Whether you’re venturing out to dine or mostly cooking at home, you’ve probably noticed a trend toward more local, fresh, and healthy food in the past few years. Farmers markets saw an uptick in attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic as they became one of the few safe places for community members to gather, and new farm-to-table style restaurants that work directly with farmers to provide fresh produce, meats and cheese have gained popularity as a cornerstone of the local food scene.


According to the International Food Information Council, in 2022, 52% of Americans report that they followed a specific “eating pattern”- such as plant-based and clean eating- in the past year and highlighted “local” as an important food source to them. This represents a marked increase from the past few years (39% in 2021, 43% in 2020, 38% in 2019.) This trend could have significant positive health results and economic impacts for Appalachia.


“Local food and agriculture are the key to all of our survival, particularly in our rural communities,” said Adam Hudson, Director of Refresh Appalachia, a social enterprise program of Coalfield Development in Huntington, West Virginia. “It’s the one thing that binds us all together- we all have to interact with it. Knowing where your food comes from is important. You’re supporting your neighbor by doing that,” he continued.


Since October of 2020, ACEnet has been partnering with Refresh Appalachia and Appalachian Sustainable Development on a USDA Regional Food Systems Partnership grant to help strengthen and implement those goals. The program supports partnerships that connect public and private resources to plan and develop local or regional food systems. It focuses on strengthening the viability and resilience of regional food economies through collaboration and coordination. Other partners on the project include Sprouting Farms, Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective and West Virginia University.

The need for this type of system is great in rural Appalachia, specifically in West Virginia. According to Feeding America, one in seven residents in the state face food insecurity and in 2020, those numbers included one in five children. Food deserts, defined by the USDA as low-income tracts with a significant number or share of residents more than 10 miles from a supermarket or large grocery store, are increasing across the state. West Virginia also deals with some of the lowest household incomes in the country.


Bailey Grenert, ACEnet Project Coordinator & Trainer, has been instrumental in ironing out some of the logistical hurdles for the project. Her role includes coordinating the distribution of Southeast Ohio foods along the corridor and the Coalfield route. She sees the connections she has to small businesses and word of mouth as key to the ongoing success of the project. “Working with a business like Snowville Creamery, who has a really experienced team, who is knowledgeable on building these types of networks from the ground up has been instrumental as far as distribution and getting products into small stores,” Grenert said.

Besides Snowville Creamery, the project has connected Southeast Ohio regional food producers Shagbark Seed and Mill and Frog Ranch Salsa with local markets in Huntington including The Wild Ramp and Butter it Up.



Though there are obstacles, Hudson agrees with Grenert that they aren’t insurmountable. “Knowledge, I think, has been our biggest asset,” said Hudson. “Learning what works, but also, and maybe more importantly, what doesn’t work. Being able to work with the local farmers, to impart that knowledge to them has been key. Here’s a way that you can improve your livelihood, your operation, because these are the things we learned along the way.”


His passion for the projects is evident, “I can’t trace back a time to when I didn’t have my feet in the garden or my hands on a plant. That love started with my grandfather who introduced me to gardening before I could even walk. I went away to college, but eventually came back home to Appalachia. I feel very lucky that I get to work hand-in-hand with local farmers to help strengthen and grow our food system.”


ACEnet Regional Food Systems Partnership
Refresh Appalachia

Story and Photos by ACEnet Multimedia Designer, Delia Palmisano