Reducing Povery and Hunger in Appalachia

Article Published: Jan. 19, 2012 | Modified: Jan. 19, 2012

Heifer International works around the world to end poverty and hunger, and is now launching a pilot project to do so in our region.

Poverty is no stranger to Appalachia. The latest numbers from 2009 indicate that, on average, 22 percent live in poverty in Ashe, Allegheny, Watauga and Wilkes counties and Johnson County, Tenn. That means families of four are surviving on $22,350 yearly income or less.

On Jan. 12, around 25 community leaders representing the region met to brainstorm ideas on how to build a coalition with the charge of re-localizing food systems to create living wage jobs.

Opportunities for small food producers, processors and community food entrepreneurs will be developed. Another desired outcome is permanently improving access to nutritious, locally produced food among the food insecure.

The Appalachian District Health Department is the fiscal agent for Heifer’s organization, assessment and planning grant in partnership with Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture and Asheville-based Center for Participatory Change. The group discussed local food system assets and challenges in our communities, who should serve on the coalition, and what will make it flourish.

Lauri Andre-Wilson was recently hired as project manager, with the charge of developing a strong community coalition that includes stakeholders from a diverse cross section of the population. The coalition will eventually develop an overall project plan that prioritizes strategies for how the community will begin constructing its community-owned food system based on assessment data.

Andre-Wilson is employed by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. Amy Galloway, board chairwoman, believes this project fits in with her board’s mission.

“Our primary goal is to support underserved female farmers,” she said. “But we also work to develop community awareness about the importance of our local food system by organizing the High Country farm tour. We offer workshops to people who are interested in producing some of their own food but are not necessarily farmers.”

Jeffery Scott, Heifer USA’s Appalachia regional director, shared his perspective.

“We need a system-wide change, not individual,” he said. “The living wage in Watauga County is $24 an hour. Everything is imported into our communities, including food. Everyone has to eat, and food is a gateway to pull people out of poverty. We need to support local farming, processing and distribution.”

Becky Brown from the Asheville-based Centers for Participatory Change serves as a facilitator for the coalition.

“We believe that communities have the power to transform themselves,” she said. “Solutions and assets are in communities, and we are happy to partner on this project.”

Jennifer Greene, director of Allied Health Services for the district health department, shared new public health strategies with the group.

“Telling people to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day and to exercise for good health doesn’t work,” she said. “We have to change our community environments to promote health. We support making healthy, local food easily accessible to all.”

Representatives from N.C. Cooperative Extension, Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development Program and Wilkes Community College Small Business Program were present and enthusiastic about offering resources to develop the project.

After the coalition is organized and comes up with a plan, Heifer is offering implementation grants for the next four years of $250,000 per year. Every dollar Heifer contributes must be matched by community donations and in-kind contributions.

This inexpensive, nutritious recipe provides 8 with a ¾ cup serving. Taken from Wildly Affordable Organic (

Lentil Stew

2 cloves minced garlic
1 cup chopped onions
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups lentils
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
4 carrots, chopped

Heat olive oil in a medium to large sized pot over medium heat.

Add garlic, onion and turmeric and cook until onions are softened, 3 or 4 minutes.

Rinse lentils well and add to the mixture with the water and salt and bring to a boil.
Add carrots.

Reduce to a simmer for around 20 minutes, until lentils are tender.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. To contact Margie, email or call (828) 264-3061

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