Appalachian agriculture: the future of farmers
The Appalachian Mountains offer fertile ground for countless species of plants and wildlife across the region, and farmers and agriculturalists have found the region to be among the most diverse when it comes to growing crops and raising animals.
Because of this, the region is known for its agricultural success and is home to hundreds of thousands of small farms that stretch through all 13 states of the mountain range.
Small farms, such as the Ten Acre Garden, offer family friendly activities that encourage children to get outside and enjoy the atmosphere of a functioning farm. Small farms like this are popular with parents and youth alike, and attempt to promote a simpler way of life that allows families to kick back and enjoy spending time with each other without the distractions of the suburban world.
“We get a lot of people wanting to come and bring their kids to the farm,” said Jawdat Hindi, manager of The Ten Acre Garden in Canton, North Carolina. “You would not believe how many children do not know where their food comes from. That's a major tool to give the people coming with their children to show them how their food gets to their table.
Family farms aren’t the only way to teach children where their food comes from, though.
Programs such as 4-H were designed to educate children of all ages on what many believe to be strong values that will help them in all areas of life. 4-H stands for head, heart, hands and health, and is known to have a strong agricultural component, where they encourage children to plant gardens or raise chickens to show off what they have learned.
“Here in Wise County, we try to give the students a basic background about what agriculture is because a lot of kids don't understand agriculture,” said LeAnn Hill, the 4-H program assistant of the Southwest Virginia 4-H Educational Center in Abingdon, Virginia.
Self-sustainability is one of the many foundations of Appalachian culture. For some families and individuals within the region, teaching future generations the importance of loving the land and showing them how to do something as simple as growing a tomato plant or a small herb garden in a windowsill box could go a long way in showing them how to respect the practices that the Appalachian forefathers relied upon to stay alive.
Alongside the teaching aspect of agricultural practices in Appalachia, there is also the product aspect.
There has been much public concern on GMO-free products and products produced from free range animals since the mid-1990s when industry farms began to use chemicals to help grow their produce.
Small farms are less likely to use pesticides on their products due to the smaller supply being easier to manage than that on an industry farm. Buying local helps keep these local businesses afloat, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many small businesses did not make it through unscathed. This could be as simple as stopping by the local farmers market or farm stand or making a day-long trip out to a farm with the whole family.
“There’s no way we could stay in business [without people buying local],” said Hindi. “Small farms like us don't have the volume to compete with the big companies that sell to stores. We are here for anyone who wants to come and see where and how their food comes about, even if they want to pick it themselves and show their families what it's like on a generational farm.”
A resource that is used by farmers across the United States is the Foxfire book series by the Foxfire Fund Inc.
Originally published in 1966 as a quarterly magazine, the stories were compiled into books and have become a great success with people interested in relying more on themselves. The books share stories, practices and tall tales of the Appalachian region. The stories included range in topics from midwifery to ghost stories, to shearing sheep, and demonstrate the love, blood, sweat and tears that went into making the region what it is today. These books are a resource for anyone who wants to learn the practices of the past, or even those who want to feel some nostalgia for the “good old days”.
“Teaching the kids about agriculture is especially important in our area because we were historically a coal-based community,” said Hill. “With the decline of coal in the past 10-20 years, Wise County has really started to jump on board and develop a lot of agrotourism projects and businesses. The kids are getting a lot more exposure to agriculture and things because of that.”
For more information on the Ten Acre Garden, visit their website at https://tenacregarden.com/
For more information about 4-H in any location, visit https://4-h.org/