By Kathlynn Lewis
Lewis is an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech studying environmental science. She also is a member of The Food Justice Club at Virginia Tech.
For more than a decade, Central Appalachia has been synonymous with coal in the eyes of most of the country. As the hearts and minds of many move toward cleaner, greener energy, coal is getting left behind and Appalachia is feeling the full economic force of this change. A new focus is being put on diversifying the Appalachian economy and exciting new ideas for the region are popping up left and right. I would like to propose one such idea that I believe would help restore not only Appalachia’s economy but its land as well.
Recently a large number of studies have come out regarding carbon sequestration in soils and its potential to offset global warming. These practices, known as regenerative agriculture, when combined with other good soil management practices have the potential to restore significant functionality to degraded lands and mitigate the impact of pollution. Some believe that proper use of regenerative agriculture can make the food we grow remove carbon from that atmosphere instead of contributing it. Some farms are already selling carbon credits from the carbon they have captured in their soil. Over time these practices combined with other economic opportunities could not only heal the scars coal left on the economy but also the ones left on the land.
I propose new subsidies to help Appalachian farmers move toward this new type of farming, which, combined with an expanded market for carbon credits, would give farmers the capital to start and sustain their business.
Because there is a growing market for products that specialize in low environmental impact, farmers who adopt these regenerative practices will see a higher profit on their products while also reaping the benefits of improved soil health and environmental restoration.
This strategy is a viable option for many Appalachians as no outside industry needs to come in to set up infrastructure for communities to benefit from it. Much of the knowledge and equipment already exists in the region. Many of the practices used in regenerative agriculture will be familiar to farmers; the only education that will be required is how to combine applications of these techniques and market their crops to buyers interested in consuming greener products. Investing in regenerative agriculture will allow people to continue to live in their homes and on their land while still having access to new economic opportunities and is a more reliable strategy than holding out hope that coal will return.
While much of the research on regenerative agriculture is still in development, many individuals are already successfully using these techniques. If Appalachian farmers adopt these practices now, they will be on a leading edge of a new type of industry and would benefit extensively as demand for these types of products grows. Appalachia could lead the country into a new era of industry we are only beginning to see hints of now, restoring not only the economy but the landscape as well.