WEST VIRGINIA AGRARIAN COMMONS
Local Agrarian Commons Board
Susanna Wheeler, New Roots Community Farm and Fayette County Resource Coordinators Office
Adam Hodges, WV State University Extension Service and Fayette County Farmland Protection Board Chair
Linda Stein, New River Health Association
Eliza Spellman Taylor
Sam Petsonk, WV attorney
The West Virginia Agrarian Commons is organized and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of holding title to property, collecting income therefrom, and turning the entire amount, less expenses to the AGRARIAN LAND TRUST within the meaning of Section 501(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). Agrarian Land Trust, the parent corporation of West Virginia Agrarian Commons, is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(a) and described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.
The West Virginia Agrarian Commons is collaborating with New Roots Community Farm on the creation of the local Agrarian Commons in West Virginia. New Roots reflects its name and is just starting to lay down a foundation for a diversified farm, rooted in community.
Local leadership understood that supporting the development of a viable agricultural industry in rural communities will be critical in fostering a more just and sustainable form of economic development in Southern West Virginia. New Roots Community Farm was born out of that commitment and buy-in. Recognizing that many barriers exist in West Virginia to developing a viable and robust food system, their team sought partners and allies to help build their capacity to address these issues over the past couple years. New Roots Community Farm now serves as a local food aggregation and distribution site, offers affordable leases to farmers, runs a demonstration farm for intensive vegetable production, and provides a variety of training and educational opportunities.
As a community farm they have a community garden, engage in food access work, and host community events where all are welcome. New Roots Community Farm believes that the Commons model can help expand and amplify the impact of this project by creating a mechanism to obtain equitable long term land tenure for local farmers.
Due to coal mining and other industries, absentee and corporate ownership has been widely practiced in West Virginia. Coal provided the foundation for industrialization throughout the country, but especially dependent were northeastern and midwestern cities. As many historians and scholars have written, Appalachia supplied the raw materials to power this monumental growth while becoming a “national sacrifice zone” in the process. Strip mining, mountaintop removal mining, drilling, and various other forms of extraction have destroyed West Virginia mountains and streams numbering in the hundreds. Some 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of streams have been impacted. As a major hub for the fossil fuel industry, Appalachia now confronts the perils of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” and pipelines.
Before coal, central Appalachia’s people depended on large forested mountains as a source of food, fiber, and materials. As Eliza Spellman Taylor notes, “This region was the edge of European colonialism, and a place where property rights were largely unenforced, despite wealthy, absentee elites gaining title to millions of acres through grants and purchase. Barter and gift economies thrived.” (For more on this history, The Dispossessions of Appalachia: A Review of Ramp Hollow by Barbara Ellen Smith in Southern Spaces.)
Dispossession in Appalachia begins with colonialism and occupation, and it extends to the present in the form of extractive, capitalist industry. A divide between elite white (largely absentee landowners) and poor white residents has driven continued tensions in West Virginia. A profound contrast emerged between small farming, homesteading residents and big industry that can be seen in the landscape and economy of the state today, where beautiful family farms and thriving forests can be located just miles from the clear cuts and moonscapes of mountain-top removal, and where extreme poverty and ultra-wealth exist side by side.Despite its challenges, Appalachia’s agrarian and communal way of life perseveres in pockets throughout the region. As the long-time Appalachia community organizer Carol Judy has said, “if you look hard enough, you’ll find an essence of Appalachia culture in any resilient community.”
Despite its challenges, Appalachia’s agrarian and communal way of life perseveres in pockets throughout the region. As the long-time Appalachia community organizer Carol Judy has said, “if you look hard enough, you’ll find an essence of Appalachia culture in any resilient community.” Certainly, the West Virginia Teacher Strikes of 2018 and 2019 showed the country how Appalachians stand up for their rights to fair pay and a decent living. The power of unionized workers and workers’ struggle for dignity has deep roots in West Virginia, such as the Mine Wars era (a history behind the word “redneck” is that striking miners tied red bandanas around their necks during the march before the Battle on Blair Mountain--the largest insurrection in US history outside the Civil War).
In their own words: "New Roots Community Farm is an invitation to everyone to come together in the name of good food. This project offers access to locally grown food, an opportunity for businesses to begin or expand farming operations, vocational training for new farmers, community garden space, an event center, and a local food distribution site. This farm is rooted in local tradition, heritage, and history. We believe it is important to know where we came from on our journey to where we are going. We invite you to join us as we develop a community focused farm. The Resource Coordinator's Office manages the farm. This includes but is not limited to program planning, infrastructure development, apprenticeship program, community engagement, crop planning and planting, land leasing, local food distribution hub, and fall harvest. New Roots Community Farm is made possible by the Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority, the Fayette County Commission, Fayette County Farmland Protection Board, and the Resource Coordinator’s Office."
SNAPSHOT OF WEST VIRGINIA AGRICULTURE
The West Virginia Agrarian Commons is working with local farms and organizations to create options for small-scale, community-stewarded farmland in the region.
Known largely for its history of coal mining, West Virginia has rich agricultural past and has been a bastion of family-owned farms for generations. With 12 million acres of forestland, the Mountain State is the third most-forested in the U.S. While large corporate farms do exert pressure in West Virginia as in other states, today 95 percent of farms in the state are family-owned, which is the highest number in the U.S. Approximately 23,000 farms averaging 157 acres in size call the state home.
Land Acknowledgement & Commitment
The Agrarian Commons acknowledges that it is located on the ancestral, occupied, and, in many cases, unceded land of Indigenous people. In acknowledging this legacy of genocide and theft, we are in turn committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty.
Food Insecurity & Hunger
Approximately 1 in 7 West Virginia residents are food insecure. 1 in 5 children live in a food insecure household.
West Virginia Farmland Facts
Amount of Farmland: 3.5 million acres (13% of total land area)
Acres Farmed Organically: 2,439 acres
Total Number of Farms: 22,900
Number of Farm Operators/Producers: 38,123
- Average Age: 59.7
- Beginning farmers: 11,835
- Farmers of color: 393
- White farmers: 37,730
- American Indian or Alaska Native farmers: 81
- Black farmers: 35
- Asian farmers: 53
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander farmers: 6
- Female farmers: 13,498
- Male farmers: 24,635
Farmland Loss: 40,000 acres (2012-2017)
Average Farm Real Estate Value: $3,280/acre
Farm Income: 77% of West Virginia farms earn less than $10,000 a year (2017, NASS)
Top Agricultural Products by Sales: Poultry, eggs, cattle and calves, other crops and hay, grains, oilseeds, dry beans, dry peas, nursery and greenhouse products, flowers, sod
Resources on West Virginia Agriculture
- 2018 State Agriculture Overview - West Virginia
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS
- Land Values 2019 Summary, USDA
- American Farmland Trust, Farmland Info Center
- WVU Center for Resilient Communities
Farm and Food Reports on West Virginia
- State of West Virginia (2011). Partners: Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC), West Virginia Community Development Hub, & West Virginia Food and farm Coalition. With support from Central Appalachian network, and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.” PDF Summary. Crossroads Resource Center.
- Greenbrier Valley (3 counties, 2011). Partners: Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC), West Virginia Community Development Hub, & West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition. PDF Summary. Crossroads Resource Center.
State of West Virginia Reports
FOUNDING FARMS, RANCHES, & AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS
NEW ROOTS COMMUNITY FARM
New Roots Community Farm is located just outside of Downtown Fayetteville, West Virginia on what locals know as the Whitlock farm. In 2016, the Fayette County Farmland Protection Board purchased the land. Drawing on assistance from the Fayette County Resource Coordinator’s Office and the Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority, New Roots is now collaborating with Agrarian Trust to create a local Agrarian Commons in West Virginia.
Local Agrarian Commons Documents
PARTNERS & ALLIES
Along with our founding farm and its supporting partners, the West Virginia Agrarian Commons looks forward to collaborating with community land trusts and other organizations in the region. More to come, stay tuned!
EVENTS AND OPPORTUNITIES
- Traveling WV: New Roots Community Farm
- Actor Jason Marsden supports the West Virginia Agrarian Commons (Watch on Instagram)
- abc4 WOAY TV: West Virginia Agrarian Commons raising money to purchase farmland
- Public News Service: WV Group Aims to Acquire Former Coal Land for New Farmers
- WV Environmental Council: Building a Resilient Food and Agriculture System in the Mountain State
- Montgomery Herald: West Virginia AC raising funds for New Roots Community Farm
- West Virginia Explorer: Fayette County to unveil region's first community farm
- abc4 WOAY TV: Old Whitlock Farm Gets New Roots
- The Fayette Tribune: New Roots Community Farm key partner in founding West Virginia Agrarian Commons
- abc4 WOAY TV: Fayetteville’s New Roots Community Farm brings new face to farming
- West Virginia Explorer: New River Gorge farm to launch online farmer's market
- Documentary: The Greenhorns