A new agricultural economy
- April 1, 2008
Anthony Flaccavento is executive director of Abingdon-based Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD). The organization promotes organic farming and sustainable forestry in Southwest Virginia and Eastern Tennessee. In 2004, he was named a recipient of a Leadership for a Changing World award by the Ford Foundation. Appalachian Sustainable Development was selected by Amazon.com in 2005 as one of 10 “Nonprofit Innovators” from around the nation.
What are some of the major programs of?Appalachian Sustainable Development?
We have three programs, all founded on the belief that building a sustainable economy and society requires broad and meaningful (i.e., tangible) participation from as many segments of the community as possible.
Our Sustainable Agriculture program is designed to enable tobacco and other “conventional” farmers to transition to organic and sustainable production practices through a combination of education, training and access to large, relatively well-paying markets.? We support local farmers’ markets to expand their customer and vendor base, conduct farm tours and “local meals” (featuring local, sustainably raised produce, eggs and meats) and publish a local food directory.? Our Appalachian Harvest wholesale production and marketing system trains farmers to raise certified organic produce and free-range eggs, and grades, washes, packs and ships these products to nearly 600 supermarkets in Virginia, Tennessee and surrounding states.? We own and operate four refrigerated delivery trucks
and are building a 15,000-square-foot packing facility (in Duffield) to replace ours that burned down last May.
Our Sustainable Woods initiative manages local, private forest land under a set of very ecologically rigorous standards, then buys the harvested logs from the landowners and loggers at a premium of 20 to 25 percent above what other mills are paying.? Through our wood processing center in Castlewood, we saw the logs, dry the boards in one of our two kilns (solar and wood waste-fired) and then work with other companies to manufacture the boards into hardwood flooring, trim, panels, etc.? We are about to build our own millworks shop in Castlewood, as the market has outgrown our ability to keep pace with it, since the other local companies have obligations other than us.? We sell to contractors, architects, individuals and groups (such as the Bristol Public Library, the University of Virginia and the Waldorf School) from our own region to Charlottesville.
Our third program is Learning Landscapes, through which we build “outdoor classrooms,” usually including gardens, nature paths, rain ponds and other stations which then provide hands-on, nature-based learning opportunities for elementary and middle school students. The program is currently operating at five schools in Washington County. The school board would like to see it go countywide, and other counties are interested as well.? The program also develops curricula at all grade levels that connect the outdoor learning with specific SOLs, making it useful for teachers in a wide range of subjects.
I understand that ASD also provides food to families in need. How does that work?
We get local organic produce to lower-income households through several means, including use of the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition program (a federally funded program that provides coupons to lower income seniors redeemable for local produce). And we have our Healthy Families, Family Farms effort, which raises money from churches, civic groups and local folks and then purchases organic produce “seconds” — good quality but not pretty enough for the supermarkets. We get this food from local farmers at a discount price and distribute it to needy families for free through the Second Harvest Food Bank. In the past two years, we have purchased and distributed just over 120,000 pounds of local produce through this effort.
How did the organization start and how many farms does it involve today?
ASD started in 1995 as economic developers came together with environmental and community activists and a few farmers and local businesses in hopes of getting beyond the “jobs versus the environment” challenge that usually had them in opposition to each other. ASD works with well over 100 farms each year, probably closer to 200 if you include all who participate in our education and training work.? We actively work with about 125 through the Appalachian Harvest initiative and various local farmers’ markets.
Please tell me something about your background and how you became involved with the organization.
I grew up in Baltimore, first coming to the region when I worked for an environmental engineering firm (as an
environmental scientist) based in Lexington, Ky.? That was the early 1980s.? After completing a master’s degree in
economics and social development in 1985, I took a job with the Richmond Catholic diocese, running its Appalachian
Office of Justice & Peace, based 30 miles west of Abingdon in St. Paul.? I did that for 10 years, before starting
ASD.? I grew up gardening but only got into small-scale commercial organic farming about 10 years ago.? We now farm
about three acres of organic produce.
What sort of?products do?your participants?produce and where
are they sold?
Appalachian Harvest sells nearly 30 types of organic fruits and vegetables, from tomatoes and bell peppers to
cabbage, lettuce and sugar snap peas, along with free-range eggs.? They are sold to Ukrop’s, Food City, Ingles (in
North Carolina), Whole Foods and other grocers.? Our supply is growing by about 50 percent annually but remains far
below the demand.? Appalachian Harvest is a trademarked brand, which all of our produce and eggs are sold under.
What is the difference between organic farming and regular farming?
There are a set of standards, enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that determine what organic farming
is and is not.? In short, think of organic farming as being more biologically based than what conventional farming
has tended to become.? It allows no pest/disease control products or petroleum-based fertilizers, instead utilizing
legumes and cover crops, compost and mineral fertilizers for soil fertility, and biological and botanical controls
for insects and disease.? Organic farming has become much more sophisticated in recent years and has been
demonstrated to often equal or exceed conventional production practices for many (not all) crops, including produce
How many staff members do you have and where does the organization get its funding?
ASD currently has the equivalent of 10 full-time employees for our three programs, including administrative staff.?
Our funding comes primarily from foundations and some public funders (such as the Appalachian Regional Commission
and the USDA), along with a considerable and growing base of local donations.? Within the next year, we expect that
our Appalachian Harvest and Sustainable Woods enterprises will begin to generate some net funds to help support our
educational programs, our farmer training, etc.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about Appalachian Sustainable Development?
We are also trying to get beyond the belief that “sustainability” or conservation must come at the expense of
“jobs.”? Much of the research seems to indicate tremendous economic opportunities in the emerging fields of
conservation, energy efficiency and clean energy, recycling and waste reduction, as well as organic and sustainable
farming, forest products, etc.