The Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia®
Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia® (C21C) is a nonprofit organization founded in West Virginia to ensure the viability of small farms, rural communities and a traditional way of life. Since its inception, C21C has regularly sponsored events to demonstrate to the general public, business leaders, and policy makers how heritage and culinary tourism and the agriculture that supports it drives economic development and creates jobs. This strategy capitalizes on a growing movement that emphasizes a “culture of place.”
As a first step, C21C’s cultural and culinary initiatives increased individuals and communities awareness of the economic potential of identifying a regional cuisine that builds on folk culture and also considers recent health findings, market trends, and emphasizes the use of local farm products. A next step was to begin building a market for that cuisine. C21C has charted the state’s culinary landscape by working with the public to identify and nominate culinary attractions across the state, which C21C then spotlights on its website. Through these nominations, West Virginians have become significantly more aware of local culinary assets, and that these assets can be attractions for in- and out-of-state visitors, who provide a new revenue stream into the community. In other words, the strategy increases local esteem and positively impacts the economy.
C21C’s approach monetizes cultural tourism and capitalizes on culinary tourism through a series of interconnecting systems. These components fit together so they touch, potentially engage, and/or build capacity for virtually everyone in the state.
C21C’s most visible presence is in sponsored events like the Cast Iron Cook-Off®, a culinary extravaganza that showcases regional New Appalachian Cuisine®, emphasizing indigenous ingredients and traditional cookware. Cultural events such as the Cook-Off also promote current health findings, serve as valuable opportunities for chefs and farmers to connect, and remind people of the value in good, honest food.
C21C’s means of improving the economy, health, and the quality of life in rural communities embraces a strong “buy local” emphasis as its efforts also build capacity among growers to identify, produce, package, brand, and, most importantly, establish the necessary networks and connections to market specialized farm products to high-end consumers, such as resorts and restaurants. This agricultural dimension fills a significant void in the support system for growers, which tends to focus on commodity production, not the direct marketing of specialty crops.
To facilitate farmer-client connections, C21C created West Virginia’s e-market website, http://www.wvfarm2u.org/, which provides the infrastructure for the public, chefs, schools, and other institutions to find and purchase farm products by connecting with the farmers and FFA members who produce them. Through its discussion forums, listings of “Buy Local” locations, and collections of valuable links and resources, it provides an effective and accessible way people to connect and harness the tremendous agricultural and economic potential of our region.
Mythology, a Charleston, West Virginia marketing firm, surveyed C21C’s impact on culinary tourism and “buy local” in West Virginia by charting a progression of effectiveness for “getting the message out” and “people acting on” that message. Through sustained educational activities, C21C has acted as a catalyst to shift individuals and organizations from basic awareness to becoming engaged, to changing behavior, and then acting on it. This study concluded that C21C’s message has reached 1.2 of the 1.8 million adults in the stage influencing their buying habits.
What We Do
C21C employs the community and economic development strategy of bringing the production, preparation, and consumption of distinctive local and heritage foods into the mainstream culture. Predicated on the concept that in addition to an infusion of dollars, community sustainability requires capacity building and community self-esteem, C21C’s methodology includes the following:
- Create a culture among chefs of preparing, appreciating, and celebrating local food–and provide them with an array of tools to market the resulting added value to customers
- Build a movement of consumers, both inside and outside our area, to value, seek, and be willing to pay for our local “Appalachian heritage” foods
- Build community pride around traditions of local food, and harness this pride to coalesce community brands that attract consumer dollars
- Cultivate a vibrant, entrepreneurial youth culture around the production of local food by providing direct support, entrepreneurial opportunities, and resources to students as well as to their agriculture education–through the development of new and innovative instructional/classroom methodologies, augmented with field demonstration opportunities.
To facilitate these efforts, C21C has developed the following:
- Infrastructure–with the wvfarm2u.org and farm2u.org websites (as described above), as well as the Unique Places to Dine web-interface nomination system;
- Enterprise–with its new multi-phased West Virginia Cast Iron Cook-Off and Heritage Colloquium, its new multi-state Cast Iron Cook-Off, and the Country Road Cook-Offs in multiple states (West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky); and
- Tourism Tools–with its Heritage Toolkit of six Community Guides, its cultural heritage app, and its Food with a Story initiative.
All of these constructs demonstrate different aspects that help rural communities tap into their cultural and culinary heritage and their agricultural resources to attract consumer dollars.
How We Began
The concept for the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia® as a mechanism that focuses on “culture of place” to advance economic and community development by monetizing cultural and culinary heritage and the agriculture that supports it, was envisioned by Dr. Allen D. Arnold, who founded the organization, incorporated it as a nonprofit in West Virginia in May, 2005, and recruited a board of directors. Official IRS 501 (C) (3) exempt status designation was awarded on August 22, 2005.
At its initial meeting, the board of director’s elected Chef Dale Hawkins, as Chair. They also named Dr. Arnold as the organization’s founding director and embraced and adopted the Creed he created as the tenets to shape the organization’s mission and work.
We believe that
- Food is the centerpiece of every human celebration and traditions enhance the festivities. At the heart of our Regional culture—in fact of any culture around the world–is food. No matter how far away from home we move, or how different our meals today are from the ones we grew up with, when it is time to celebrate a particular holiday we feel the need “to go home” to the food and traditions our family associated with this occasion.We reconnect with, maintain and celebrate traditions—the recipes, folklore, cooking utensils, ingredients–and creatively adapt them to fit our current lifestyle as well as the new findings about nutrition and health. Being rooted in tradition isn’t being slavishly bound to or stuck with what was. In fact, it’s the opposite. Change and evolution is easier and more effective when you know where others have gone before you; what they found that does work and what doesn’t.
- Everything tastes better and is more nutritious when it is has recently been harvested. There is a natural kind of rhythm in raising, harvesting, preparing, and then eating food. We too often lose sight of the relationship between a sumptuously prepared meal–elegantly presented on the table–and the agriculture that brought it into existence.Recognizing that some of the best food in the world can be available in our own back yard, we are creating opportunities for dialogue between chefs and farmers, vineyards, other food producers and processors to promote an increased sense of collaboration in producing a steady supply of premium, fresh, healthful ingredients for the table.
- West Virginia and Appalachia’s growth and development can evolve out of its cultural heritage. In the same way that it’s important to know who you are and where you’ve been; it’s equally important to know where you’re going. This common sense approach to development initiatives identifies and capitalizes on our strengths, past experiences and previous successes, and also identifies current culinary emphases.
- We are creating opportunities to “open the world’s eyes” to the value of West Virginia and Appalachia as a destination and the truly fine culinary and tourist experiences available here.
- Eating well and healthily is important and deserves our full attention. We are continually learning more about healthful eating and find that there are adaptations that need to be made to our mountain ancestors’ eating habits in order to make it more nutritious.
- We are creating a cuisine that builds on our cultural roots in terms of recipes, folklore, utensils and ingredients that changes and evolves as it takes into account recent findings about healthful eating and a healthful lifestyle.