October 28, 2015

Shepherdstown, W.V.—The Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF)— a green business lender supporting locally-owned enterprises in Central Appalachia and the Southeast— has received a $99,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enhance farm-to-fork delivery and expand the supply and selection of local produce between wholesale markets in West Virginia, Ohio and Southwest Virginia. The Local Food Promotion Program grant, provided through USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, and an additional $33,000 of matching funds will help farmers, processors, cooperative groceries and food hubs and retailers meet growing demand for local food, improve distribution channels and build strong and profitable businesses.

“NCIF appreciates the USDA’s leadership and support for strengthening local and regional food systems in West Virginia,” said Marten Jenkins, President of NCIF, “and, looks forward to working with our partners across the region to strengthen and grow local and regional agricultural supply chains.”

Through its Value Chain Cluster Initiative (VC2) Initiative, NCIF and its partners, the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACENet), Appalachian Sustainable Development, Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC), Unlimited Future, Inc., and the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition work to create and support jobs in the production, processing, aggregation and distribution of local food.  By developing and prototyping a food distribution route between Athens, Ohio, and Abingdon, Virginia, the West Virginia Local Food Corridor project aims to collaboratively build the State’s food system capacity to tap into larger markets and expand opportunity.

“The program connects local farms and food business to resources they may not otherwise have access to, or even be aware of. By assisting local farms, food businesses and organizations individually, VC2 strengthens our local food system as a whole,” said India Keller, Coordinator for GVEDC’s Greenbrier Valley Local Foods Initiative.  “The Corridor project will bolster our efforts to develop processing, aggregation and distribution infrastructure—growing our local economy and making fresh foods more accessible to consumers in the valley.”

“ACEnet has a long history working with collaborative partners re-inventing a robust local food economy throughout West Virginia,” said Leslie Schaller, Director of Programs for ACENet. “We are excited to begin this next phase of partnership with NCIF and the Value Chain Cluster Initiative to connect food champions, food hubs and the growing demand from customers across West Virginia, Ohio and Southwest Virginia.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack named strengthening local food systems as one of four pillars of USDA’s efforts to revitalize rural economies and communities. This core focus is part of a USDA-wide effort to support President Obama's commitment to strengthening local and regional food systems.

“Today, USDA is helping to create economic opportunities for producers, increase access to fresh, healthy food for consumers, and connect rural and urban communities across the country,” said Secretary Vilsack in a USDA news release.

"We are excited to be working with VC2 to support stronger and more sustainable food hubs in the state. Connecting West Virginia hubs to others in Ohio and Virginia will create a regional food system that will help diversify our economic base," said Gail Patton, Executive Director of Unlimited Future, Inc.

$11.9 million in Local Food Promotion Program grants were awarded to 160 marketing and promotion projects for intermediary local food enterprises such as food hubs, aggregation businesses, local food processors, and farm-to-institution activities. This program, begun in 2014, has funded 351 projects totaling $24.6 million to support local/regional supply chain activities including processing, aggregating, storing or distributing local and regional food.

About The Natural Capital Investment Fund
Natural Capital Investment Fund, an affiliate of The Conservation Fund, supports entrepreneurs who are creating jobs and triple-bottom-line businesses in underserved communities in Central Appalachia and the Southeast. We are a business loan fund with expertise in farm-to-table, alternative energy, forest products, and eco-tourism. Founded in 2001, NCIF is a U.S. Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institution.  At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are re-defining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity.

About Appalachian Center for Economic Networks
The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) is a community-based economic development organization serving the 32 counties of Appalachia Ohio. The mission of ACEnet is to build the capacity of Appalachian communities to network, work together, and innovate to create a dynamic, sustainable regional economy with opportunities for all. ACEnet staff accomplishes this mission by partnering with regional microenterprise and development practitioners to create a healthy local economy, allowing opportunity for all residents to start businesses, obtain quality jobs, and connect with other entrepreneurs for mutual benefit. acenetworks.org

About The Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation
The Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation’s (GVEDC) Greenbrier Valley Local Foods Initiative (GVLFI) is entering its sixth year promoting and serving local food producers and users as part of an expanding network of value-chain intermediaries. The GVEDC/GVLFI was a member of the group which organized the original Value Chain Cluster (VC2) Initiative grant proposal. Since its start, the VC2 project has provided the GVLFI and the agricultural community of the Greenbrier Valley with important and cost-effective resources, including but not limited to website and brand development, business planning, marketing and accounting assistance, and organizational development. gvedc.com 

About Unlimited Future, Inc.
Unlimited Future is a small business incubator in Huntington. The mission of the organization is to help disadvantaged community members create wealth through business ownership. Unlimited Future joined the efforts to create a sustainable local food system in WV in 2008. Since that time the organization has been a leader in Huntington to help plan and implement economic growth through the development of local food businesses, markets and networks. facebook.com/Unlimited-Future-Inc-123958928413/

Release Contact:
Mary Oldham | Natural Capital Investment Fund | 304-692-1044 | maryoldham@vc2.org