During its April board meeting, the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority announced some exciting developments regarding its Refresh Appalachia project. Refresh Appalachia is a regional initiative among the MCRA, Coalfield Development Corporation, Williamson Health & Wellness Center and the Wayne County EDA. The project is funded, in part, by a POWER Initiative grant that these agencies were collectively awarded in October of last year.
Leasha Johnson, Executive Director of the MCRA, said that at the cornerstone of Refresh Appalachia’s mission is growing a new generation of farmers in Central Appalachia to strengthen the local food systems and to capitalize on the economic development opportunities that agricultural development presents in a post-coal economy. A second component of the initiative is to develop an aggregation system which would support the distribution of locally produced foods to both area and regional markets.
The third focus is to improve access to locally grown, healthy foods. According to Johnson, the Mingo County agriculture crew consists of a crew chief and two full time employees. The Mingo County incubator farm is located at the Wood Products Industrial Park on the Authority’s non-strategic properties, where several activities are currently taking place. 300 egg-laying pastured chickens are now on site in mobile chicken coops. Egg production is expected to begin by the end of May, and buyers have already been identified for this production. These coops are rotated throughout the field to build the soil with nitrogen-rich waste. The coops are built with a small solar panel to power an automatic dusk-til-dawn door, and a solar-powered fence charger protects the chickens from wild game. Water is provided by a rain barrel that recycles rainwater from the roof. This sustainable model has been uniquely developed to work on any post-mine land that does not have access to utilities.
Autumn olive removal on some undeveloped areas has commenced, and within the next week, both goats and pigs will be placed on an approximately 11 acre site to determine how well they’ll assist with brush removal. The raising of these animals will assist with both reclaiming the properties for agricultural development as well meat production.
Blackberries and raspberries have been transplanted to the incubator farm site, and production is expected within the next several months. And lastly, as many as four bee hives will be in production within the next couple of weeks, with honey production expected by the end of the year due to the vast supply of pollinators.
Refresh Appalachia’s development of a food hub is also underway, beginning with the completion of buyer surveys of over 50 different retail and institutional outlets in southern W.Va. These buyers are indicating what products they need, when they need it, how much they need, etc., so that local production can be planned around these markets. As this information is compiled, the Refresh Appalachia initiative and its partners will collaborate with other producers in the region to help aggregate demand to meet these local and regional markets. Development of the food hub will be accelerated within the coming months in collaboration with Williamson Health and Wellness Center’s farmer’s market and mobile market.