Meet the Farmers
Economic Development Greater East (EDGE) was founded in 2016 by a group of volunteers looking to fill education and economic support gaps for the local agriculture system and economy in McDowell County, West Virginia. Together they’ve developed a nonprofit, two cooperatives, and conducted several on the ground pilot programs. The farmers and food producers partnering with EDGE provide a wide range of agricultural products, including fresh fruits and vegetables, pastured poultry, honey and other products derived from beekeeping, maple syrup, and meat rabbits. Soon they’ll have a central location to offer their goods directly to residents and visitors of the local community, at the Mountain Farm Community Grocery (MFCG) in McDowell County.
MFCG will be located in the Kasdin building off Route 52, in an area that has long been lacking affordable fresh produce. According to the hunger relief nonprofit, Feeding America, McDowell County is the most food insecure county in West Virginia. In 2016, the Walmart near Kimball went out of business, indicating a steep decline in an already economically-hard hit area. The most food insecure county in the state, more than 70% of residents in McDowell County qualify for low-income nutrition assistance programs. Public health data indicates that McDowell is the least healthy county in West Virginia, with some of the highest rates of food-related health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Located in a remote section of coalfield Appalachia, the county has experienced population loss, economic downturn, and infrastructure decline as coal jobs continue to give way to automation.
MRCG will bring an abundance of fresh, healthy foods to a classified food desert. Low income residents often travel as much as an hour away to the towns of Bluefield, VA or Princeton, WV to purchase their staple food items. MFCG will specialize in seasonal produce, meats, ready to eat meals, and value-added products, but will also maintain a consistent inventory of staple dry goods for locals to access year round. MFCG prioritizes working with farmers, ranchers, and value-added food producers who earn less than $300k gross annually, with the goal of supporting these local and regional producers to grow and scale their operations. Retail distribution for MFCG is projected to support a minimum of 20 producers, farmers, and value-added producers in McDowell county and over 300 farmers and food producers in the region.
The 3-lot property includes trailer access, 80 parking spaces, and an open plaza for community gathering. It will draw business from the Greater Bluefield Micropolitan region, where residents are accustomed to traveling significant distances for higher quality food. An estimated 50,000 ATV tourists pass by this location between the months of March to November, and outdoor tourism continues to grow in the region.
With the knowledge that economic and health problems facing McDowell and surrounding counties are intersectional, EDGE partners with organizations to build a coordinated response to addressing the regional food desert as a systemic issue. This requires a joint effort to increase local food production as well as the diversity of its producers. Community partners include colleges and universities, farmers, health professionals, artists and creative specialists, business owners, government officials, and other nonprofits.
EDGE partners see the community grocery store as an “anchor” for the community, providing a central hub for local and regional food producers to sell their products, as well as an educational center for residents to learn about the impacts and resiliency of growing food sustainably and in close proximity to those who eat it. This is a community-led initiative that aims to elevate family incomes in the area, looking in particular to partner and support Black, veteran, differently abled, recovering, and underemployed local residents in achieving a family income that rivals the $80k per year on average a family makes in the coal industry. Collectively they envision a vibrant future that makes the most of the land-based, tourism, creative, and trade excellence of the greater Eastern United States, while strengthening local and regional economies and food systems.
Regenerative & Sustainable Practices
EDGE increases capacity for sustainable agriculture by supporting the growth of local farmers and food producers. They establish their practices in ways that will enhance both the economic and climate resiliency for current and future generations:
- Partner farms employ methods that rehabilitate the land, such as utilizing high tunnels for erosion control, farming without the use of synthetic chemicals, and creating pollinator-friendly habitats that are ideal for beekeeping.
- Partner farms have converted logged and abandoned land into healthy and productive systems, including: nutrient-dense vegetable farms, high tunnel production, an apiary, pasture-raised livestock and poultry operations.
- Mountain Farm Community Grocery prioritizes partnering with small-scale regional food producers and purchasing from BIPOC, veteran, and other underrepresented farmers.
- EDGE is creating access to locally-sourced, nutrient-dense foods in the communities in which they are grown or produced, through affordable pricing and purchase by EBT.