black rock phosphate and the use of Superbio, a microbial spray. The impact on overall pasture health, soil pH, and draught resilience were monitored.
In each of these research trials, farmers were involved in the research design and had primary responsibility for carrying out design protocol and monitoring results. Dr. Caldwell, Dr. Warren, Dr. Schonbeck and Mr. Hankins made 3-4 visits per season to the participating farms to assist with set-up, collection and monitoring of data, and review of progress and results with the farmer. Between the 1998 and 1999 season, the research and technical assistance team, consisting of the above mentioned researchers along with several farmers and Cooperative Extension agents, simplified the research design in an effort to make it more manageable for participating farmers.
Precise research design protocols are outlined in attachment A.
Sustainable Agriculture Education and Outreach
Although no formal “research” was involved in this arena, an education and outreach strategy was developed, tested and refined over the life of the project. The methodology employed was primarily farm based education, using a geographically and economically diverse base of farms throughout the region. Five of the ten farms undertaking research also hosted a wide range of educational events, as did several other farms doing farm demonstrations or raising a crop or product for the commercial market. Nearly every farm-based training involved at least two trainers, one a practicing farmer, the other a university teacher or an agriculture professional. This combination was intended to help “ground” all agriculture education in the language and realities of working farms, while also introducing scientifically sound ideas and methods.
The project originally envisioned 4 farm demonstration sited hosting a multiplicity of sustainable agriculture techniques, practices and technologies. As the project unfolded, the team leaders and other principals decided to decentralize these demonstrations to broaden visibility and increase diversity of practices to be demonstrated. By project end, eleven demonstrations were in place:
- Dennis Price Farm (Gate City, VA): Rotational grazing, warm season grasses
Thorntree Farm (Nicklesville, VA): Pasture improvement (with black rock phosphate and superbio) and multi-species grazing
Wallens Creek Farm (Wallens Creek, VA): Pasture improvement (with black rock phosphate and gypsum), low-cost watering system; and warm season grasses
James Fannon Farm (Stickleyville, VA): Honey bee impacts on clover and crop pollination; organic vegetable production
Council High School (Buchanon County, VA): High school organic gardens and small orchard
Barbara Drury Farm (Greene County, TN): Blueberry production; drip irrigation and rotational grazing
Rural Resources (Greeneville, TN): Low cost, creek fed watering system; Demonstration organic gardens
Chris Wilson Farm (Gray, TN): Multi species grazing and organic vegetable production
Holley Creek Farm (Greeneville, TN): Organic CSA vegetable farm with overhead, mobile irrigation
Hancock County High School Farm: Youth based CSA, organic vegetable farm
Childress Farm, (Greeneville, TN): Water system and small ruminants
Although most of these practices underway on these farms are not entirely new, the variety of farms and farmers, the dispersed locations, and the on farm diversity provide excellent opportunities for continual farm-based learning, outreach and demonstration. Several organic disease, pest and fertility management practices are being employed and tested on these farms.
In February, 1999, the first ever Southern Appalachian sustainable agriculture conference was held, incorporating more than 20 workshops on a wide range of production and marketing topics. This conference grew out of expressed desires on the parts of both farmers and educators for a more formal, classroom setting during the off season (Many farmers become so busy once the growing season begins, that an off season workshop was deemed desirable). It will be held again in March, 2000.
Both the sustainable agriculture conference and the farm trainings were conceived, designed, developed and implemented with extensive farmer participation. Between the first and second year of the project, the main change in education methodology was to reduce the number of educational events in order to be able to better prepare for them and advertise their availability. This proved very effective.
We also conducted outreach to and training for value adding agriculture entrepreneurs, including field trips to existing commercial kitchen incubators (Athens, OH) and specialty acquaculture/hydroponics operations (Mountain City, TN). As part of our ongoing education and outreach efforts, SARE funds helped equip a demonstration commercial kitchen in Hancock county, TN.
Youth entrepreneurship and farming also received educational emphasis during the project, primarily at four venues: The Holley Creek Farm School in Greeneville, the Hancock County High School Farm, and two other high school organic gardens programs which emerged – Council High School (Buchanan County, VA), and Twin Springs High School (Scott County, VA).
The primary market research and analysis undertaken during the project was a scientific sampling of households to determine consumer preferences related to sustainable agriculture, local farm products, and related issues. This was implemented as a contract with East Tennessee State University’s Department of Marketing. Ten thousand households from southwest Virginia and east Tennessee were randomly selected and mailed a survey in January, 1999; 1250 households responded. The survey, a summary of which can be found in Attachment B, was developed jointly by the ASD marketing team and Dr. Glen Riecken of ETSU.
Additionally, several public samplings and tastings were conducted during the life of the project to determine consumer interest in sustainable agriculture products and to provide feedback on product quality. These included: three tastings of local beef products in Tennessee and Virginia; one tasting of a value added food product, conducted at a regional gathering of the Culinary Association, and two tastings of local organic food products conducted in Abingdon, Virginia.
1. Field-Based Research
Tomato Disease Trials
The hot, dry 1999 season limited fungal disease development. Two of the four growers – Christy Glass and Perry Sexton – did not apply the experimental treatments at all, for the good reason that disease levels did not warrant fungicide applications.
John Mullins observed light to moderate levels of early blight, and applied the experimental treatments twice in July. The tomatoes, which were fertilized with manure compost at 2 shovelfulls per plant, yielded heavily (up to 20 lbs. per plant). There were no significant differences among disease-control treatments in either yield or disease severity. However, the neem oil seemed to reduce the number of insect pests on the plants. Conventionally grown tomatoes in another field, which were treated with standard fungicides (Dithane and Bravo) showed similar levels of early blight, and lower yields.
At the fourth farm, Raymon and Nancy Grace made four applications during July and August, because of wet conditions in July, and early blight in August. Disease levels were lowest with Kocide, intermediate with Soap Shield, and highest with Trilogy. Total yields also reflected this trend, averaging 7.5 lb per plant with Kocide, 6.1 lb per plant with Soap Shield, and only 4.4 lb per plant with Trilogy.
In a replicated experiment at Virginia Tech, Dr. Herman Warren compared Soap Shield, Trilogy neem oil, and a water extract of garlic with a chemical standard (Dithane) and an untreated control, on three tomato varieties. Disease pressure was high at this site, and treatments were applied weekly for 10 weeks. Dithane reduced visible disease symptoms on some but not all evaluation dates. However, Soap Shield was as effective as Dithane in improving marketable yield (compared to treated plants ), whereas neither Trilogy nor garlic extract improved yield. Dr. Warren stated that other plant researchers have found neem oil mostly ineffective against crop diseases, but effective again some insect pests.
Three growers had planned to conduct experiments with natural pest controls for cucumber beetles in cucumbers. Two experiments were completed. Although the data were somewhat sketchy, the trends do suggest that an aluminum-coated plastic mulch repels cucumber beetles to a significant degree, and that nearby plantings of buckwheat, dill and cilantro may attract natural enemies of the cucumber beetle. The aluminized mulch also seemed to enhance cucumber growth and yield during this scorching summer, probably by maintaining lower soil temperatures than those under the black plastic mulch. Since runoff or standing water can cause the reflective aluminum surface to deteriorate, beds should be shaped carefully to keep these off the mulch. Ongoing research will address logistical problems with maintaining habitat plantings in proximity to the crop, such as tall buckwheat lodging on top of the cucumbers.
In 1998, encouraging trends were seen in two samplings. At one farm, on July 23 spotted and striped cucumber beetles together were 2.2 times more plentiful in melon planted in black plastic than in melon planted into aluminum-coated plastic. The mean count of the two types from two replications of aluminum-coated plastic was 15.5, right at the threshold of 15 below which transmission of bacterial wilt would not occur. In contrast, on black plastic, the count of 33 was more than double the threshold. At the second farm with the repulsion trial, on August 28, in three plots with black plastic or aluminum-coated plastic where the aluminum had worn off, mean counts of the two cucumber beetles were 2.0 times higher than in the plot with good reflectivity. The grower also reported highest yield from the plot with good reflectivity. While these results are from too small a number of plots and sampling dates to draw conclusions from, these trends are congruent with the advantages of repulsion found in previous research.
In 1999, one farm was able to obtain data from five sampling dates, from July 5 to August 2. Cucumber beetle densities were low (< 2 beetles / trap) in the first two samplings dates, July 5 and 12. July is generally a time between beetle generations, when populations can be expected to drop. Beetle densities increased in the later three dates. The two treatments with habitats were approximately 1 beetle less than the treatments without habitats on July 19 and 26. Then, on the last date, August 2, beetles appeared to be concentrated in the treatments without habitats, with 2.4 times the density of treatments with habitats. However, even the highest count was only 9 beetles, the number of replications was small, and definite conclusions cannot be drawn.
Results with Natural Fertilizers and other Pest and Disease Controls
Several growers used Neptune’s Harvest, a foliar feed based on fish plus seaweeds that provides a wide range of nutrients (2-3-0.5 N-P-K, plus micronutrients) and natural plant growth stimulants. Cris Wilson was especially pleased with the effects of Neptune’s Harvest on her hayfields. Despite severe drought, a hayfield that was sprayed a week after mowing maintained good color and put on six inches of regrowth during the following two weeks, whereas an adjacent unsprayed section showed more drought stress. Castlewood Farm Supply in Dickensonville now carries Neptune’s Harvest.
Several participating growers had good success with Novador, a new, non-genetically-engineered Bt formulation for control of Colorado potato beetles. One grower found by experience that it should not be tank-mixed with Pyrethrin or other botanical pesticides, which inactivate the Bt. When used alone, the Novador “worked as well as the standard chemical pesticide, killed larvae and even made adults sluggish.”
At least eight growers released Pedio wasp control of Mexican bean beetles. Most had at least partial success. Pedio tends to work gradually through the season, with the most significant reductions in bean beetles on late season bean plantings. Timely release of Pedio – during egg hatching of the season’s first generation of bean beetles – is essential. At one farm, the Pedio was released too late, and bean crops were severely damaged by bean beetles. However, by the end of the season, many beetle larvae were parasitized by Pedio at this site.
One newly-transitioning grower harvested a bumper crop of organic potatoes, up to 15 bushels per 300 feet of row. In a few other cases, potato yields were low, probably because of hot dry conditions. Chris Wilson of Jonesborough, TN observed that potatoes seem to yield more when grown after garlic than when grown after sweet corn and other summer crops. She is now experimenting with fall planted potatoes, and is also raising garlic for seed.
Pasture Improvement Results
Thorntree Farms, a registered Angus beef operation in Nicklesville, VA, participated in a research/demonstration trial. The main purpose of the demonstration was to examine pasture improvement using alternative soil amendments.
We selected a portion of three paddocks for soil improvement and soil tested each, using a minimum of ten plugs from each area. We then divided each paddock portion into a 75% amendment area (A) and a 25% control area (C). In field 2 we applied Super Bio (1 gal/acre), a liquid foliar feed soil amendment with calcium to the amendment area, and nothing to the control area. In field 3 we applied Super Bio and rock phosphate (1000 lbs. Per acre) and nothing to the control area. In field 4 we applied rock phosphate (1000 lbs. Per acre) and nothing to the control area.
Soil tests were done after one year and the results were very positive. In field 2 the amendment area showed marked improvement in calcium levels.
In fields 3 and 4, the amended areas showed increased phosphorous levels, and indicated the effectiveness of the slow release rock phosphate. It is our hope that we will see even better results from the rock phosphate in years 2, 3, and 4 due to the slow release of the rock phosphate.
It should also be noted that we are seeing an improvement in biological activity in the soil and an increase in the organic matter. We think this is a result of the rotational grazing (It should be noted that all of the amended areas and the control areas were included in the rotational grazing rotations during the test period), along with the amendments.
Overall conclusions on Field Research
The model for on-farm research tested over these two years was not able to produce sufficient data to validate the benefits of the technologies tested in the trials. In other on-farm trials conducted in Virginia, there has either been a local para-professional (Southwest Virginia 1890 small farm technicians, 1982-84) or an extension agent (Lunenburg and Nottaway counties, 1985-1987 /Westmoreland County, 1996-98) in the area who had primary responsibility for data collection and support to the grower, or else the grower had an assistant who could take responsibility for data collection under the grower’s and the researcher’s joint supervision (Albemarle, 1997-98).
In this program, we attempted to train growers to do insect monitoring and take data in the process. Two assumptions were behind this effort. First was that the process of data collection based on insect observations would be an opportunity for growers to become more familiar with insect populations in their fields. Monitoring insect densities is also a key part of conventional threshold-based programs designed to eliminate unnecessary pesticide use by non-organic farmers. Second, we thought that biological farmers would be especially interested in understanding crop-insect biological equilibrium changes. These assumptions may have been partially valid, but they were clearly outweighed by the time pressures on growers.
The long distances and slow times between farms on mountain roads made it difficult to get quality time with farmers. To visit three farms in 1999, spread across three adjoining counties, required leaving the university base at 7:00 a.m. to reach the first farm at 10:00 a.m., the second around 2:00 p.m., and the last by 5:00 p.m., with a return at 11:00 p.m. Nevertheless time on each farm was only about 1 ½ hours. In contrast, in Westmoreland County, although travel time to the country was longer, monitoring on four farms could be done from 9:00 to about 2:00 p.m., or 5 hours, with about 1 hour per farm, due to a more compact area and flat terrain, so that farms were no more than about 15 minutes apart.
In light of this learning, we have proposed a different approach for future research. On the one hand, we continue to hold that the most effective agricultural research takes place on-farm, and that hands-on experience provides the best basis for developing and incorporating new technology. At the same time, however, due to the economic pressures on agriculture, most farmers must combine farming with off-farm employment. As these two years have demonstrated, this makes on-farm research difficult for farmers to carry out well. Central sites within the region can help make research more effective technically, but without farmer involvement, this research can start to lose its relevance. The same time constraints of farmers make it difficult for them to travel frequently to other sites even in their own region. A workable research and education model has to strike a balance among these constraints, and seek to combine the advantages of both on-farm and central settings.
Education and Outreach Results
Educational events were frequent and widely dispersed, the vast majority (80%) occurring on farm or on-site. During the 2 ½ year project period, 49 workshops were held attended by 1,211 participants. Of those farmers filling out workshop evaluations, the proportion of “conventional/transitional” (self identified) producers attending ASD workshops increased from negligible in 1998 to 50% in 1999. Additionally, the percentage of participating “medium to large” scale operators (again, self identified), as opposed to “small” increased from 39% in 1998 to 50% in 1999. These two trends seem to indicate that the education and training in sustainable agriculture which ASD provided is increasingly reaching both more conventional and more commercially oriented farmers.
Detailed information on the educational program is included in attachment C, including an overall summary of the farm apprenticeship program coordinated by Rural Resources.
Market Analysis and Development Results
A Consumer Food Buying survey, conducted by East Tennessee State University, documented widespread public interest in and preference for locally raised or produced farm products, as well as organic, “chemical free” and other similarly differentiated foods. This preference held true for meats as well as produce, and was relatively consistent for both small town/rural respondents and urban (Tri Cities) residents.
This survey was, to our knowledge, the first large scale, statistically valid study of its kind undertaken specifically in the Central Appalachian region. A copy of the Executive Summary is attached (Attachment B). Some notable findings included:
- There is strong support for buying food items grown/produced locally, especially if they are available in supermarkets: 80% preferred or strongly preferred.
There is high agreement that foods should be chemical/pesticide/hormone free, but a smaller proportion (43%) are willing to pay a 30-50% premium for such food.
The lowest income group ($25,000 or less household income) was more receptive to wanting chemical/pesticide free food items and to supporting local farmers. They were also more willing to pay a premium price for such products.
Many people are not sure if their supermarket carries chemical/pesticide food.
More than 60% would pay a premium price for chemical/pesticide free lean ground beef, eggs and potatoes.
Support for local farmers and food producers is high: 90% (agree or strongly agree)
Although all age groups generally support the concepts of chemical/pesticide free foods and supporting local farmers as being desirable, the 46-55 year old group is more adamant in those beliefs.
Willingness to travel further to obtain local items increases with age.
Younger respondents, overall, have a relatively greater interest in wool, horse logged wood items, soaps, herbal salves and herbal remedies.
Another, albeit non-scientific market assessment, was carried out through our partnership with a locally based grocery chain, Whites Fresh Foods. In the summer and early autumn of 1999, seven Whites Stores in four separate towns (population size ranging from 52,000 to under 10,000) carried locally produced organic produce for a six to twelve week trial period. The produce, under the ASD trademark name Appalachian Harvest, was set apart in 4-6 foot wide sections. Consumer interest and demand grew steadily, especially once word got out through various media. The senior management of Whites was sufficiently persuaded to commit to a longer season in 10 stores in 2000. They have also expressed a willingness to buy local, sustainable processed foods in 2000 and to test market hormone/antibiotic free, grass finished meats.
Support for local farmers markets grew throughout the project period. The Russell County Farmers Market, which ASD helped re-start in 1998, grew dramatically in 1999, nearly three-fold. Other markets arising during the project include Pennington Gap, Virginia (which is struggling) and a proposed new permanent downtown market in Bristol.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Schonbeck, Dr. Mark. Principles and Practices of Sustainable Food Crop Production. 1999. Self published, 2nd edition in print.
Flaccavento, Anthony. “Building an Ecobusiness Infrastructure in Appalachia”, published in In Business, September/October, 1999. JG Press, 419 State Ave, Emmaus, PA, 18049.
Flaccavento, Anthony. “Sustainable Development Literacy in Central Appalachia”, to be published in spring of 2000 in a book to be published by the United Nations Environment, Science and Culture Organization.
The outreach and education strategy was built upon two related spheres, or levels of education: First was building a small but diverse cadre of farmer-innovators who were willing to adopt specific sustainable practices, and to then demonstrate them on their farm and share them with other farmers. The objective here was to develop a geographically and economically diverse core of farmer-teachers who would host and co-facilitate sustainable agriculture trainings and educational events.
The second educational level we sought was the far wider sphere of farmers, potential farmers and agriculture entrepreneurs with sufficient interest to attend a sustainable agriculture training event, or otherwise become involved with or exposed to sustainable agriculture. Specifically we targeted limited resource farmers, farmers and entrepreneurs from more marginalized or economically depressed communities, and so-called “conventional farmers”.
• At the outset of the project 12 part and full time farmers constituted the core of “farmer-innovators” with whom ASD was involved. Nine of them lived in or near the somewhat more resource-rich interstate corridor, and ten were already experienced organic producers. Most of the trainings and demonstrations took place on these farms – seven out of eight in 1997.
• In 1998 and 1999, the number, geography and make up of the collaborating farmer-innovators broadened significantly:
Number of farmer-innovators ________________13_____29
Number in poorer/marginalized communities ______3_____12
Conventional or transitional farmers ____________2_____14
The overall impact was to create a far larger pool of farmer-educators (120% increase), from a more geographically dispersed area (four fold increase in regional spread), and among a more broadly representative pool of the farming population (a seven fold increase in participating “transitional/conventional” farmers). Though not yet sufficient, this would seem to be a solid and broad foundation upon which future educational and outreach activities can be based.
Although it is difficult to assess long term effects from a project of just over two years duration, there appear to be several significant impacts which this SARE project has generated. These include:
- A far broader interest in and commitment to sustainable agriculture research in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee (stronger in Virginia). This includes at least five county level and regional Extension agents, two NRCS staff and two Resource Conservation and Development district staff. Very importantly, it also includes a cadre of at least 12 practicing farmers who, difficulties of management and time not withstanding, have learned research techniques and are utilizing them, to varying degrees, on their farms.
The development of an informal sustainable agriculture research network which includes the above mentioned folks, along with nine University faculty from Virginia State, Virginia Tech, University of Tennessee, East Tennessee State University and Walters State Community College.
Sufficiently encouraging preliminary results on tomato disease control, cucumber beetle control, and other organic pest, disease and fertility management, to begin to overcome long standing resistance to “organic” or “sustainable” practices among farmers and local agribusiness entities (farm supply stores, etc).
Market research has helped substantially increase interest in “local, sustainable” farm products among grocery stores and other potential purchasing partners. Additionally, consumer awareness of Appalachian Harvest, and other local farm products is growing, though it is still small in the region.
- ASD and its partners, particularly Rural Resources in Greene County, TN, are now looked to for sustainable agriculture education throughout the region. Evaluations of individual field days and trainings as well as the first Southern Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture conference have substantiated a strong and broad desire for additional education and training in several areas: low cost soil fertility improvement, farm scale composting, raised bed and drip irrigation production systems, low cost water and fencing systems, organic or low input weed control in pasture and crops, parasite control in livestock, marketing of crops, meats and preserved products, production and regulatory issues related to value added farm products, and more.
The “pool” of farmers engaged in organic or sustainable production in the region has grown by at least three fold. It has also broadened in its diversity , with at least four limited resource farmers, and eight tobacco farmers now engaged in commercial production. Five ¡§hubs¡¨ have also developed (informally) in which one farmer¡¦s innovations appear to have spawned both interest and some new practices among several neighboring farmers. The number of certified organic farmers has grown from one to 18 in the region (from 1997-1999), and more are interested.
A regionally-based teaching and educational capacity is developing, involving the farmers in these hubs, Extension and NRCS personnel, teachers in at least three public high schools, and staff of several community based organizations. This means that learning, training and diffusion of best practices will continue, even without additional funds (albeit more slowly).
Very strong foundations have been built in the Dickenson/Wise county Virginia area, the Hancock/Hawkins/Claiborne County, Tennessee area and in Greene County, TN, for the development of commercial value added agriculture products facilities. In Hancock County, a 390 square foot test kitchen incubator is now in use, and grants for a much larger commercial food products incubator have been secured. In Dickenson/Wise, agreement has been reached with the Vocational School, supported by Extension, Social Services and the local Industrial Development Authority, to use and upgrade the school¡¦s kitchen for small batch commercial production and entrepreneurial training. In Greene County, comparable agreement has been worked out with the Center for Technology. Databases of interested entrepreneurs have been developed in all three counties, product specific market research is underway, and support has been garnered from both the Tennessee and Virginia Departments of Agriculture.
A new and exciting market partner was secured in 1999: Whites Fresh Foods, a 19 store regional chain, opened Appalachian Harvest sections in seven of its stores during the season. Though sales were modest – approximately $13,000 – response from Whites’ senior management and most of the produce managers in the stores ranged from moderate to very strong enthusiasm. Bucky Youngblood, the senior produce buyer and husband of the CEO, has promised that they will reopen sections in 10 stores as soon as product is available in the year 2000. This partnership is very exciting for three reasons: It creates, at least potentially, a far larger market than is available through small restaurants and health food stores; it has already begun to evoke interest from other supermarkets (specifically Krogers); and it creates the opportunities for ordinary citizens to buy fresh, chemical free food.
Along with the Whites initiative, a marketing identity and label has been trademarked in Virginia and Tennessee. Appalachian Harvest proved to be a very effective marketing name in its first year of trial in 1999. We expect to expand upon the identity , improve the label, and increase the educational materials available to consumers and marketing partners. We anticipate selling processed farm products and meats through this marketing label if it continues to grow. The creation of the label helped ASD secure one of only five sectoral development grants made by the Appalachian Regional Commission, providing support into 2001 for development of value added product lines.
One of the critical goals at the outset of the project was to begin to institutionalize sustainable agriculture training and technical assistance within a range of institutional and agriculture partners we sought, including the land grant universities, other colleges, local NRCS offices, public schools, and farmer oriented institutions (farmer Co-ops, farmer associations, etc.) Progress in each of these areas is described below.
At the beginning of the project in July of 1997, one county agent from Virginia was significantly involved with the Regionally Sustainable Agriculture Systems project. Additionally, two university extension faculty, one from Virginia State and one from Virginia Tech were involved.
During the project, five county agents attended various sustainable agriculture trainings or educational events hosted by ASD, and four of them either co-facilitated sustainable agriculture trainings or worked with ASD staff in providing technical assistance to farmers in transition. In the latter part of the project, in the summer of 1999, the district extension director for southwest Virginia also became involved with the project, participating in evaluation and brainstorming sessions and helping to set up an ASD-Extension planning meeting for future sustainable agriculture research. This gathering included five extension agents and technicians plus staff from Blacksburg.
Two agents participated and provided technical assistance on the Tennessee side, though overall less progress was made in developing strong relationships with both local extension personnel and university staff in Tennessee. Meetings were held and information exchanged but the level of collaboration did not reach that of the Virginia agents.
Additionally, three food and consumer science agents (two in Virginia and one in Tennessee) worked actively with ASD staff to plan and develop value added agriculture trainings, to access technical information through UT and Virginia Tech, and to develop initial plans for commercial kitchen facilities in the region.
Based upon this growing collaboration, the Southwest Virginia district of Cooperative Extension has pledged to work closely with ASD in the future on sustainable agriculture research, education and outreach efforts. A preliminary planning meeting was held in October, also involving Dr. John Caldwell of Virginia Tech and Dr. Lex Bruce, an Evaluation Specialist with Extension. If additional resources can be secured, future sustainable agriculture research and training in the region should be a collaborative effort between ASD and Extension.
Land Grant Universities and Colleges
At the outset of the project, there was significant involvement from Virginia Tech, with three faculty members involved (Dr. Herman Warren, a plant pathologist, Dr. John Caldwell, an entomologist, and Dr. Charlie Coale, an agriculture marketing professor) and to a lesser extent Virginia State (through Andy Hankins). During the course of the project the involvement of these university faculty grew. Two University of Tennessee faculty provided significant help in training and technical assistance (Dr. Bill Morris and Dr. Greg Pompelli). In 1999, East Tennessee State University also became involved, with three members of their business and marketing faculty providing substantial research and analysis assistance. (Dr. Glen Reicken, Dr. Ed Stead and Dr. Don Shemwell).
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Three NRCS staff participated in various workshops and trainings, and one worked actively on the education team for the project. Additionally, staff from the Black Diamond Resource Conservation and Development District and the Clinch Powell RC &D collaborated on training activities.
During the project, four high schools participated in educational and training events; two of the four schools also undertook sustainable agriculture demonstrations and/or organic gardens on site at the school. Approximately 250 students from high school, middle and elementary school participated in sustainable agriculture workshops, field days, or hands-on farming and gardening activities during the project.