The Blue Ridge Plateau area of Virginia is rich with good soil, adequate rainfall, and hardworking people. Many of the people of this region have been involved in agriculture for generations. The food grown here is healthy and nutrient-dense farmed with low amounts of pesticides, antibiotics, and chemical fertilizer. Sustainable agricultural practices are the norm for this area. However, with the dominance of large scale, industrial food production around the world and the globalized corporate food industry, many local farmers are struggling to make a living. Cheap food made with massive amounts of chemicals, of poor nutritional quality, using unsustainable amounts of water and contributing to one-third of the excess carbon leading to climate change is the national norm and a national problem. We in Southwest Virginia are prepared to lead the change toward growing an abundance of healthy food using techniques that do not contribute to climate change or to national obesity. We are creating a quality, integrated food system in our region. All of the needed components are here but they must be supported and managed. The “gaps” in the system will need investment to reach the potential we have to supply food for the east coast, home to one-third of the U. S. population.
We work with a broad community bringing together (1) local fertile land, (2) skillful farmers, (3) government (local, state, and national), (4) local knowledge, wisdom, and entrepreneurial spirit, (5) Virginia Tech, our land grant university, and (6) a major injection of social entrepreneurial capital to create a productive and profitable LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM.
We’re in search of investments and technologies that best serve our communities and the valued lands upon which we live. Please join with us in finding new and profitable means to best use our resources while protecting them for those who follow the paths we create. Our vehicle is two parallel corporations, one for-profit and the other a non-profit The for-profit engages directly in creating and managing businesses that produce for the people and preserve the place. The non-profit is responsible for organizing the community and maintaining a sense of responsibility that we all share, coordinating the myriad parts of a food system and its needs. It calls people together to respond to new opportunities and challenges. It monitors our health and happiness and serves as a feedback loop so we know our impact on the land and water and can make needed corrections. Finally, the non-profit engages in education with all of its partners, e.g., local schools, community colleges, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, USDA, Commonwealth agencies, to ensure that our children know how to protect the land and our own interests.
The For-Profit: Engages in building businesses and partnerships, taking advantage of existing opportunities. The effort must be profit-based because only with capitalism do the people have the power to vote with their dollars. The big question is whether we can work together in ways that enhance capital flow while living dignified lives. We believe the examples are obvious. Let us share with you some of the possibilities.
- Food Safety Service: Major changes are underway in protecting the nation’s food supply, and new regulations take effect next year. All handlers of food are affected one way or another— from the farmer in the field to the clerk in Kroger, all fall under increasing scrutiny. One must go to California to find a service to design food safety training programs, provide the needed education, provide testing services, engage in certification, etc. In cooperation with the people in food innovation at Virginia Tech, we will establish a food safety service here in our watersheds along the Blue Ridge Plateau.
- Marketing Company: A cheese and vegetable provider to upscale restaurants (a Meadow Creek Cheese customer)in NYC wants to develop closer relations with farmers, illustrating that there are new channels through which food can flow from our region to high-end markets. Yes, high-end specialty crops are possible with our special summer growing season and bolstered by the greenhouses and high tunnels in our region.
- An Abattoir: Based on a high-priority need expressed by farmers in Grayson LandCare, Inc., two grants (one a USDA feasibility study and the second a jointly supported Appalachian Regional Commission and Virginia Tobacco Commission award) developed physical and business plans. Possible sites have been evaluated and the next step is to update the plan, find investors, create a business structure, and proceed.
- Land Management and Marketing Service: Many parcels of land in our region are relatively unproductive. In demonstrations jointly administered by Virginia Tech and Grayson LandCare, Inc., we know that soils become more productive, and profits increase per acre when forage is appropriately managed. Land can be placed under contract for the time required to begin producing crops for existing market demands. The landowner or a designate can be trained in ongoing management and production. The marketing service will continue irrespective of management changes.
- Model profitable training farms recruiting and training apprentices in the best practices of sustainable agriculture meeting the demand for farm managers in our communities. It’s important that the next generations know how to produce food meetings both locally defined (our local branding) and nationally and internationally recognized certification standards.
- An Investment Management Service: With the capacity to respond to smaller enterprises into the several million dollars, the fund is designed to support sound business designs and add value to crops and items of manufacture produced locally. The appeal is to a sophisticated community of investors. To protect their wealth over the long haul, to escape the volatility of speculative capital markets, there is increasing interest in stable and long-enduring enterprises. Food production can be seen as the safest because, over the long haul, everyone must eat. The natural resources required to produce the food must be protected at all cost so investment in productive, efficient, and proven technologies utilizing renewable energy makes sense. Beyond all of this, the investors have significant concerns about the fate of the Earth and its people. There is a sense of obligation to the children of our grandchildren to invest in enterprises with the best chances of surviving until they arrive.
- We have surveyed the large sawmills in our area and have found that they go to considerable expense in moving wood chips and sawdust to various outlets. We’re searching for partners to explore with us alternatives uses for energy, soil amendments, or other value-added products from what is currently considered waste.
- With the assistance of a graduate student from Virginia Tech, we’re exploring the opportunities for non-timber forest products for herbal, medicinal, food, and decorative markets.
The Non-Profit: Organizes the community to work collaboratively and cooperatively. It invites people and organizations to join in projects that benefit themselves as well as the common good. The discussion of the state of our lands and waters are coordinated by the non-profit as to needs expressed by businesses, governments, agencies, churches, and all others wanting to know. Activities are coordinated with the Blue Ridge Discovery Center and local schools, sharing information about our lands and waters with children coming of age.
The non-profit enjoys close working relations with private enterprises, the banking industry, Virginia Tech, and the Virginia Departments of Agriculture & Consumer Services, of Conservation and Recreation, and of Forestry. Local and state governments, USDA offices locally and across the Commonwealth, Forest Service, community colleges, etc., are engaged in our search for the clearest possible understanding of our local circumstances and the possibility of collaborative programs.
Care is taken to keep careful records as to the consequences of human activities upon the health and viability of our natural resources.
The non-profit will host special events and education programs relevant to the health, wellbeing, and enjoyment of the community.
We Are Already Underway: As an informal group following the March 31st meeting on “Agriculture Along the Blue Ridge Plateau,” we have combined our understandings into the above plan and are in the process of implementing the first steps by first asking for guidance from Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Virginia Farm Bureau on thinking through in detail the for- and non-profits and to explore the possibility of funding. We invited local leaders to join with us in a meeting with Mr. Minot Weld of Boston exploring on behalf of major investors our capacities to profitably absorb sums in the range of $20 to 30 million dollars.
On Mr. Weld’s visit, we visited the Wildwood 300 acre site owned jointly by the counties of Carroll and Grayson and the City of Galax. These communities have invested in excess of $23 million in leveling the site and constructing. Mr. Weld then linked us to Mr. Peter Lampesis and Gary Baer of Virisis Global, a limited liability company that “joins investors, technologies, and communities together in highly productive and energy-efficient companies that respond to the burgeoning demands for food and fiber.” Both Baer and Lampesis came to our counties and city on a fact-finding mission and to meet with the county administrators, city manager, their attorney, and representative of the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, representatives of the office of U.S. Senator Mark Warner. We have recently corresponded with Baer and Lampesis to select a date for their proposal for an agricultural center featuring high yielding aquaculture and hydroponic systems with positive environmental impacts on the Westwood site.
Beyond this, we’re exploring the restoration of a former large producer of watercress for the east coast market. At the same time, we’re engaged in exploring a farm management opportunity to create a profitable livestock venture on large acreage plus a management service for private forestland owners who wish to enrich the productivity of their lands through the production of a wide range of timber and non-timber products. We’ve discussed with a few potential small investors about collaborating profitable projects that serve the health of landscapes, the health of the local economy, and a sustainable quality of life.
In exploring with government, investors, and community members, we’re sharing the secrets of the place, one of agriculture and forestry innovation with links to over half of the nation’s consumers. We’re practiced in safeguarding our landscapes and our farmers are skillful and adaptable. Scientific agriculture is practiced from high schools forward. Moreover, the rain still falls across our communities. We invite you to engage with us in our mission.
Sent by : Jerry A. Moles, Ph.D.