Anthony Flaccavento is the executive director of Appalachian Sustainable Development, a nonprofit dedicated to developing healthy, diverse, and ecologically sound economic opportunities in southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee.

Monday, 4 Nov 2002

ABINGDON, Va.

Early Monday morning, at the onset of November. A cup of strong coffee and a to-do list start this day off, like many others. Oh, and of course there was the stretch routine to work the kinks out of this 45-year-old back. It is raining, as it has been for much of the past three weeks, bringing a belated end to the summer’s long drought. The rain is too late for most farms, but hopefully in time to recharge our depleted wells and dry soil. I welcome it, though not the timing: My fall garlic planting is now much delayed. But then the weather is rarely what you need — or think you need — on a farm.

The Abingdon Farmers Market.
Photo: ASD.

We cultivate a little less than two of our seven acres on this “mini-farm” just outside of Abingdon, Va. We farm organically and intensively (in terms of space and time). As a sideline to two day jobs, farming is a bit much at times, but also quite rewarding, even rejuvenating. Laurie, my wife, is a fine arts teacher. I’m the director of Appalachian Sustainable Development. You probably read about us in Newsweek, or saw me on “Oprah.” Okay, maybe not.

Our farm’s produce is sold at the Abingdon Farmers Market and through the Appalachian Harvest organic growers network. The farmers market has grown substantially over the past two years, with a lot of work from a core group of farmers and a little help from ASD. This past year, we really seemed to turn the corner, with a much better customer base and 15-20 farmers most Saturdays. A half-dozen of these folks are either running certified organic farms or raising grass-finished, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats and eggs. Not bad for a town of 7,000.

Appalachian Harvest peppers.
Photo: ASD.

Appalachian Harvest was started by ASD three years ago in an effort to increase the market for locally raised organic foods, and to help the region’s tobacco farmers transition to organic farming. “Transition” is a poor description of the process. Moving from tobacco to organic fruits and vegetables is more like a leap. Across a precipice. In the dark. With a hell of a headwind smacking you around. But it is working, pretty well at least. We now have more than two dozen growers in our network, and 90 percent of our production comes from current or former tobacco farms. We sold almost $170,000 worth of food to three supermarket chains, within and beyond our region. Tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash, potatoes, eggplant, garlic, leaf lettuce, heirloom vegetables, and a few others. Our sales this year were 20 percent more than last year, but well short of our goal of $250,000. Many reasons for that. Stay tuned.

Today, I hope to talk to Mike Tipton, the head of merchandising at one of these chains. Our first attempt at a “value-added” product — an organic basil and garlic tomato sauce — is languishing on their shelves. We have some ideas for promotion and a better, more conspicuous display. Hopefully, we’ll get those wheels turning today.

This morning, I’m meeting with Tom Hanlon to talk about grant-writing. Tom is the director of Rivers Way, an outdoor camp, not far from Bristol, Tenn. Two of our three kids have been there when they were younger, and loved it. Tom is trying to get funding for a literacy program that incorporates outdoor activities and skill-building into a larger reading and confidence-building program. This is outside of ASD’s usual realm, though certainly compatible with our values. Tom is coming to us because we have a reputation as successful grant writers. (Are we truly successful? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But the subject’s always on my mind.)

Later this afternoon, I also have a meeting with a local building contractor interested in buying some of our sustainably sourced wood for the homes they build. More about that tomorrow.