HILLSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Federal officials are highlighting the growing importance of local food systems in boosting economic growth and creating jobs, especially in areas of Appalachia.
Officials with the Appalachian Regional Commission and others visited the Southwest Virginia Farmers Market in Hillsville on Tuesday.
The market, which officials said serves as a model for other areas, generates between $20 million and $30 million in revenues annually, including produce sales to regional grocery stores like Food City. The supermarket chain has about 100 stores located in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Success of the farmers market has led to additional income for growers, more jobs to help sell and process the goods, as well as entrepreneurs creating packaged goods from local produce.
Officials also announced $650,000 in funding and technical assistance aimed at supporting communities that are developing their local food systems, making them more sustainable and livable. The funding is sponsored by ARC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and others.
"Local foods is a market that is expanding and what we want to encourage folks to do is to take advantage of that market in as many ways as possible," said ARC federal co-chairman Earl F. Gohl. "Often times in our region, we're fighting our last battle, we're trying to save something that is not going to be saved."
ARC is a state-federal economic development partnership created by Congress in 1965 to help build sustainable communities in a region beset by poverty and poor health. Its mission is to grow job opportunities and income, bringing Appalachia to parity with the rest of the nation.
The ARC region consists of all of West Virginia and parts of 12 other states from Alabama to upstate New York. It's home to more than 25 million people and covers 420 counties and almost 205,000 square miles.