Greene and Washington counties are expected to benefit from a $1.75 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to increase food production and exportation in 38 counties across Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland.
The counties selected for the grant have been affected by the decline in the coal industry. Over the three years of the grant, the seven partners who applied are expected to serve 50 existing businesses, create 10 new businesses and add 100 jobs.
“It’s an awesome project,” said Robbie Matesic, director of Greene County’s Department of Economic Development. “We worked for a year to put this together.”
Matesic said Fayette County Community Action Agency took the lead on the grant application, but her department as well as the state Department of Agriculture, Fayette County’s Redevelopment Authority, Bridgeway Capital, Connellsville’s Redevelopment Authority and the Penn State University Cooperative Extension were the seven partners who matched the grant, taking the project up to about $3.5 million.
“In Southwestern Pennsylvania, we recognize that we are buying a lot of food from outside the area,” Matesic said. “We’re going to work with our farmers and anyone else who wants to produce food, to ramp up food production.”
The partners will establish a Regional Agriculture Advisory Council to steer the project into creating a regional food shed or “agricultural system,” Matesic said.
“There will be more locally produced food for consumption,” she said.
The ARC’s grant is part of an overall $15.7 million investment for 18 projects to grow the economies in seven Appalachian states.
In Greene and Washington counties, much of the food shed project will be focused on the sheep, lamb and goat industry, for which the tri-county area has been known, Matesic said.
“There are ethnic markets and high-end culinary markets that need that product,” she said.
She said the project will also include local poultry, produce, specialty crops and value-added processing. Of the 15 farmers interested in the project so far, five are from Greene and Washington counties, she said.
The Republic Food Enterprise Center in Fayette County also will contribute to the project its commercial kitchen, assistance with product and recipe development, marketing, distribution and financing, Matesic said.
“It’s a huge project,” Matesic said. “To increase food production inside this region and export food from this region – that’s the goal.”