AppFellows Guest Post: Local Food Value Chains in Charleston, WV

This post was contributed by Joey Aloi.

Hi, my name’s Joey Aloi, and I’m one of the inaugural batch of Appalachian Transition Fellows. I’d like to use this opportunity to talk about my work as a Fellow – my work on food systems in Appalachia. But before that, since I’m the first AppFellow to contribute to the AFP blog, I should start by telling you a little bit about the Fellowship.

I’ll begin with a quote from our website: “The Appalachian Transition Fellowship seeks to increase the connectivity and capacity of Appalachian institutions and leaders while building a collective analysis and seeding projects to change the systemic problems in our region, leading to a just and sustainable Appalachian economy.” We all work in and with currently existing Central Appalachian institutions – our goal is not to create new institutions, but to increase their ability to make changes and their interconnections with one another. We’ve signed up as fellows because we acknowledge that an economic transition away from traditional extractive industries is already happening in Appalachia. As I see it, our work is to make sure that this transition happens in a just and sustainable manner – or, more likely, in several just and sustainable manners, depending on the social, economic, and environmental conditions of a given place.

We also take seriously our work building a collective analysis of transition in Appalachia. The Highlander Center is one of the founding institutions of the Fellowship. Highlander has over 80 years of experience in community organizing and popular education, and they’ve been in charge of Fellow development & education for the AppFellows. In addition, they help facilitate several Regional Gatherings – one on food, one on energy, and one on alternative economies. These Gatherings, which are open to the public, allow AppFellows to get together with those who do the work we do, and those interested in doing it, in order to talk about how to make transition happen in just and sustainable ways.

The AppFellows work in several different economic sectors; I’m contributing to this blog because I work in food systems. I’m working on a local food value chain project in Charleston, WV. This project brings locally-grown herbs and produce into the Charleston Area Medical Center kitchens. The project aims to boost the income of local food producers while providing access to and knowledge of healthy food to a population uniquely in need of such access and knowledge. It’s part of a bigger food movement that seeks to show how an agrarian culture can impact the economic transition of our region.

Perhaps most importantly, it pursues these goals by bringing together the different sectors of the food value chain. WealthWorks defines a value chain as “a coordinated network … that addresses a market opportunity to meet demand for specific products or services – each [member] advancing individual self-interest while together building rooted local and regional wealth.”  Value chains bring together key partners – in our case, growers, a distributor, an aggregator, and the anchor institution and consumer, CAMC – together to make sure that everyone along the chain benefits fairly from the production and consumption of local food. A value chain is but one of many economic networks which aim to increase community connectivity and democratize wealth.

I’m grateful to be hosted by three excellent organizations in this Fellowship: CAMC, The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, and Corey Brothers’ Produce Inc. It is part of CAMC’s health and community oriented mission to substitute fresh herbs for fat and salt in preparing meals. They also provide their employees, patients, and families with information regarding healthy diets. Corey Brothers, Inc.is a wholesale produce distributor and works to provide the local herbs to the hospital in the quantities and quality that is required. The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation acts as a facilitator and coordinator of the process by convening partners and providing access to information on value chains, access to expertise, and needed resources.

Click here to watch a video about our project.

And here to read more about the Appalachian Transition Fellowship.

 

Joey Aloi grew up in Fairmont and then Buckhannon, West Virginia. He attended Warren Wilson College, where he studied Philosophy and worked for the Carpentry Crew. He continued his studies at The University of Montana, in Missoula, and the University of North Texas, in Denton. He has mostly focused on Environmental thought. In 2010-11, he was an AmeriCorps volunteer for the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, where he mostly engaged in the restoration of wood windows, wood siding, and plaster walls in historic structures. He lives in Charleston, WV where he is serving as an Appalachian Transition Fellow.