SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The hills of southern West Virginia which once produced the coal which powered a nation, may soon produce a very different product aimed at helping perfume the nation.
A program introduced under the Green Mining Project aims to retrain out of work coal miners and others on how to grow lavender plants. Oils extracted from those plants are highly prized in the soap and lotion industries. The demonstration for the product is happening on a former mountain top mining site in southern West Virginia.
“The cosmetics and nutraceudical market is a multi-BILLION dollar market,” said Dr. Rusty Kruzelock, CEO of the West Virginia Technology Park.
“When you get three year plants and full quality oils, 100 acres can bring in roughly a Million dollars,” said Marina Sawyer, Project Coordinator for the Green Mining project.
The proposition for big money is causing some to start looking at the idea. The Tech Park is fostering development of the program by offering training programs to teach people, particularly those who have lost their jobs in the mining industry, to learn how to grow lavender.
“We’re trying to help build the infrastructure to take a great idea and turn it into a profitable business,” said Kruzelock. “We’re trying to use our facilities and our people to help people take new ideas, new products, and new intellectual property and make long standing businesses that are grown here in West Virginia by West Virginians.”
The project is into its second year after starting with a two acre demonstration plot on the old Four Mile Mine site. This year researchers have expanded the demonstration to a 50 acre plot of land and eventually plan to expand to just over 100 acres to demonstrate the growth process. The project was recently fully funded with a Million dollar grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and another $500,000 from in kind contributions from a number of sources.
The project has already created 12 jobs, involves 18 partners, and is ready for its first class of participants to begin on June 1st. The UMWA Career Center, Workforce WV, and the WV Small Business Development Center are all assisting in identifying potential participants. Although created to retrain coal mines, Kruzelock says it’s not limited to those individuals alone.
“Anyone interested in growing lavender and converting that into a money making business we would be happy to talk to them and work with them,” he said. “To find either new opportunities for revenue or supplemental opportunities for revenue.”
Researchers are finding lavender will grow on the post mining sites and work continues to improve growing conditions and research on how to enhance their yield and create more potential for economic growth. Revenue generated from the research crop is invested back into the program to make it self sustaining.
An initial class of 25 out-of-work miners will be trained to cultivate the crop as well as receive training on business essentials and entrepreneurial skills. Upon completion of the program participants can market themselves to other agricultural companies or utilize their skills to begin their own businesses.