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Vox populi

The Culture of Cooperation

During my early twenties studying at WVU, I had opportunities that led me to experience life in very wonderful ways. I was searching for what I believed in and my passions. Becoming involved with many student organizations opened my eyes to new relationships, new passions and created an identity that I still stand by today.

I want to constantly understand nature and how to apply best practices through natural and human relationships. I enjoy taking complex problems and analyzing them to value and recognize the differences in areas of work and study. Although I did not major in agriculture at WVU, I gained years of firsthand experiences by practicing with other people. Throughout my college career, I was also dedicated to my music.

I majored in multidisciplinary studies in geography, Spanish and communication studies. I have always enjoyed studying the relationships among areas, natural systems, cultural activities and the interdependence of all of these throughout the Earth. Ideas and passions led me to work with other students and professors engaged in social and food justice issues. A couple of peers and friends were all part of the growing student organization that became what is now FIRSTHAND Cooperative, a worker-owned coffee co-op based in Morgantown: Here for the people, by the people!

Dina Hornbaker playing the harmonica and guitar

After much hard work and dedication to the organization, I decided to explore this coffee farm first hand. In my senior year of college, I traveled to Nicaragua for seven months as an intern in an independent study. There I became submerged in the Spanish language; worked and volunteered on numerous vegetable,

fruit and livestock farms; engaged in healthy community building practices and got to know myself a little better.

Graduating from WVU was bittersweet after building a strong community and love for our Mountaineers. After graduating from the Eberly College, I ventured to Portugal and became the first apprentice at Terra Alta and received a Permaculture Design Certification with TreeYo Permaculture. This is where my farming career really took root, along with the release of my first album as a songwriter and musician.

A decade has passed, and life has come full circle. I live and work in Fayetteville, West Virginia at New Roots Community Farm. We have released our fundraising campaign with the Agrarian Trust to purchase the 82-acre farm where we produce vegetables, herbs and other perennial crops. Our recent partner, FIRSTHAND Co-op, is helping us with our campaign.

This is only the beginning of a dynamic community-led project. I am excited to see the growth in the coming years and what we can accomplish together. We need the future of farming to continue to grow. West Virginia and other Appalachian states need to cooperate and find solutions to other issues regarding food justice, food sovereignty and boosting our local economies through new and innovative ways. By working together through local, national, regional and international structures, this cooperation improves services, bolsters local economies and offers more social and community needs.

Dina Hornbaker hiking, with mountains in the background

The future of food in West Virginia can grow stronger, but it will not bloom without your help and support. By investing in local foods, embracing biodiversity and volunteering with local and regional organizations, we can move forward with more economic growth.

COVID-19 has forced more people to embrace mother nature, grow gardens and to make conscious efforts in supporting the food system. This natural disaster has led humans to cooperate more. Doctors and the medical world have begun redefining solutions to this pandemic. They had to talk about it. They had to find solutions as more and more people were dying and getting sick around the world. This resulted in a global effort to cooperate, although we have a long way to go. After losing a family member and many others from COVID-19, it leads me back to one word: cooperation.

It is amazing and humbling to see how open and supportive this community has been over the last year. Everyone who visits and volunteers at New Roots Community Farm is excited as we are and that is the kind of interest and support that we need to continue to cultivate our goals in changing the food system in West Virginia.

Dina Hornbaker (BA Multidisciplinary Studies, ‘12) is farm manager for New Roots Community Farm in Fayetteville, West Virginia. She has been creating music since age three, and she uses her passion for environmental activism to fuel her songwriting. “This is where I combine awareness of the earth, the people and greater solutions to all who desire fair and equal shares,” Dina says. “Through my music, I want people to see how nature and people can work together, not against it.” To learn more, visit the New Roots Community Farm website and her music site,