Buying Local Helps Institutions, Farmers and Communities

It might still be pretty cold across much of Central Appalachia, but planting season has started for many area farmers. In the warmer months ahead, we can look forward to fresh, local produce at the Farmer’s Market, in many of our schools and restaurants, and even at some Appalachian colleges. It makes sense for all the same reasons as farm-to-school does – with the added bonus that college students are (hopefully) less picky about fruits and vegetables than grade-schoolers, and college cafeterias often have a more flexible budget to work with. The Roanoke Times recently profiled a Floyd County, VA farm that has begun selling to Ferrum College.

On March 15, the college announced that Riverstone “will grow crops specifically for Ferrum College, including head lettuces, salad greens and baby spinach, tomatoes, cabbages, peppers, potatoes and carrots.” College President Jennifer Braaten said the partnership with the farm is a good fit for Ferrum, which she said is committed to environmental responsibility and supporting local businesses….
For Crenshaw, Riverstone’s business agreement with Ferrum College provides additional evidence that a regional organic farm can thrive. “By supporting local organic farm food, the college helps develop new markets and hence encourages young people who want to make a living on the land,” Crenshaw said in a news release when the partnership was announced.
“The new agriculture — small scale, intensive, high quality, environmentally sensitive — provides economic development opportunities for rural Appalachian communities that struggle to remain economically viable,” he said.
These kinds of partnerships are vital to smaller agricultural producers, and to small businesses across Appalachia. It is easy for institutions like colleges, hospitals and nursing homes to place an order with a national distributor to get what they need. But that money leaves the community and doesn’t come back. Innovators like Ferrum, and the increasing number of other large-scale buyers, are investing in their communities. A study in Maine by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that for every $100 spent at a locally-owned store, $45 gets recirculated in the community, as opposed to just $14 from a chain store. Institutions, with their big buying power, have the potential to make an even bigger impact on their local economies if they start buying locally. Let’s hope that we see more partnerships like the one between Ferrum and Riverstone Farms popping up all over Appalachia.