Harvesting Appalachia’s Future: Developing an Agriculture Sector

Todd Howard, Floyd County farmer and community leader, said it best at the Appalachia’s Bright Future conference in April: that the only thing Appalachians have done longer than mine coal, is farm.

It is true that agriculture has a deep and rich history in the region, and we believe it could help transition the region’s economy into the future. There’s already a cattle farm on a former mountaintop mining site, and with the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer working hard to recreate an industrial hemp market in the state, it seems we aren’t the only ones thinking agriculture should be a part of Appalachia’s economic transition.

As the Hazard Herald put it: “There is no shortage of reasons as to why we should be building a much more robust agriculture economy in Eastern Kentucky. Put simply, there exists a need for it.” The paper says all the flat land left over from old mining operations could be turned into “agriculture hot spots” with a little reclamation work, and more importantly, diversify the local economy.

In any case, eastern Kentucky’s economy is backed against a wall right now. It will take many different economic sectors working together to help the region walk away from that wall. Since Appalachia’s had a longer relationship with farming than almost anything else, we should reconnect with those agrarian roots and start planting seeds of economic opportunity from which we will harvest a much brighter future. 

(Grow Appalachia photo by Traviss Whitt)