January 24, 2018|By Gat Caperton| Land
A year after buying a small, solid-wood furniture factory in West Virginia, I woke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with a question echoing in my head. “Am I the guy cutting down all the trees?”

I grew up on the outskirts of Charleston, West Virginia. My brother and I spent entire days exploring the woods that surrounded us. Our mother eventually purchased an air-powered horn that she would sound to call us back home for dinner. The woods were endless and awesome—the greatest playground in the world.

But suddenly I had a factory, employees, debt, and the desire to make really cool furniture. I panicked. Did I have to destroy the woods I love to make it all work? The fights between environmentalists and industrialists were legendary during my childhood. Had I switched sides? Fortunately, the answer to all these questions was “No,” because when I founded my company Gat Creek I decided to approach furniture manufacturing in a holistic manner and take pride both in what we create and how we create it.

At Gat Creek, we are dedicated to producing high-quality, hand-crafted wooden furniture. We also, just as importantly, value the skilled employees who create each piece, and respect the natural resources that make our product possible. We locally source sustainably harvested Appalachian wood and build each creation in a facility that minimizes energy use, reduces waste and provides a safe environment for all our employees. We actively support the responsible management of forests and understand the importance of sustaining biodiversity.

1 24 Rivers Edge c Bill Bamberger20170329 0 3Photo by Bill Bamberger.

Our shared commitment to sustainability and economic growth ultimately led to my work with The Conservation Fund’s Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF). The success of the Appalachian Forest—the forest playground of my youth—depended not simply on my factory, but the collective approach of all industry in Appalachia. The forests that surround us are a source of pride, a place for recreation, and the raw material that affords us a living. Conservation must work for people and their communities…and it does.

While abundant in trees and other natural capital, Appalachia still lacks the financial capital required to wisely advance the region both economically and ecologically. Capital is the catalyst in this symbiotic relation, and this is where NCIF comes in. They provide loans and technical assistance to businesses that are creating jobs and using natural resources responsibly to help them grow, improve and make a difference in the lives of the people, flora, and fauna of the region. The need is large and NCIF’s impact is far-reaching, having funded more than 225 businesses over the past eleven years. NCIF’s borrowers include farms, manufacturers, distributors, restaurants, and recreation ventures. While diverse in many ways, these companies all share a commitment to protect the environment through their business practices and the vitality they bring to their communities.

1 24 Earthseed Land CooperativeEarthseed Land Cooperative used support from NCIF to realize their vision of using land to support the collective health, wealth and environmental sustainability of diverse communities in Durham, North Carolina. Photo by by Adam Pyburn. 

1 24 NCIF Mountaineer Brand WV cSam Levitan 101617 0140 RTMountaineer Brand was born when a West Virginia man began creating natural grooming products for his own beard in his kitchen, and with a Working Capital Loan and solar energy assistance from NCIF the company has grown to 15 employees and expanded their product line to retail outlets like Nordstrom. NCIF provided the solar energy assistance with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program. Photo by Sam Levitan.

1 24 CrazyMountainCyclesCrazy Mountain Cycles is forging a trail to business success in southern West Virginia by providing ATV rentals and other amenities for visitors to use on the region’s 600 miles of ATV trails created on privately-owned reclaimed coalfield and logged properties. The trails attract 40,000+ tourists annually and valuable dollars to southern West Virginia. Our Southern West Virginia Tourism Initiative, funded in part by the Appalachian Regional Commission through the POWER Initiative, is working to fully capitalize on the trails’ potential by investing in companies like Crazy Mountain Cycles. Photo by Crazy Mountain Cycles.

1 24 Fullsteam LDCFullsteam Brewery is racking up accolades for its Southern-inspired “plow-to-point” craft beer that they brew in Durham, North Carolina. They have created jobs and strengthened their local food economy all while earning the recognition as Durham’s Best Local Brewery five years in a row. NCIF’s loans have allowed Fullsteam Brewery to acquire materials, a line of credit, save money through refinancing, and expand its distribution to more than 200 stores in North and South Carolina. Photo by Whitney Flanagan.

1 24 Gypsy Queen c Bill Bamberger20170329 0 2Gypsy Queen Cuisine started off as a food truck in Asheville, North Carolina, and used a loan from NCIF to open the first brick and mortar Mediterranean restaurant in the area. This environmentally conscious restaurant supports both the economy and the environment by providing 18 local jobs, sourcing its food locally, using energy efficient appliances and compostable carry-out cartons, and recycling its cooking oil. Photo by Bill Bamberger.

I still love to explore the woods. But just as my brother and I always ran home when we heard Mom’s airhorn echo between the hills, I’m still happy to head home to a hot meal, a sound home, and a soft bed. It is wonderful to be able to live with both economic and environmental prosperity, and we have the responsibility to ensure one doesn’t destroy the other. NCIF’s work proves that we can do so by helping socially and environmentally responsible businesses start, grow and innovate so they can create jobs and positively impact their communities and their environment.

The Conservation Fund and NCIF are proud to have Gat Caperton on our team as we work to support strong economies in Appalachia. Gat was recently profiled in The Washington Post, and you can read more about how he transformed a struggling manufacturing business in West Virginia into the Gat Creek.

NCIF’s new website is live! Check out ncifund.org to learn about our work supporting entrepreneurs who are building strong, sustainable economies and communities across Appalachia and the Southeast.