As the popularity and demand for local and regional food continues to grow, organizations have turned the trend into economic development in the region.
One example is Farm2U (also known as Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia®) in West Virginia, which ensures the viability of small farms, rural communities and a traditional way of life. The organization promotes culinary, cultural and agri tourism that drives economic development and creates jobs.
"Everything we do is focused on educating farmers about niche marketing, branding and the importance of quality while educating the public on the value of buying local products," says Dr. Allen D. Arnold, founder and director of Farm2U. "Buying local offers nutritional value, freshness/taste, minimizes the carbon footprint and recycles the dollar in the community."
Farm2U helps rural communities tap into their cultural and culinary heritage and their agricultural resources to attract consumer dollars. Arnold says they do this by creating a story and embedding everything in Appalachian culture. Yet, at the end of the day, "the key goal is economic development and job creation."
"We are interested in monetizing heritage," explains Arnold. The organization monetizes cultural tourism and capitalizes on culinary tourism through a series of programs and initiatives that range from the Cast Iron Cook-Off®, which showcases West Virginia's culinary talent and attractions, to promoting farming to FFA (Future Farmers of America) students.
Farm2U has also collaborated across its West Virginia border with organizations in Pennsylvania and Maryland to receive a value-added producer grant from the USDA. The grant allows growers to generate new products and expand marketing opportunities by using the primary farm product to make specialized products, for example using onions to make relish.
The grant allowed growers to work with chefs to identify potential products, with co-packers to produce and package products, and with networks to market products to consumers, restaurants and grocery chains.
Farm2U's success at supporting growers, encouraging consumers to buy local, and promoting culinary tourism, demonstrate how a rural community's economic growth and development can evolve out of its cultural heritage.