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Community Engaged Research Projects 2024

Community Economies and Sustainable Regional Development

Community Economies and Sustainable Regional Development project partnerships seek to support social enterprise, build local wealth and promote equitable and inclusive development in rural areas, small towns and cities with a distinctive focus on under-represented and under-resourced entrepreneurs and enterprises in the region.

Brewing Up Change

How can we support the next generation of young people to create and cooperate with small businesses in our communities so that they can thrive and deliver positive social impact on campus and beyond? Building from a 10 year partnership between the youth-led Firsthand Cooperative at WVU and 19 Coffee Roasters in Pittsburgh, PA the action research team will explore the social and sustainability impact of 19 Coffee and Firsthand Cooperative in terms of fair trade and organic coffee sales, funding to projects such as La Base Nicaragua, and other related initiatives independently and mutually supported by these enterprises. The aim is to reinvigorate the Firsthand Co-op Initiative while broadening possibilities for youth entrepreneurship. (Project Coordinator: Bradley Wilson)

Solidarity, Cooperation, and Entrepreneurship

Black, brown and migrant entrepreneurs are often excluded in dialogues about regional development in Appalachia. In this project we engage with minority owned food businesses (e.g. grocers, restaurants, food trucks) in Monongalia and Marion counties to understand the barriers they face to building vibrant businesses and the role of solidarity in their success. This aim of this research is to contribute to ongoing action research cycles with colleagues in New Economy Works WV and Unlimited Future and seeks to grow relationships with Seed Commons, Co-Op Cincy, Co-Op Dayton, Cleveland Owns, and Poder Emma. (Project Coordinator: Cameron Rishworth)

Community-based Housing Solutions

How can grassroots community efforts like cooperative housing work to create more affordable opportunities in Appalachia? Housing affordability is a critical issue in West Virginia. However, there are active undercurrents of community-based solutions to affordable housing challenges, solutions which are born out of a shared struggle for home, community, and solidarity. In this project we will explore the ways community-based housing solutions present affordable options for individuals and families and contribute to sense of solidarity both within the housing structure and the broader community. The aim is to provide grassroots groups and Community Development Financial Institutions in West Virginia with insights and tools for developing alternative housing approaches. (Project Coordinators: Ethan Harner and Gabrielle Frazier)

Caring Economies, Welcoming Communities

West Virginia has a long history as an immigrant destination for families seeking work, community and opportunity. Indeed, immigrant families played a major role in the development of our region. How can we promote inclusive community building in rural towns with growing new immigrant and refugee populations? In this project we build upon three years of research in a small rural industrial town in WV to explore how we can more effectively support immigrant youth and families making home in the mountain state. (Project Coordinator: Valentina Muraleedharan)

Creative Economies, Inclusive Communities

In the past decade, community development practitioners have turned to strategies that leverage creative, artistic, and cultural assets in order to promote economic, social, and infrastructural development. Since 2004, the RiffRaff Arts Collective in Princeton, West Virginia has experimented with various arts-based community building initiatives in the downtown Mercer Street community. Examples of such experiments include community arts festivals, public art projects, live performances, the establishment of creative studios, artist collectives, and event spaces, and non-traditional forms of economic cooperation. Their most recent initiative We Need to Talk is an educational music video project that engages the community in meaningful conversations about social issues as means to promote healing, unity and shared understanding. Building upon three years of learning with the RiffRaff Arts Collective we will complete an evaluation of their grassroots-led creative placemaking effort and contribute to the further development of an educational program that promotes inclusive community development conversations through music videos and other artistic practice. (Project Coordinator: Bradley Wilson)

Interested in learning more or engaging these projects? For more information contact:

Environmental Justice, Climate Action and Community Wellbeing

Environment, Climate Action and Community Wellbeing project partnerships seek to address the challenge of health disparities, climate risks, chronic disease prevention, water quality and disaster preparedness to promote the wellbeing of all with a distinctive focus on under-represented and under-resourced communities.

Water Security and Justice

Water pollution is a serious issue in West Virginia. Pollutants vary from acid mine drainage, stormwater runoff, straight pipes, sewage overflows, illegal dumping, and hazardous waste. PFAS, or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as "forever chemicals," are of particular concern. PFAs chemicals do not break down under natural conditions and are commonly found in contaminated water or food, as well as in household products and in the air we breathe. How can communities collaborate with one another to identify PFAS risks and co-create information to make informed decisions regarding water security and justice? In this project we will collaborate with WV Rivers Coalition to develop approaches to community-based PFAS assessment in WV. (Project Coordinator: Grace Dever)

Flood Preparation and Resilience

West Virginia is the most flood-prone state in the US, however, local citizens, communities, and governments are often unprepared for future risks. What are the most significant factors that contribute to West Virginians’ vulnerability to flood-related disasters, and how do we collaborate with communities, non-profits, and youth in future flood planning and policy? In this project we will work with partners to design a transformative approach to flood vulnerability assessment that incorporates community knowledge, experiences, and insights to identify vulnerabilities and invite new, creative strategies to incorporate into future plans. (Project Coordinator: Kennedy Lawson)

Critical Infrastructure for Community Wellbeing

West Virginia's small communities are facing significant underinvestment in their critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure encompasses a wide range of features; including managed and unmanaged utilities, natural resources, roads, buildings, recreational facilities, and various liabilities. Often, it falls upon town or local governments to manage these elements, despite lacking the necessary resources for their maintenance and long-term sustainability to meet the community's needs. This challenge is exacerbated by the pressure from local and state leaders to provide and maintain infrastructure that can stimulate economic development, whether through tourism or traditional job creation avenues. How can we increase participation in mapping and inventorying community assets? What are the best tools to effectively identify, manage and plan critical infrastructure for under resourced communities? (Project Coordinator: Fritz Boettner)

Multi-Scalar Governance for Social Resilience

Given the present threat of global climate change, droughts, are predicted to continue increasing in frequency and deepen in impact. Occurring primarily in drylands, and while complex, droughts are not unusual occurrences. However, with the present disproportionate impact of anthropogenic global climate change, they have now become the second most severe disaster phenomenon globally. Engaging global policies to reduce drought risks and respond to drought disaster requires vertical and horizontal coordination at multiple scales based on the principle of subsidiarity. In the context of democratic governance, subsidiarity drives public participation and public discourse that embeds citizens’ voice in political decision – making and co-design of local, community - centered solutions. What is the nature of vertical participation by dryland communities along the UN SDG policy making process scale, that produces development outcomes and disaster interventions in drylands? (Project Coordinator: Nkatha Mercy)

Interested in learning more or engaging these projects? For more information contact:

Food System Transformation

Food System Transformation project partnerships aim to revolutionize local and regional food systems to enhance food security, nutritional health, and sustainable agriculture practices. These initiatives are dedicated to fostering resilient food networks, promoting sustainable farming techniques, and ensuring equitable access to healthy, locally-sourced food, particularly for under-represented and under-resourced communities

Farmland Protection and Access

Farmland preservation and access is crucial to regional resilience and the promotion of food system transformation. How are county farmland protection boards in West Virginia organized and governed? New Roots Community Farm has spearheaded the partnership and engagement of the Fayette County Farmland Protection Board, the West Virginia Agrarian Commons, and the Agrarian Land Trust over the past three years to support farmland access and beginning farmer training. In this project we support research and assessment of the current state of farmland protection boards, conservation easements, and land trusts in West Virginia. The assessment of the programs, board members, and program participants will help NRCF to support strategic planning efforts for the West Virginia Agrarian Commons and network partners that work with new and beginning farmers. (Project Coordinator: Joshua Lohnes)

Seeding Sparks for Food Rights

Over the past two years, the narrative shift toward food as a human right has begun to take root in different parts of West Virginia among anti-hunger activists, food system development practitioners, farmers and lawmakers. Seeding Sparks is part of a larger project - Voices of Hunger West Virginia - that seeks to strengthen the growing movement to ensure universal access to affordable, wholesome food for every West Virginian by investing in local relational organizing and policy change, through massive statewide narrative shift and trauma-informed storytelling work to break the silent violence of hunger, through a state constitutional amendment, and through intensive mentorship to uplift and support local food justice leaders with the lived experience of food insecurity. (Project Coordinator: Joshua Lohnes)

Food Policy Council Development

Over the past eight years the CRC has worked with a broad coalition of government and non-profit partners to develop WV FOODLINK (, an online resource for food system development practitioners working on food and hunger issues across West Virginia. Building on this platform, we have also developed a series of community-driven food access planning tools under the banner of our Nourishing Networks workshops. These support the formation of local food policy councils and grassroots food access interventions. Nevertheless, few West Virginia counties have an active food policy council that represents multi-stakeholder groups in the food system looking to advance municipal, county and state level policies to improve food access. This project will focus on the formation or strengthening of two such councils, in conjunction with partners at the Mountaineer Food Bank and the WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program. (Project Coordinator: Alex Elhers)

Food Hub Development and Access

Food hubs play a crucial role in shaping regional food systems by establishing connections between producers and consumers within a given area. Presently, a diverse array of food hubs exists, ranging from profit-driven ventures servicing densely populated regions to those operating in rural, less populated areas. In West Virginia, the development of such enterprises faces significant challenges due to prevailing socio-economic conditions that hinder sustainability based solely on sales revenue. Through a new partnership with the Eastern Food Hub Collaborative we are engaged in a broader study examining food hub viability and food access programs on a larger scale beyond West Virginia. This engagement enables the team to collaborate with food hubs outside the region, gaining insights into their challenges, opportunities, and barriers, and assessing their relevance to food hub development within West Virginia. The research places a specific emphasis on food access relationships as a means to bolster capacity among farmers and food hubs. (Project Coordinator: Fritz Boettner)

Farm and Food System Education

Over the decades, significant investments have been made in various farmer training, education, and support programs in West Virginia and the surrounding states of central Appalachia. The CRC has played a substantial role in contributing to these efforts, both directly through the development of several distinct initiatives/programs and indirectly by collaborating with partners in WVU, Extension, state/federal initiatives, and local non-profits. In collaboration with Sprouting Farms and New Roots Community Farm, we will conduct a statewide assessment of the farmer training, food access/farm to school, and production planning programs and engage in discussions about the needs, opportunities, and challenges these programs face. The outcomes of this research endeavor will shed light on the significance of these programs and interventions in the context of food system development, the potential establishment of a West Virginia Farmer and Workforce Training roadmap or policy document, a collaborative network, and the creation of a broader community of practice focused on sustainable and equitable food systems. (Project Coordinator: Dylan Upperman)

Interested in learning more or engaging these projects? For more information contact: