The West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition’s Aggregation and Distribution Working Group, also known as the Hub Club, visited the Kanawha Institute for Social Research & Action (KISRA) in Dunbar, West Virginia on March 23rd, 2016 for an interactive site visit and discussion. The participants also discussed logistical planning of the proposed local foods corridor that will distribute local produce and value-added products along a route proposed to begin in Athens, Ohio and end in Abingdon, Virginia, traveling through much of West Virginia. The site visit was part of Natural Capital Investment Fund’s (NCIF) Local Food Promotion Program grant. The Value Chain Cluster Initiative and the Coalition’s Aggregation and Distribution Working Group are coordinating six food hub site visits for this year.
Attendees participated in a tour of KISRA’s urban farm, Paradise Farms, that began as an expansion of KISRA’s support programs for incarcerated fathers and low-income area residents. With the mission to grow jobs through farming, Paradise Farms employs and provides training for eligible candidates to grow lettuce and kale in their two hydroponic greenhouses and one greenhouse with vertical towers. Paradise Farms markets their produce to local schools, restaurants, and other buyers. Additionally, KISRA offers public access to a processing facility with cold storage and a commercial kitchen.
Carl Chadband, Chief Operating Officer for KISRA, spoke candidly about KISRA’s venture into farming and the successes and challenges they face with structure, product choice, equipment, facilities, finding buyers, and labor. He and other staff emphasized the importance of planning and seeking advice from those already involved in local food production and similar job training programs before diving into building a farm and beginning production. While the KISRA model would be hard to replicate without adequate funding, KISRA’s experiences are valuable lessons learned for new job training and incubation programs that are popping up across the state.
Additionally, Joey Aloi from Paradise Farms gave attendees insight into the farm’s successful GAP certification, Kathlyn Terry of Appalachian Sustainable Development gave key tips for successful wholesale, and Joshua Donohew of MOVE discussed how food hubs can connect with rural growers.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Local Food Corridor project, Aggregation and Distribution Working Group, or future food hub site visits contact the WV Food & Farm Coalition at email@example.com or 304-877-7920.