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Advantage Valley, WV, is Focused on a Greener Future

Advantage Valley invests in a greener future and natural resources in the area. 

By Kayse Ellis on October 31, 2022

David Jones harvests Lavender from the Appalachian Botanicals field near Foster. Appalachian Botanicals has planted 35 acres of Lavender on reclaimed land where a coal mine operated. It is part of the Advantage Valley region of West Virginia.
Nathan Lambrecht

Advantage Valley’s abundance of natural resources has always connected its people to the land.

Not only has it become the region’s primary economic engine, but its untouched beauty has garnered a deep appreciation between nature and humanity. As climate change stands to be the most pressing issue in the area, communities are innovating sustainable ways of living to protect the hills they call home.

“I believe that just as we powered the Industrial Revolution 100 years ago, now we can light the way in a new type of energy and production.”

Kris Mitchell, Boone County Development Office

Radiating with 296 solar panels around its frame, the West Edge Factory in Huntington has become the city’s beacon toward a sustainable future. Constructed with recyclable materials, it allows artists, entrepreneurs and community members to gather in a 100% solar-powered and carbon-neutral space.

“On every community revitalization project, we start with a process of co-creation and co-design with the community,” says Marilyn Wrenn, the chief development officer of Coalfield Development Co., about the building’s beginnings.

Men working at the Coalfield Development plant in the Advantage Valley region of West Virginia.
Coalfield Development/JJN

Advancing Communities

Coalfield Development is the nonprofit that spearheaded West Edge Factory’s creation, along with the ACT Now Coalition. Together, both groups are taking a holistic approach to restoring southern West Virginia’s economy by inspiring growth, activating innovation, cultivating opportunity by advancing community-based projects, and investing in employment social enterprises.

“You have to build the economic sectors through business development and provide opportunities for jobs at the same time,” Wrenn says about the group’s multifaceted work. “We are definitely seeing results in the areas we’re working [in] when you bring both sides of the equation online simultaneously.”

While Coalfield Development and the ACT Now Coalition are hoping to diversify West Virginia’s economy by prioritizing green-collar jobs, SEVA West Virginia is looking at sustainability through a recreational and tourism lens.

SunPark is a 3,000-acre, $325 million investment that will build a solar park with lodging and hospitality services and add more trails to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail systems — an ATV trail system with over 1,000 miles of trails. SEVA is hoping to attract outdoor adventurers to the region and hospitality businesses committed to using renewable energy for their operations.

“We’ve been known for mining for so long, and now we will go into a different kind of mining,” says Kris Mitchell, director of the Boone County Development Office, who is helping SEVA West Virginia construct the park. “I believe that just as we powered the Industrial Revolution 100 years ago, now we can light the way in a new type of energy and production.”

Robin Workman pots Lavender in the Appalachian Botanicals greenhouse near Foster, which is part of the Advantage Valley region of West Virginia.
Nathan Lambrecht

Rooted in Revitalization

Nestled between Lincoln and Boone counties, two counties heavily intertwined with coal mining, SunPark will repurpose mine land left behind by abandoned mines while local farmers are proving there is still hope in the soot.

Appalachian Botanical Co. is an organization in Boone County using sustainable agriculture to grow lavender on reclaimed coal land to make skin, aromatherapy and home products.

While providing jobs to an underemployed community reliant on coal mining, the farm also benefits coal mine operators, who legally must restore the land they’ve mined in quicker and more financially viable ways.

Hernshaw Farms is a sustainable social enterprise that sells mushrooms to local shops and restaurants around the nation and uses the remaining soil to restore mine land ecology.

“The whole goal is to help coal country turn mine land into farmland,” explains George Patterson, owner and founder of Hernshaw Farms. “I think mycelium has the potential to positively impact the state of West Virginia.”

As a natural filtration system, mushrooms absorb pollutants and thrive in nutrient-rich soil. However, when put back into the earth, this soil has been known to absorb metals from brownfield sites and break down plastics. These new developments in mycelium research have sparked interest from the National Guard and local universities in Patterson’s farm.

“I’m hoping that we can expand what we’ve been doing on a small scale to a much larger scale to really have an impact on a lot more mine sites,” Patterson says.

If you’d like to learn more about the Advantage Valley region, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, West Virginia

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