Rural Action celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2021, an event that prompted several longtime staff and alumni to reflect on the impact the organization has had during its three decades of existence.

Chesterhill Produce Auction. Upcycle Ohio Thrift Store and Community Makerspace. The Reuse Corridor. The Appalachian Green Teachers Conference. True Pigments. Zero Waste Event Productions. These are just a few of the initiatives Rural Action, its partners, and its members have made possible. Each, in its own way, is a key component in developing our region’s assets in environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable ways.

But perhaps all it takes to understand the progress is a single, massive channel catfish in Monday Creek. Watersheds Director Nate Schlater was water sampling when a local resident showed him a cell phone video of the beefy channel cat, happily swimming in water that was too toxic for fish not that long ago.

Nate told me this year that he’s spent years monitoring fish in Monday Creek and never seen anything like this come out.

The fish’s presence is an indication of how much local waterways have healed in the wake of historic coal mining that left many streams in Appalachian Ohio orange and lifeless. It’s taken 30 years. Much still remains to be done. But, working together, we’re making progress.

In 2021, we began laying the foundation to help us meet the challenges of the next 30 years. Looming large is climate change. Appalachian Ohio is expected to fare better than many places in the world in this regard, so much better, in fact, that we expect to see an influx of climate refugees.

In this report, you’ll read about 2021 initiatives that are designed to prepare Rural Action to meet the challenges of climate change, protecting our environment, providing healthy food, and creating a sustainable economy. It’s a story of growth. And it’s a long game. Solutions don’t come quickly or easily. Thanks to our partners, donors, and members, we will be better prepared for what’s next. Here are a few of the efforts you’ll read about in this annual report:

  • True Pigments — using innovation to counter the effects of historic coal mining on local waterways.
  • The Reuse Corridor — a network of individuals and organizations who are collaborating to make our region zero waste, from dealing with difficult to recycle items to processing recyclables in local communities to create economic opportunities and avoid the carbon footprint of shipping materials long distances to be processed.
  • National Service — a program critical to our ability to “get things done” is about to undergo a major expansion, placing more members in streams, on auction floors, and at the forefront of countering climate change.
  • H2Ohio — an expansion of our Watersheds program that will have us working initially on water quality in the west Lake Erie basin and that will create numerous new opportunities to expand and grow our efforts to restore watersheds.
  • Entrepreneurship — programs that provide help and mentorship to beginning farmers, including a forest farmer who has been able to quit his day job to dedicate his time to growing mushrooms and forest botanicals.

In short, we’re not resting on our laurels. The initiatives we launched in 2021 will better prepare our organization to help the people of Appalachian Ohio meet past, present, and future challenges.

“Seeing a fish in a stream that hasn’t been there for 100 years is exciting,” Nate shared. “You tell those stories for years to come.”

We hope this is one of many fish tales we’ll be telling when we celebrate our 60th anniversary.

Download the Annual Report