Awe Inspiring, First Thoughts about the Forum

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It’s been a couple days since I returned from the Growing The Applachian Food Economy forum, and it’s going to take me a while to process all the great information. I was in awe of what going on in Asheville, and the energy, passion and commitment to innovation I saw the event..

First thing, Asheville, North Carolina is a great place. They have been working on the local food economy for 20 years, and they should serve as a model for the rest of the country. It’s not a perfect system, and they will be the first to acknolodwde that. They know their challenges, and they embrace them. They are constantly looking for innovation and collaboration. Mistakes and failures are looked at a lessons to share so they are not repeated. At the funder’s panel luncheon, collaboration was noted as a key element in consideration for grants. The focus is on developing the community as whole, while encouraging entrenuers to start their businesses.

They have a Buy Local program that demonstrates the community’s commitment to success. It’s everywhere, and most noticible in the restaurants. The local farms are listed, and people know the local farms and the farmers, local breweries are noted, all 12 of them, and so are local bakeries. The downtown area has an independent art supply store, an independent hard craft supply store, a spice store, a chocolate store, a fresh potato chip store, numerous coffee houses and tea houses, Not to mention art galleries, and hand crafted artisan products such as a custom belt and sandal shop. And, a general store that’s been around since to 1880s.

The demonstrated success of the 12 breweries is bringing a Sierra Nevada brewery to the area.

As I noted, this local food economy has been 20 years in the making. The forum was sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commision.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government. Established by an act of Congress in 1965, ARC is composed of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chair, who is appointed by the president. Local participation is provided through multi-county local development districts.

What was very impressive to me was the infastructure and cooperation that’s in place to support the local food economy. The North Carolina state goverment is also very proactive in supporting their farmers. Yes, there were complaints about burdensome goverment regulations at all levels, but from what I saw, there were advocates who worked the complaints as means to an end. That being a succesful outcome for the community.

The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, ASAP, is another example of  the support to the local farmer and community.

ASAP’s Vison

Our vision is of strong farms, thriving local food economies, and healthy communities where farming is valued as central to our heritage and our future.

ASAP’s Mission 

Our mission is to help local farms thrive, link farmers to markets and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food.

This is a beloved organization. And, from talking to people, rightfully so.

Than there’s Mountain Biz Works. They offer lending services, consulting services and training services.

A common theme that I heard through out the forum was that for too many years resources were extracted from Appalachia and that was it. Because of that, now there is deep commitment to use the assets that exist there in Asheville, and Appalachia. Their assets are the land and the people. They recognize that working the land, and caring for it, sustains the economy, and the people who rely on it. The know it builds a strong community, and allows a local-based economy to be realistic.

It starts with a commitment, and being open to new ideas. That’s one of many points that I took away from this forum. The commitment started 20 years ago in Asheville, and an infrastructure is in place to support the innovation and vision they have to succed and sustain.

Next up, I’ll highlight a business incubator and common use kitchen in the Asheville area, and a community kitchen in West Virginia supported by a family of Farms.

2 Comments

  1. Jeff – one of the things that helps Asheville is that the people there see the community as unique and special (much the way that people in Ithaca, NY view that area), and a place with resources and activities which are to be cherished. That is a foundation that can be built upon and it gives local residents a feeling of inclusion and of having the ability to make things happen. And that is priceless in a community.

    • That’s true Toby. Education is a key aspect for communities that aren’t quite there yet. I’m thinking about pitching a class to the enrichment program I teach at about the local economy. It’s more than buying a farm stand, which is a good first step.

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