Nestled in the foothills of Appalachian Ohio, Rural Action was founded in 1991 on the principle that locally-based, sustainable, and inclusive development is the main strategy for building resilient rural Appalachian communities. Rural Action’s mission is to build a more just economy by developing the region’s assets in environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable ways. We do this work by focusing on sectors identified as important by our members: food and agriculture, forestry, zero waste and recycling, environmental education, watershed restoration, and energy. Emerging work in social enterprise development and local tourism are more recent parts of our portfolio.
Our core work centers on:
Helping small communities do big things
Growing local businesses and jobs
Restoring our environment
Cultivating the next generation of leaders
Rural Action has a network of over 600 members throughout Appalachian Ohio. The organization is governed by a Board from across Appalachian Ohio, with strong private sector involvement. The Board oversees a CEO who manages a staff of 28 full-time equivalent staff, 31 AmeriCorps members, and 5 AmeriCorps VISTA members through the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Our members are involved as volunteers, participants, decision-makers, and project designers. Our vital member base guides our sustainable development work in Appalachian Ohio through personal and civic action.
Together, we envision a region with clean streams and healthy forests; a place where thriving family farms, meaningful livelihoods, and vibrant communities exist for everyone; with people engaged as good stewards of the world they live in and working together to make this vision a reality.
Where We Work
Rural Action has 5 offices located on the ground in communities where we work. In 2018, Rural Action reached 59 Ohio counties, 29 directly through Rural Action programs. Twenty-Four counties we worked in are designated Appalachian counties by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Additionally, 30 counties were served through our Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps partners and Zero Waste Event Productions, LLC. a Rural Action owned social enterprise.
In addition to our core work and partnership in Ohio, Rural Action works and collaborates on projects in other states including West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Tennessee, and Illinois through Zero Waste Event Productions, LLC., and regional partnerships with organizations working on strategies that benefit rural communities. Our reach is made possible in large part through a robust 31-member AmeriCorps program, Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps, administered by Rural Action in partnership with more than a dozen organizations across the region alongside Rural Action volunteers.
Our Theory of Change
Rural Action’s community development approach is the result of decades of careful work to increase local control over the region’s rich assets and to give power to the people who are committed to this place, whether for generations or new arrivals. Appalachian Ohio is still recovering from the effects of extractive industries, especially coal mining, which declined by the mid-twentieth century. Such industries, including timber and vertical oil and well drilling – and their decline – resulted in widespread environmental degradation, unemployment, population loss, and weak economies that persist to this day. A new wave of extraction in the form of hydraulic fracturing overlays new industrialization onto a pattern of disempowerment and disinvestment.
To counter these forces, the region needs development from within that is consistent with its assets. Rural Action members have a goal of more equitable development and greater opportunities for the people of Appalachian Ohio. We believe achieving this goal requires the wide adoption of sustainable systems and practices in the region.
To do this, Rural Action brings people together to understand their options and support locally derived development and decision-making. We believe learning is essential to long-term change, from experts who have new models, to the wisdom within our communities. Educating young people on the region’s natural history and heritage is a long-term strategy for ensuring good stewardship and job creation from natural resource assets. Once engaged and informed, Rural Action facilitates change by supporting communities to understand, map, and control their assets; build appropriate and accessible infrastructure, and; connect those assets and infrastructure to markets both within and outside of the region.
Rural Action was formed in 1991 out of a citizen action organization, the Appalachian Ohio Public Interest Campaign (AOPIC). AOPIC members organized and trained grassroots groups to advocate on issues of economic and environmental justice. This work included testifying before Congress regarding laws concerned with protecting water resources from the effects of longwall mining and protecting those whose land was being affected by surface mining, as well as consumer issues like fair rate utility line extension. In 1992, the group went through a strategic planning process and decided to become a new organization based on a vision of what is possible.
Continuing as a membership-based organization, and renamed Rural Action, the strategic planning process resulted in the creation of a guiding document to promote a sustainable, just, and inclusive development path for Appalachian Ohio. The first Strategy for Rural Renewal guided our work for 14 years and began transforming the region’s dialogue from traditional industrial recruitment to sustainable development led from community capacity. As we have developed as an organization and refined our work, subsequent strategies have always based on the three pillars of sustainable development – economy, community, and the environment – and have helped Rural Action stay focused and vibrant.
Since its founding, Rural Action’s role as a social enterprise incubator has produced many initiatives such as: