West Virginia Agrarian Commons is fundraising to acquire farmland to preserve the Appalachia region’s agrarian way of life. (Wikimedia Commons)

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January 14, 2021

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — To help the next generation of farmers, a West Virginia community farm group is raising funds to acquire land for future growers and beef up a sustainable agriculture economy in a former coal region.

Ian McSweeney, director of the Agrarian Trust, said the national organization is working with its Mountain State arm, the West Virginia Agrarian Commons, to buy an 82-acre farm in Fayette County with a 99-year lease.

He noted the average age of farmland owners is about 65 and the cooperative farm will lower costs to make it easier for new growers to enter agriculture production.

“Existing farmers are aging out, the cost of farmland and farming is considerable, which leads to 37 mid-sized farms a day closing,” McSweeney explained. “It’s just financially unsustainable for farmers to exit and next-generation farmers to take over.”

In a state with 12 million acres of farmland, the Commons group wants to preserve Appalachia’s agrarian way of life while also transforming formerly coal-dominated land.

Individuals and local businesses are partnering to raise funds for the farmland. For more information, go online to agrariantrust.org.

The farm purchase will reverse a trend of absentee holding groups and development companies accumulating West Virginia acreage and not using it.

Susanna Wheeler, board president of the state Agrarian Commons group, said land is expensive and many new farmers are forced to take on so much debt, they can’t afford to use sustainable farming practices.

“Agriculture has pretty big problems that it needs to solve,” Wheeler asserted. “We need farms and we need them to be successful and we need them to be sustainable, and that is a critical component to being able to meet this human right, which is access to food.”

Once purchased, the Fayette County farm will become the New Roots Community Farm, which will expand food access for the region. About one in seven West Virginia residents is food insecure.Disclosure: Agrarian Trust contributes to our fund for reporting on Environmental Justice, Public Lands/Wilderness, Rural/Farming, and Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.