Refresh Appalachia Provides Agricultural Entrepreneurship Development

Refresh Appalachia is a regional economic and workforce development initiative that works to establish a sustainable training and development program for beginning farmers and ranchers in southern West Virginia and Central Appalachia. A social enterprise of the Coalfield Development Corporation (Coalfield), Refresh Appalachia applies Coalfield’s successful 33-6-3 framework in Lincoln County to grow an intensive agriculture industry and skilled workforce poised to create and retain community wealth through local and regional food system jobs and markets. The 33-6-3 model promotes workforce development: a Refresh Appalachia participant spends 33 hours working for an income; devotes 6 hours a week to core community college and business classes for an associate’s degree in entrepreneurship; and commits 3 hours per week to life skills coaching (parenting, financial management, and goals).

This initiative strives to supply and strengthen the local food system, increase access to healthy food, and aggregate and distribute produce to meet regional and national markets. Refresh Appalachia enhances the knowledge and skills of beginning farmers and ranchers by creating a network of training sites called Learning Farms Incubators, which then generate revenue and serve as hands-on training sites for beginning farmers, ranchers, and high school students. “Refresh Appalachia- Lincoln County” is a collaborative partnership between Coalfield Development Corporation, Lincoln County High School, Unlimited Future, Inc., Step By Step, Inc. and the Lincoln County Economic Development Authority.

The project team consists of project implementers, community partners, and technical assistance providers; each member of the collaboration has his or her own role. Coalfield Development Corporation provides on-the-job training and mentorship; Lincoln County High School hosts the Learning Farm Incubator as well as recruits and educates students; Unlimited Future, Inc. provides training and marketing support; Step by Step, Inc. recruits and mentors program participants and identifies communities in need of fresh produce; and, the Lincoln County Economic Development Authority identifies additional sites, supports sales, and conducts community outreach.

Notably, the project partnership between Coalfield and Lincoln County High School was originally conceived by a Coalfield construction crew member and recent graduate of Lincoln County High. Recognizing the vast yet underutilized agriculture resources available at the school, Coalfield crew member, Colt Brogan, suggested that Coalfield contact the school about a potential partnership. According to Ben Gilmer, President of Refresh Appalachia, “From our initial discussions it was clear that real synergies existed between our programs. First, the high school agriculture program is traditionally limited by the school calendar year so students rarely have an opportunity to engage in agriculture activities that follow traditional seasons. With Coalfield’s year-round crew, students are now able to be involved in activities that follow traditional production cycles. Secondly, high school vocational programs have recently shifted to “simulated workplaces” where their classroom structure mirrors that of a business environment. The high school students are now able to work alongside Coalfield’s staff in an actual enterprise.”

Refresh Appalachia crew member, Colt Brogan, says “it’s amazing that now I am able to work in the same school where I graduated. All through school I wished that I could help this facility reach its full potential – and now here I am.”

Funding from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation supports staffing, training, and building materials.

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