Refresh Appalachia is a nonprofit enterprise that strives to rehabilitate communities along the Appalachian region that have suffered from economic and ecological distress after decades of coal mining and charcoal production. It aims to increase the accessibility of entrepreneurial education for beginning farmers and ranchers in the state of West Virginia, Ohio Valley Region, and Eastern Kentucky. Through outreach, education, training, and mentorship the enterprise wants to increase sustainability in these areas to change the previous economy and connect individuals to a new market outlet that provides sufficient resources.
Refresh Appalachia has partnered with other organization, such as Reclaim Appalachia, in efforts to convert post-mine lands and transform these lands into productive and profitable agricultural and forestry enterprises for individuals and communities that have been laid off in the Appalachian region.
Refresh Appalachia was established in West Virginia , in 2015 as an agriculture-focused enterprise of Coalfield Development Corporation. The state had been faced with the lowest workforce participation rate in the nation, due to the heavy decline of the coal industry in the region and the lack of . Thus, the enterprise has wanted to make efforts to put people back to work.
By creating new market outlets that serve both low and middle income people, the initiative is trying to make healthy food more accessible in communities through the enhancement of farming.
The Appalachian Regional Commission and the ONE Foundation have provided grants for the programs to use for aspiring farmers to receive eight months of training. An example of when these training have occured was from the months of March through October. For the first three months, trainees work twenty hours per week at Sprouting Farms and then an additional twenty hours per week are spent learning other various knowledge such as using a tractor, niche crop production, cold storage, etc. After three-months, trainees get the opportunity to develop their own business plans. During this process they are able to work with local extension agents dealing with grants to understand about farm insurance, loan programs, and land-purchase agreement in the region.
Training and workshops provide new knowledge and skills that help farmers and ranchers expand their production and diversify their craft in new markets or enterprises. Workshops are coordinated by the Wild Ramp and Unlimited Future, as well as presented by extension agents and experienced farm operators that are held at the Coalfield Development warehouse. Coalfield Development, which is a nonprofit organization that runs Refresh, Reclaim, and three other social enterprises; offers low-income residents a two to two and a half year contract for individuals. These contracts provide for training in areas such as sustainable construction, solar technology, and artisan based entrepreneurship. Those involved in the training receive a stipend to work in the their associate’s degree and are able to receive beneficial life skills in the process. After the training, Coalfield helps individuals find full time employment.
Background and Context
Coal industry has been the pinnacle of the economy of West Virginia and the Appalachian region for generations. Many young men and their fathers before them have worked in the mines due to to the lack of consistent work with in their communities . Also, there was a influx of workers that came to the region. The big coal industry need a lot of people to not only pull rocks out of the ground, but also work the machines. They took on tasks such as operating the machines to keeping the belt lines straight, fixing the ductwork that provides air to the underground chambers, etc. In a year, some would make $100,000 a year. 13 billion tons of coal has been removed by miners in West Virginia.This influx of people to the areas caused a change to occur between the people and the land. Also, this industry has caused individuals and the environment around it to suffer. More than 100,000 people have been killed in coal-mining accidents nationwide, since 1900. One of the diseases that stems from working in mines is black lung disease that has been estimated to have killed another 200,000. Both West Virginia and Kentucky lead the nation in per capita in deaths from lung cancer. Not only have individuals suffered from the industry, but the environmental damages that are associated to the mining practices are just has detrimental. The Appalachian region has turned into a wasteland from the mountaintop-removal coal mining. It caused two thousand miles of streams to be buried and 1.4 million acres of biologically diverse forests into a dumb site for the waste that has been generated.
While the coal industry collapsing slowly, the communities centered around it have been affected greatly with unemployment. Individuals who had moved to the area for the work, are left with nothing to do. People feel that their communities are poverty-stricken and abandoned. They do not want the coal industry to be built up again, because they do not care for it. However, they do want work. Thus, a change in the Appalachian economy needs to occur. The creature of a more sustainable and diverse economy will allow communities to change from the old into something new that could help transform the current balance between the people and the land. This is where Refresh Appalachia as well as other programs come into play.
Significance/ What Works
Refresh Appalachia has had a great turn out and has increased their staff members from when they started in 2015 to now. What keeps their system working is they work personally with farmers and ranchers creating strong connections with their customers and clients. They have expanded their services from food sharing to farm sharing, farm training and even offer a platform for farmers to sell their product through their portal. This movement in significant because it is part of a larger web of people and communities coming together to repair what coal mining destroyed. Coalfield Development as discussed offers a wide variety of services that all benefit and restore the needs of the people affected or displaced by coal mining. This type of unity sets an example for other people in areas globally or locally that are affected by industry, together we are strong.
In our group's opinion what is most important is that not only is Refresh Appalachia a food sovereignty organization but they also are spreading knowledge of sustainable techniques. Knowledge is invaluable, this shows that Refresh Appalachia is not trying to benefit from people in need but that their intentions are genuine and their mission is to help for the greater good. Through their training programs they give power and independence to the ones who seek it. These elements are the ones that can be can be allied to other movements, sell a man a fish or teach him how to fish and he can catch his own.
Another element that can be applied to other movements is the spread of sustainability practices. These practices will restore what was damaged and halt further destruction in the process. We find a lot of hope in the Coal Development organization and all its branches. Refresh Appalachia being one of those branches has a lot of hope. One reason is because people are also eating, there will always be hungry mouths to feed.
Room for Improvement
One area for growth is to contact communities in other states affected by either coal mining or any other type of industry and expand their services to them. This can be done globally also to help the communities of exploited countries band together, unite, and create a movement with similar motives. On a smaller scale they can offer free tours of their compounds so people can get a better idea of how their work is conducted. They could also include a virtual tour, a video on their website. Upon researching Refresh Appalachia movement we found it difficult to find out its history. A story or timeline of events posted on their website would help and could even make their movement even more powerful, knowing how and when they came to be and what sparked their unity.