Building a Resilient Food and Agriculture System in the Mountain State

by Susanna Wheeler, New Roots Community Farm Director

Do you know where your food comes from? Do you know who grew it? How many fossil fuels were consumed to produce, process, transport, and store the food that sits on your shelf? At the center of these questions lies irreversible impacts to our environment, and at the same time, changing the answer to these questions personally does not solve the issue.

Thirty-eight percent of the global land area is designated to agriculture. The failures of the current global food system have been thoroughly documented. Obstacles faced by the agriculture industry from climate change, dwindling resource reserves, and an ever-expanding population cannot be understated. The food system lies at the nexus of complex global economic, socio-cultural, and environmental interactions and issues. The way in which food is produced, distributed, and consumed has broad repercussions for communities all over the world. Many problems in this system warrant immediate action. Solutions are needed because access to nutritionally and culturally appropriate food is a right and issues of food access and security are inextricably linked to the health and well-being of individuals.

Additionally, the effects of climate change and reliance on non-renewable resources is a serious threat to government institutions, the welfare of the people, and the security of systems built on a predictable and productive environment. The extractive, short sighted development that has shaped southern West Virginia increases the demand for these solutions to take place here. The scale and complexity of these issues mean that they cannot be solved with a single solution. What is required of us is a participatory, democratic, and diverse set of frameworks that are suited to facilitate change on a grassroots level. 

As the Farm director for New Roots Community Farm, I have spent many years thinking about what a reimagined food system could look like and how its transformation could provide solutions to global and local issues. My team and I studied these issues as WVU students of agriculture and geography and we bring experiences from working on farms across the nation and globe. As working class West Virginians, we also possess a personal understanding of how extractive industries can leave the people of a region to pick up the pieces. Our work though New Roots Community Farm will help to address many of the aforementioned issues on a community scale. We work on issues around market access for farmers in the state and we work to connect those markets with folks in our community that need it most. We are also developing an 82 acre farm that has integrated annual vegetable production, livestock operations and perennial fruit and nut production that utilizes agroecological practices. Our latest work will help to develop a network of small integrated and diversified farms across the state. 

This past year we have worked with the Agrarian Trust and launched the West Virginia Agrarian Commons to ensure land access for the next generation of farmers, permanently remove agricultural land from the commoditized private market, and ensure the use of agroecological practices for generations to come. The Commons Model offers an opportunity to support the decentralization of agriculture by removing a major barrier faced by the next generation of farmers, land access and affordability. It also will ensure that land is protected for agricultural use in perpetuity designating that land be used for community benefit. Decentralization, diversification, and integrated farms will be critical as the climate becomes more unpredictable. 

Now, we are raising $258,000 to acquire the historic 82 acre Whitlock Farm in Fayetteville, WV. Once acquired, this farm will be permanently held in a locally-governed community trust and 99-year renewable term leases will be conveyed to New Roots Community Farm and next-generation farmers as part of a new agricultural producer cooperative that is forming. 

Here’s how you can help:

  •     Donate: We cannot do this alone. Please consider making a donation here. Your donation will go directly toward the purchase of this land. 
  •     Partner and spread the news: Please consider using your business platform to support this project by making a donation (e.g. $500+) and engage your community through social media or other sharing. Your business logo and name will be featured on the main page as a recent partner and in a running list on a separate page. As a partner, you are making a tremendous contribution by showing solidarity for equitable land access and encouraging other farms and food businesses, consumers, and all who have a stake in the future of land and food production in West Virginia to do the same.

Please let me know if you have questions or want to discuss further.

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