Owned by Appalachian Sustainable Development, the new $750,000, 15,000-square-foot facility is where all of the nonprofit’s Appalachian Harvest brand of organic produce will be washed, packaged and distributed, ASD Business Operations Manager Kathlyn Terry said.
The original Appalachian Harvest facility, a converted barn in Stickleyville, burned down in May 2007 due to an electrical problem and more than 40,000 wax-coated cardboard boxes being in the building. Since then, the company has operated out of a temporary facility in Hiltons.
Although the building itself is finished, ASD is waiting for a storage cooler to be completed and phase three electrical work to be done before full-scale production can begin. Currently, produce brought to the facility is in refrigerated trucks donated by local supermarkets. The finished facility has been a long time coming, Terry said, especially after a rough year in 2007.
“The challenge last year was threefold,” she said. “The fire, drought and freeze we had just hit us pretty hard financially.”
More than 50 farmers in Scott, Lee, Washington and surrounding counties provide Appalachian Harvest with a variety of organic produce ranging from tomatoes to squash and zucchini. The produce is then marketed and sold to large supermarket chains like Food City, Ingles and Whole Foods, as well as some smaller stores.
ASD works through Appalachian Harvest to help educate and assist farmers interested in learning to grow organic produce, Terry said. It provides quality training and holds workshops and one-on-one consultations to help farmers make the most of their crops.
“We try to get farmers to diversify and not put all of their eggs in one basket,” she said. “Because if you’re growing two or three crops, and you have trouble with one, hopefully the other two will be good. It’s a way we try to spread the risk.”
The Virginia Tobacco Commission gave $425,000 to assist with the rebuild because of the help Appalachian Harvest provides for area farmers, commission member and Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, said.
“We think it’s a good opportunity for our farming community to raise organic vegetables and get into that market,” he said. “It’s a really good market for folks to get into. Our farmers can make some money, and they really have done a good marketing plan for them.”
The extra income provided by growing organic produce could help keep farming in the area from becoming a thing of the past.
“It helps supplement their income and helps them move to other crops other than tobacco,” he said. “We need to give some incentives for folks to stay on the farm.
“We want to make sure that family farm is kept in the family, and this is how we can do that.”