Our first guest blog post about local food comes to us from Andrew Crosson, the Director of Regional Initiatives at Rural Support Partners.
My name is Andrew Crosson. Through my organization, Rural Support Partners, I have the good fortune to serve as the network coordinator for the Central Appalachian Network (CAN). CAN has six member organizations across five states, including [Mountain Association for Community Economic Development] MACED and [Community Farm Alliance] CFA in Kentucky, and my job is to keep communication, planning, strategy, implementation, and evaluation aligned across CAN’s member organizations and region they collectively serve.
How does your organization advocate for/work for/connect with local foods work in the region?
CAN has multiple roles and approaches within our region’s food systems. Member organizations provide deep hands-on support within their local food systems, including everything from farmer training, business development, certification, value-added processing, branding, and marketing. CAN makes connections across states and sub-regions, sharing our collective resources and knowledge and helping to link up food and farm businesses to expand access to bigger markets. In 2015, CAN members collectively supported over $12.5 million in sales by local food producers in our region.
CAN also collaborates with the Appalachia Funders Network through a joint Food & Ag Systems Working Group that facilitates peer learning, strategy-sharing, and research and communications projects that advance local foods work. Our goal is to grow from sub-regional local food systems to a thriving regional food economy that sustains our agricultural heritage, conserves land and resources, improves community health, and generates meaningful jobs and livelihoods for Appalachia’s food and farm businesses.
Can you share a compelling example of the local foods movement in Appalachia from your perspective?
It really is a “movement” here in Appalachia, as local food systems grow and spread and evolve continuously. The type of peer learning and collaboration that CAN supports is a big part of this. For example, a 2014 CAN small grant to the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition helped them develop their Aggregation & Distribution Working Group (or “Hub Club” as it came to be called). This work fed into a WV Local Food Distribution Corridor project funded by a USDA grant in 2015, which in turn fed a POWER + award of $1.6 million for a regional Food Enterprise Distribution Corridor project that will connect producers and processors from Appalachian OH, WV, and VA to large east coast markets.
What role does local food play in your vision of Appalachia’s Just Transition movement?
Local food is one of the cornerstones of a Just Transition economy in Appalachia. It builds on our culture and heritage. It connects people to the land. It values our soil, water, and natural resources. It improves the health of our individuals and communities. It drives the creation of new businesses, jobs, and livelihoods for the rural communities that need them most. And it strengthens collective identity within communities and as a region, as we come together around something that is at once universal and rooted in place: Food.
Andrew has been at Rural Support Partners since June of 2012. A native of Appalachia, his path to sustainable economic development work began in a small farming community in the mountains of rural Western North Carolina. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned Bachelor’s Degrees in History and Political Science with Honors, a minor in Environmental Studies, and was a founding member of campus groups devoted to local food systems and community gardens. His occupations over the years have included carpentry, fence-building, saw-milling, and working at his family’s local food retail business in Fairview, NC.
He completed a Master’s degree in Sociology at the University of Granada in Spain, where his thesis research focused on the role of agriculture in rural development and sustainability. As Director of Regional Initiatives at RSP, Andrew works with leaders, organizations, and networks to support regional strategies that advance Appalachia’s transition towards a just and sustainable economy for all.