March 31, 2017| Park Ferguson, Health & Wellness Contributor
Spring is in bloom and there are a lot of amazing things happening all over Appalachia! From schools to businesses, and individuals to nonprofit organizations; people are getting fired up about agriculture, health and wellness.
In the 1920’s Appalachia was the largest producer several agriculture crops. Everyone was farming, not only to feed themselves, but also as a way to make a living.
Agriculture truly is emerging as a viable economic opportunity for people in Appalachia. We almost all have a piece of land that can be worked. And it doesn’t take a ton of space or a ton of money to get into the business.
Many people may not think of farming as a lucrative economic endeavor, however when one views the synergistic benefits of agriculture they will see that the wealth generated goes far beyond just making money.
First off, people can make a good living doing meaningful work in agriculture. There are organic farmers who generate over $100,000 a year farming on one acre.
This is the new age of agriculture. The age of specialty crops, season extension, and intensive planting.
Also the markets have changed. People are demanding real food. The health effects of a half century of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and GMO food products is overwhelming our people and health care system. The cost of consuming chemical laden produce and processed food products is becoming too high for our nation to manage.
If a person is able to grow their own food they can save between $7,000-$9,000 a year that they would normally spend at the grocery store on products that are often highly-processed, contain some form of genetically modified corn and soy, or are imported from China, Mexico or South America. Check the labels if you don’t believe me.
Farming has its business expenses, but its health benefits far outweigh the initial investments. If someone is growing their own food, they are likely getting tons of exercise. No need to pay for a gym membership when you spend your time digging, shoveling, walking up and down rows, slinging hay bails and driving fence posts. Combine regular exercise with eating nutritious, home grown foods and you’ve significantly reduced the need for trips to the doctor’s office, thus saving even more money.
What opportunities do our young people have today in Appalachia? We all recognize it’s time to diversify our economy, however I don’t see an abundance of companies lining up to locate in Southern WV. We have a workforce problem. Our best and brightest young people are leaving the state en masse, and many of our residents face health issues ranging from drug addiction to diabetes and obesity that deter potential employers.
We have to address these problems. No one is going to come down here and fix it for us.
We have young people in Appalachia right now who are being recruited by colleges to study agriculture. And guess what? They want to come back to the southern coalfields after college.
Young people today are looking for meaningful work. They are looking to live in vibrant communities where people are happy and healthy. Embracing agriculture is our first step in creating a prosperous Appalachia that will attract and retain capable and talented individuals.
Buying local foods also puts money directly into the pockets of citizens. West Virginia spends over $8 billion on food annually. That is $8,000,000,000! A lot of zeros! Only $700 million of this is produced in West Virginia and the tax dollars of all those zeros are going back to someone else’s community.
The market is there. The demand is there, and we likely already have a lot of the supply. Our next step is to bridge the gap from farmer to consumer. Look around. There are farms and gardens everywhere in Appalachia. Lets skip the formalities. No need for complex logistics and expensive infrastructure. Buying healthy locally grown food is as easy and finding a neighbor who is willing to sell it.
While you may not be ready to throw away your desk job for a career in agriculture, you can still raise a garden in your spare time and save money and live a healthier lifestyle.
This is what we do. This is who we are. We are self-sufficient people who have never needed to rely on the government to fix our problems. And we are now feeling the impacts of relying on a single industry.
How about we rely on ourselves? How about we fix our own problems? How about keeping our hard earned money in our own pockets and in the pockets of the mountain folk who deserve it?
How about we create an Appalachia our young people want to live in. An Appalachia where people know their roots and are proud stewards of the land. Where people honor past generations that worked so hard for us to be here today by keeping our traditions and heritage alive.