Inside Appalachia: What Would You Do if Your Grocery Store Disappeared?

Jul 10, 2015

In Appalachia, where green forests grow abundantly, food is scarce for many. Throughout Appalachia, grocery stores are disappearing. This week on Inside Appalachia we're looking at some ways communities are resolving to take matters in their own hands.

Food deserts are a growing problem in West Virginia and across the country. The USDA defines a food desert as a part of the country where people don’t have access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. People in more than 40 counties in West Virginia endure some sort of limited food access, and the number is growing as more and more grocery stores close their doors.

Nothing Natural about Food Deserts

Bradley Wilson is a Professor of Geography at West Virginia University and has been working on food access issues for the past six years. He says the term “Food Desert” can sometimes confuse people, and he doesn’t even like to use it:

“A desert is something natural and there’s nothing natural about food deserts. A food desert is the retreat of grocery stores from a particular area. A food desert is really a symptom of a broader economic change that’s taking place. I don’t look at those as natural,” said Wilson.

Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers.
Credit USDA

Business is Brisk at Fresh 'Oasis' in Alderson Food Desert

When the grocery store in Alderson closed, the community worked to find local resources with hopes of becoming self-sufficient. A local co-op expanded to create the Green Grocer. The project received two grants from the One Foundation. But its largest chunk of cash came from donors to an Indiegogo campaign. People from across the world sent a total of $31,000 to help the cause. Click here to read more. One of the organizations that helped make the new Alderson Grocery Co-Op possible is Grow Appalachia, which is based out of Berea College in Kentucky. The organization is helping communities take matters into their own hands and helping them grow their own food by providing grants, teaching seminars and providing other farm resources.

Holly Korb is an AmeriCorps VISTA with Grow Appalachia at Berea College
Credit Roxy Todd

What’s in a Name?

Can you guess the town in Appalachia that got its name because hunters would store their meats in a cabin there? Is it Porkey, Pennsylvania, Chicken Gizzard Ridge, Kentucky, or Meat Camp, North Carolina? Listen to the show to find out. (cow sounds courtesy of animal sounds)

Health Challenges in a Food Deserts

In Virginia, Dr. Susan Clark is the Program Director of the Appalachian Foodshed Project and part of Virginia's Food Desert Task Force at Virginia Tech. She recently took part in a study called "Food Deserts in Virginia:  Recommendations From the Food Desert Task Force." The study focused on determining the current status of food deserts in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We checked in with Clark to help break down the food desert.

Food Center at a gas station in eastern Kentucky
Credit Roxy Todd

Geographers at WVU are Working to Connect People to Food Resources

Geographers at West Virginia University are working to understand the problem of hunger and  access to food in Appalachia.

They’re  working to holistically understand food insecurity in West Virginia with a program they call West Virginia FOODLINK. As Glynis Board reports, the program is trying to connect people to food resources that already exist throughout the Mountain State.

Audrey Levatino is the author of Woman Powered Farm

More Women are Becoming Farmers

The number of women who run farms is on the rise.  According to the United State Department of Agriculture women are the most rapidly growing segment of the farming population, accounting for more than 30 percent of all farmers.  Today, more than one million women are working on farms, a number that has more than doubled since 1982.  And they are raising $13 billion worth of produce each year.  One of these women, Audrey Levatino, works on her farm in Gordonsville, Virginia. Her book, Women Powered Farm, is meant to inspire more women to take up agriculture.  West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Beth Vorhees spoke with her.

Cucumber Juice and Red Rice & Hemp Burger? Shepherdstown Restaurant Surprises and Satisfies

Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Today, we’ve been talking about food deserts and looking at ways people are working really hard to help make fresh food available to more people in Appalachia. We wanted to finish with something delightfully delicious- a story about a restaurant in Shepherdstown that’s cooking up something fresh for our plates. So here’s another installment of a new segment here on Inside Appalachia, which features restaurants and recipes with Appalachian roots.

Shepherdstown is a little place with a lot of history. Harpers Ferry and the Antietam battlefield are literally down the road. The tiny downtown has Civil War era brick buildings filled with mom n’ pop restaurants and shops. And there’s a big demand for local, organic foods. Liz McCormick with West Virginia Public Broadcasting visited a local favorite - a restaurant called Mellow Moods.

Recipes from Mellow Moods:

Red Rice & Hemp Burger:

  • 1/2 cup red rice uncooked (cook well till sticky)
  • 1 cup hemp seed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil -- Food process cooked rice, hemp seed, olive oil (coarsely chopped)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp freshly chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp onion powder

Mix in well and patty. Making the rice really sticky is the key to this recipe.

Potato Ramp Soup:

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium bunch ramps, bulbs, and greens divided
  • 1 large leek, trimmed, cleaned well, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • Pinch dried marjoram
  • 2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 6 cups water
  • Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • 2 lbs potatoes, peeled and diced to ½-inch cubes
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Sweet & Sour Basil Smoothie:

  • Juice of 1 orange
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 banana ripe
  • 5-7 leaves of fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup ice
  • Blend well

Sweet & Sour Basil Smoothie.
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Our Appetite Appalachia theme song “Cornbread and Butterbeans” is by the Carolina Sunshine Trio. Music was also provided courtesy of Larry Groce with Junk Food Junkie, Andy Agnew Jr., Jake Schepps, and  Little Sparrow. Our What’s in a Name theme music is by Marteka and William with “Johnson Ridge Special”.

Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.