This post was contributed by Derrick Von Kundra.
As noted by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), “Appalachia stands to reap substantial economic gains from the increase in foreign trade, especially with Latin America. However, failure to invest in the transportation infrastructure necessary to maintain the Region’s competitive stance and its ability to connect with the global supply chain will result in lost economic and employment opportunities.” Appalachia has unfortunately always faced transportation challenges due to its geological makeup and sparsely populated areas.
In the early 1800s, the National Road (aka Cumberland Road) was built by the federal government and connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. In the mid 1800s, the rail system proved to be a giant leap forward for transportation, but it still left many areas in the region secluded.
Even still, after 1) the Good Roads Movement (formed in the 1880’s), 2) the auto trail system (early 1900s) and eventually 3) the highway system (1926), many of the roads in Appalachia were narrow, winding and composed of dirt or gravel. This turned them into mud during winter and dust in the summer. With only two lanes that snaked through the mountains or the valleys, they were slow to drive, unsafe and worn out.
The last major transportation project the country underwent was the construction of the National Interstate. Unfortunately, this served the cross-country traffic primarily and did little to assist those who lived in the mountainous interior. Effective progress was made in 1965, however, when the ARC created the Appalachian Development Highway System. This development connected the region to the National Interstate, resulting in economic growth to the area.
In a food system value chain, there are suppliers, producers, aggregators, distributors and wholesale buyers. Today, food suppliers in Appalachia still struggle to get their products to market due to the burden of the increased and often challenging distance between them and the buyers. This distance usually requires an enormous investment in managing and operating the transportation necessary to connect these pieces in a value chain. Appalachia, however, has only a few of these pieces in place and food hubs like Appalachian Harvest in Duffield, VA, must assume the role as both an aggregator and a distributor.
All of these factors make it difficult to find independent long term financial sustainability; therefore, the most efficient way to obtain sustainability in rural Appalachia is to foster collaboration with other food hubs, farmers, and buyers that could leverage existing infrastructure and routes. Logistics are often cited as one of the key barriers to food entrepreneurs accessing large, lucrative markets for their products.
Solving these issues is the primary purpose of my fellowship with Appalachian Sustainable Development and Virginia Tech. With the help of my host communities, we will support entrepreneurs and expand market accessibility by providing greater access of distribution alternatives for Central Appalachian food producers, as well as foster connections with food markets to work on innovative strategies in order to open up new markets to the consumer.
Derrick Von Kundra is an Appalachian Transition Fellow serving with Appalachian Sustainable Development based in Abindgon and Duffield, Virginia. Von Kundra’s work focuses on tackling the logistical issues of distribution of local foods in the region.