Appalachia Funders Gathering Digs into Local Assets

On Tuesday and Wednesday, a group of philanthropists, bankers, government employees and non-profits got together in Asheville, North Carolina for the Appalachia Funders Network gathering.  The Appalachia Funders Network “is a group of public and private grant-makers who envision an entrepreneurial-based Appalachian economy that provides opportunity for all while sustaining the environmental and cultural assets of our region.” If you’re on Twitter, you might have seen their prolific postings, keeping all of us who weren’t there informed about what was going on, which included discussions of access to capital, entrepreneurship and building on our region’s numerous assets.

Part of the meeting involved site visits to area enterprises that are working in promising sectors, including entrepreneurship, energy efficiency and local foods. The Daily Yonder profiled a visit to a local food business by the co-chair of the ARC. 

To process their spicy ingredients into sauces, rubs and salsa, the Mowreys take advantage of a community commercial kitchen in Candler. The facility is run by Blue Ridge Food Ventures, and it serves as a sort of business incubator. Numerous individuals and small businesses share the kitchen, lowering the cost and hassle of getting into the industry.
The ARC’s Gohl says this kind of community infrastructure is what’s needed to help local food businesses in Appalachia take off.
“We’ve got good soil, a long growing season, and lots of local knowledge,” he said. “The challenge is to develop the ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ to make local foods a stronger part of the local economy.”
…A 2012 ARC report says expanding local food production has the “potential to increase employment opportunities, improve community vitality and quality of life, and become a sustainable and healthy part of Appalachia’s future economic and community development.”
These kinds of gatherings that bring together key players in lending, grant-making and government are vital to exploring and developing the solutions we need for our Appalachian economy. Of course, we also need to bring the everyday citizens and resident changemakers into the conversation – so be sure to mark your calendar for the Appalachia’s Bright Future conference in April!