The Green Grocer: Homegrown Resilience in Alderson, West Virginia

This post was contributed by Catherine Goggins.

“I ♥ Food, I ♥ Alderson.” It is a statement with reason to resonate.

Sitting among the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, Alderson is a small town responsible for hosting West Virginia’s biggest (and best) 4th of July parade. It has an incredible story to accompany its lion mascot and a popular swimming spot in the Greenbrier River, which runs through it. It’s home to The Wagon Wheel restaurant and their incredible fried green tomatoes as well as to many gardeners generous in sharing their knowledge (as well as seeds, tillers, advice, and extra produce).

But “I ♥ Food, I ♥ Alderson,” is more than a statement that rings true for me and members of the community; it is also a social media campaign responsible for raising over $31,000 to start a grocery store there. Surpassing the original fundraising goal that launched it, the Green Grocer just celebrated its first month, operating as a nonprofit and rooted social enterprise.

Alderson is also a place that has seen its fair share of difficulties. When the only grocery store in town had to close its doors last November, many citizens were left without an accessible source of healthy food. This place, with its tree-lined streets and mountain views isn’t at all what most people would picture as a “food desert,” despite the high level of poverty the community faces. Yet suddenly there were six places to buy motor oil and five options for pet food purchases, but a trip of at least 15 miles required for anyone seeking an apple or a sack of potatoes. Kevin Johnson, who administered this unofficial product availability survey, worked with the creative and dedicated volunteers of Alderson Community Food Hub (ACFH) to change that.

The organization had already started a vibrant farmers’ market and more recently had began offering some organic and West Virginia grown products in a local co-op. They also manage two community gardens, as well as an educational plot at the school, so it made sense that in the face of the loss of their grocery store it was to ACFH that people turned. The organization responded, adjusting the long-term plan to meet the needs of the community by launching a crowdfunding campaign to greatly expand both product offerings and physical space. Transforming the existing co-op corner into a full service grocery store involved offering no longer just local and organic foods, but also a wider range of products, including pantry staples, bananas, ramps, toiletries, and local produce, as well as apples and potatoes.

As the Green Grocer celebrates its first month, Kevin noted that aside from Dawn and Billy Painter’s delicious barbecue, individuals’ curiosity, and pent up demand, people are coming in due to their genuine desire for it to succeed. It is a desire that has been made evident throughout the process – in donations of materials, money, and time, in the attendance at the St. Patrick’s Day fundraising dance, and in help in spreading the word.

I visited the weekend prior to its opening, and was amazed not just by the transformation of the physical space, but the ability of the community of Alderson has to come together to envision and build a better future for eaters there. As it begins its second month of operation, the Green Grocer continues to seek to bring people together to celebrate healthy food and their resilient community.

CScreen Shot 2015-04-25 at 3.24.04 PMatherine Goggins was drawn to Alderson during her time as a student at Virginia Tech by the work of the Alderson Hospitality House, which serves friends and families of women incarcerated in federal prison there. During the past two summers there, she has had the opportunity to grown food for the House and its guests, as well as for the Alderson Community Food Hub.