The WV Incubator Farm Network (WVIFN) traveled near and far to attend the Network’s very first farm visit and strategy session at one of several Refresh Appalachia sites in Huntington, West Virginia. While the morning fog burned off, the participants sat in bright red, upholstered church pews inside a large warehouse room while listening to Ben Gilmer, President of Refresh Appalachia, as he took us through time. Just fourteen years ago the Network would have been in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a men’s garment factory. Shortly after the closing of the Corbin garment factory in 2002, the abandoned warehouse became a site for illegal activity and a dilapidated, abandoned building in the middle of a residential neighborhood across from a neighborhood park.
Today, the WV Incubator Farm Network was welcomed by the new owners of the warehouse, Refresh Appalachia, a social enterprise of the Coalfield Development Corporation, that works to establish a sustainable training and development program that increases the success of beginning farmers in southern West Virginia and Central Appalachia. The warehouse is experiencing major clean up, an up cycling of materials, and redesign that subtly acknowledges the history of the building. In the restroom hangs cutout clothing patterns from the ceiling memorializing the garment factory while creating a contemporary art installation-like piece for the space. The Coalfield Development Corporation has a laundry list of future projects for the warehouse, including exciting additions for Refresh Appalachia and the food and farm community.
After learning the history of the warehouse and Refresh Appalachia, Mr. Gilmer and Savanna Lyons, Refresh Appalachia Food Hub Manager, gave a tour of the program and the agricultural projects on site, and introduced us to crew members on their break from building a high tunnel under the guidance of Terry Hudson from Hudson Farms, LLC.
Refresh Appalachia is building a bridge of opportunity for individuals who were impacted by the devastating decline of the coal industry by offering an agricultural training program that requires similar skill sets for success. With an emphasis on the southern coal fields, Refresh Appalachia is answering the question, “how can you have productive, profitable farms in the southern coal fields” using sustainable practices and alternative agricultural technologies. Directly following the tour of Refresh Appalachia and foreseeing the hopeful outcomes and impact of the program, WVIFN transitioned into a productive and informative network strategy session.
Interested in learning more or joining the WV Incubator Farm Network? Contact Evelyn Hartman, WVIFN Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.