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Where the Rivers Run West

Our trip to the westernmost tip of Virginia through the vast green oasis of hills and mountains of the Appalachian region in southwest Virginia was a first for many of us.

While we explored businesses and industries that had been in the region for many years such as Domtar Paper and Virginia Produce Company, it was interesting to see different agricultural initiatives putting roots down into an area that desperately needs new economic opportunities.

In Lee County, Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine and the country’s newest accredited vet school, is an impressive sight with their state of the art facility and their unique “hands on” approach to teaching. And in Jonesville, we were given an up close and personal look at the old tobacco and new hemp operations of the Shipley Farm.

Although not new, the Mountain Rose Vineyard in Wise County where the Lawson family successfully grows 13 varieties of wine grapes on its reclaimed mine land location is working with Lush Cosmetics to grow inputs for their line of organic cosmetics.

In between farm and industry visits, discussions at Appalachian Sustainable Development centered around Food Hubs, Herb Hubs, Agri-forestry, Appalachian Harvest, and Appalachian Farmers’ Market Association, and other ideas and innovation to bring more agricultural industry to Appalachia by building a network of intelligence and infrastructure to assist farmers.

While we were reminded of the rich history of mountain music and mining in the region with a visit to HW Meador Coal Museum and the Trail of the Lonesome Pine play in Big Stone Gap we received an important message in care and compassion from the Health Wagon, the oldest mobile health unit in the US serving the underserved and poverty stricken regions of southwest Virginia.

Valor’s own Amy Fannon Byington, a native of Lee County was instrumental in highlighting agriculture in the region through her work as an extension agent, community leader, and resident. She shared the passion she holds for her community and she talked about the incredible pain and sadness she experiences due to the high rate of poverty and opioid addiction in the area. Thank you Amy and VALOR for showing us the diversity of agriculture, the unique history, and the humble and vulnerable culture of southwest Virginia.

And the Sun Meets the Sea                    

The little town of Reedville, VA on Virginia’s Northern Neck was once the wealthiest town per capita in the US and number one port for “tonnage of fish landed” for 125 years in the country. All because of a little fish called Menhaden. Menhaden fish oil became a replacement for whale oil many years ago and it continues to be in high demand worldwide due to its Omega 3 content

The Northern Neck was also known for its oyster populations until the decimation of the oyster beds from over harvesting. This decline sparked a new venture into farm raised oysters by two cousins in 2010. Entrepreneurship, perseverance and innovation prevailed into a company known as Rappahannock Oyster Company which now has three locations producing a combined 8 million sustainably raised oysters annually with shipments to national and international markets.

Our boat ride and time spent on Tangier Island and Port Isobel was the highlight of our time on “the Necks”, a welcome respite (minus the mosquitoes) from a usually hectic schedule. At Port Isobel, sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we enjoyed the quiet beauty around us and appreciated the efforts by the CBF to educate the general public about the health of the Bay and the work being done to protect and improve the watershed and its marine life.

Tangier Island is a unique place almost lost in time, where livelihoods depend on the resources of the Bay. Ooker, lifelong waterman and Mayor of Tangier was candid about the challenges that threaten their work including regulations and rising sea levels.

The cooperation between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Tangier Island community is a refreshing reminder in today’s environment that two parties with different views facing similar challenges can work respectfully together for the greater end goal.

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