West Virginia, known as the mountain state, lies in the Appalachian Mountains. It is the only state that lies entirely in the Appalachian Mountain Region. West Virginia is home to over 20,000 farms. Unlike farms in other states, West Virginia farms are predominantly small in size. The average West Virginia farm is 168 acres (USDA, 2014a), while the average farm size across the United States is 446 acres (Farms and Land in Farms, 2014). The difference in size can be attributed in part to West Virginia’s high poverty rate and a corresponding cultural tradition of kitchen gardens. The state’s rugged terrain is also a factor. The landscape does not allow for large fields filled with a single crop. In West Virginia, you are either on the mountain or in the valley, and farms follow suit. In the past decade the number of farms in West Virginia has fallen. From 2007 to 2012, West Virginia lost approximately 2,000 farms (USDA, 2014a). This decline mirrors national trends. In 1935, the United States had 6.8 million farms (EPA, 2013). Now, the nation has only 2.1 million farms (USDA, 2014a).
Hope & Hard Work profiles four West Virginia farming families, using photographs, video, audio, text, and structured interviews. The profiles were compiled over a nine-month period, beginning in the fall of 2014 and ending the spring of 2015. Each family profiled represents a different aspect of West Virginia farming, and each embodies both old and new farming strategies.