Home / Global / Appalachia

Sustainability, Culture and Rural Development

Hidden away with a backdrop of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, Floyd Virginia is on to something unique and new.  Experience a resilient community, complete with rich history and many expressions of sustainable, local initiatives underway to address the issues of our time.   

Appalachia has long been seen as the epicenter of the “war on poverty”.  Ever since President Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty in America,” Appalachia has held special significance in the national effort.  The official definition of Appalachia also formed in the early 1960s, as regional governors encouraged the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to assist their mountain counties, where one in three residents lived in poverty. The resulting legislation, the Appalachian Regional Development Act, added a unique, place-based dimension to the War on Poverty’s suite of national programs.

Government programs are one response, but what can a community do for itself?  What is true self-reliance?  You will be engaged with community members who are interested to share their experience and invite you into their community life.

This program has the potential benefit of touching participants with a deep sense of the authenticity and significance of the Appalachian Mountains and the people who live there. And the real service comes in the breaking of old ideas and stereotypes about people from Appalachia. Additionally, there is a service rendered by better understanding the global effort to balance the needs of humanity with the needs of the Earth. 


Typical Program

To experience Floyd County in all its diversity is the aim of this program. For this it is important to connect with both the old traditions and the new ones. Participants will be close to the land where they experience the forces of nature and have time to be penetrated by the quiet of this landscape. They will work with the soil and water and in the forest. As the project headquarters is located in a large farmhouse overlooking a secluded river valley, visitors take on projects related to farming, gardening and environmental restoration. There are also opportunities to learn about and work with honeybees. There is a workshop given about the “basics of organic gardening”. There are also short sessions on identifying birds and wild plants.

This project includes opportunities for participants to engage in traditional Appalachian activities. There are workshops on canning and jam making. A demonstration of the ancient art of dowsing for water.  A clogging class precedes the Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store. The Jamboree is a tradition in Floyd, a moment when the community gathers for music and fellowship and to dance to old-time fiddle and banjo tunes. For those interested, we can visit the studio of a local luthier where it’s possible to see how traditional musical instruments are made. It is also possible to engage in a demonstration of traditional horse logging.

Duration and Directions

Trips to Floyd County, Virginia can be arranged for a long weekend or up to seven days.  The drive from Roanoke Airport is a short one hour through rural Virginia to Floyd.   Many visitors appreciate the drive from east or southeast locations of the United States through the beautiful mountains of Appalachia.


Upon arrival to Floyd, visitors are guided to Riverstone Farm.  There a tour of the farm is provided as well as an informative introduction to the region including facts local customs and culture, safety, rules and expectations. Volunteers will also learn about Via International and our history of community development work.  The local team will provide an overview of activities for the week and background on the projects, people, and places where we will engage.

Via International is also prepared to offer a curriculum in support of this journey. This includes reading lists, pre trip seminars and post trip reflection modules.

Volunteer Requirements

Volunteers should be adaptable and flexible, willing to work as part of a team, and respectful of local traditions, culture, and customs. Those taking part in community development projects need to be capable of doing physical work, although previous experience is not essential. 

Click here to view the packing checklist.

Food and Accommodations

Regional food, locally grown and traditionally prepared is part of the experience.  Enjoy southern prepared chicken, cornbread, coleslaw, local breads, granolas and other local fare. For student teams preparing food, eating together, and cleaning up including composting and recycling are all part of the learning and immersion experience. 

Accommodations are in the expansive valley at Riverstone Farm.  A working organic producer, the beauty of this space can accommodate up to 25 visitors in a community setting. Participants, housed and fed in the traditional farmhouse, also have access to campsites on the farm. There is a yurt on the property that serves as a gathering place for discussion and sharing. To stay in town, we have access to discounted rates at an environmentally-recognized hotel.

Community and Region

The Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest mountains on Earth. The range stretches for over 1500 miles from Quebec to Alabama and has been worn by the forces of nature for hundreds of millions of years. The Appalachians are made up of several smaller ranges including the White Mountains of New Hampshire, The Black Mountains of North Carolina, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to name a few. Each has it’s own unique geology and biodiversity. As the ranges were populated and settlers adapted to the natural surroundings, cultural diversity was also shaped. The more accessible regions provided the stage for towns and cities, while less accessible ones became areas of more independent, self-sustaining communities. Such is the case with Floyd County Virginia.

Floyd County is located on a plateau in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains 40 miles Southwest of Roanoke Virginia. It is on the eastern edge of the range where the mountains fall sharply away on 3 sides. Because of the steepness of the approach, settlement was slow to come and even today there are no 4-lane roads or railroads or airports in the county. Agriculture remains the primary economic activity despite limited arable cropland. The picturesque rolling hills support mostly small cattle farms with open pastures and wood lots. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through the County for 30 miles along the eastern spine and anchors an emerging tourism economy.

The Town of Floyd, population 450, is the County Seat and largest village. Prior to the 1960’s Floyd’s economy was primarily local and sustainable. Over the next 2 decades the modern world called away many young people and the population decreased. By the late 1970’s a new generation of settlers began to arrive seeking a rural refuge and over time have come to inhabit that spirit of independence and sustainable living. During the last 3 decades many newcomers have joined with old-timers to create a renaissance that has added new life and texture to the community. No where is this more evident than in the town of Floyd itself.

What makes Floyd County unique, among other things, is the level to which it encompasses traditional values from both the old-time community and the newcomers. A high percentage of residents hold a reverential attitude toward the place. The County is a study in contrasts. For example Floyd has both a high speed fiber optic network and more miles of gravel road than any county in Virginia. It is considered one of the best places in America to hear traditional old-time mountain music but you can also enroll in a Twee Naah course at the Laurel Creek School for Chinese Medicine. It is a community where contradictions seem to live in harmony. So it is that Floyd County embodies both the traditional values of Appalachia, and progressive strategies for sustainable rural development so important for the 21st century.

Via Local Partner Organizations

Via International is a proud partner of Sustain Floyd working to leverage and preserve Floyd County’s existing assets and traditional strengths in agriculture and craftsmanship to help build a resilient rural local economy. Supporting the growth of our community’s next generation requires a community commitment, which is why we work closely with local and state governments and agencies, local businesses, like-minded non-profits and local citizens. Together we can find ways to develop the financial and ecological health of our community for the well-being of all citizens of Floyd County. But we also join with other communities throughout the region and around the globe to model new ways of living on, working in, and caring for the world around us.

Contact Information

Sustain Floyd

203 S. Locust Street Suite H. Floyd, VA 24091
Phone: (540) 345-7333
Email: info@sustainfloyd.org
Website: www.sustainfloyd.org

Appalachia: Sustainability, Culture and Rural Development

Sample Itinerary

Day 1
Arrival at Riverstone
Supper provided by Sustain Floyd
Welcome & Via Introduction

Day 2
Zion Church Service
Meet the Town of Floyd walking tour
Ann Kilkelly: “Meeting Yourself So That You May Learn to Serve Others”
“Potluck Social; Floyd Style” by Local Artisanal Farm Families
Ice cream sundae social and Q&A with Local Farm Families

Day 3
Service project: Angels in the Attic and Plenty!
Michael Blackwell: “Meeting the Land So You May Learn to Serve It”
Free Time for Reflection

Day 4
Service Project: Riverstone and Spikenard
A Floyd County Lifestyle: EcoVillage Tour
Presentation: Where and What is Appalachia?

Day 5
Service Project: Blue Ridge Chinese Medicine Clinic Herbarium
Hike Buffalo Mountain
Supper Pizza at Mickey G’s
Free Time for Reflection

Day 6
Service Project: Riverstone and Spikenard
A Floyd County Lifestyle: Meet Ellen and Brad, potter and woodworker
Sheep to Shawl: A Homesteaders Meditation in Wool, Carding, Spinning and Knitting

Day 7
Service Project: Angels in the Attic and Plenty!
The Floyd Country Store: Appalachian String Band and Flatfooting Lesson.
Supper: Bootleg BBQ and Fraternizing in Floyd with Vanderbilt Parkway Group
Friday Night Jamboree: Floyd Country Store Live Music and Folk Dance

Day 8


  • Discover a resilient community that encompasses traditional values from both old-timers and newcomers alike.
  • Learn how a community can remain self-reliant in the face of impoverishment.
  • Analyze various methods of self-reliance and sustainable living in a rural setting.
  • Understand how balancing the needs of humanity with the needs of the Earth is not just a local effort, but a global one
  • Participate in community-defined service projects supporting sustainable agriculture and traditional customs.

There are many opportunities for rich immersion in the local community. There are projects related to developing the local food program including working at the farmers market, on the Floyd Community Garden and the Empty Bowls project; a local food sharing initiative. There are opportunities to work with the Sustain Floyd farm on projects related to environmental protection. Service can include the set-up for the Jamboree and meeting local musicians and crafts persons.


  • Loyola University Maryland I highly recommend Via International as a great host agency for meaningful immersion programs, both domestic and international. They are rooted in the community with years of experience and relationships, organized and offer great educational input for the participants. They have everything you need for a comprehensive experience.”  
  • University of Colorado Boulder  “Via International is an excellent partner in engaging students in grassroots community development. During our recent service-learning trip to Bolivia, they proved responsive to our needs and adept at working with community partners and navigating local realities. The students came away with a remarkable understanding of local issues and global interconnectedness.”  
  • Stonehill College “Our first experience working with Via International was exemplary. The communication with the organizers was thorough and timely. All aspects of the trip were carefully considered and taken care of with great respect to our group needs and the needs of the receiving community. Our students walked away with a heightened commitment to learning about indigenous peoples, immigration and migration into the United States and a desire to educate their peers, friends and families regarding the information they learned. We are definitely partnering with Via again and are grateful for such an educational, fun and life changing experience.”

With over 20 trips and 300 participants per year, students around the world are capturing images and videos of our different voluntour sites. The best ones are featured here. Submit yours today by clicking here.

St. Joseph’s University – March 2014
Photo Credit: Gabriel Reed

St. Joseph’s University – March 2014
Photo Credit: Will Rattigan

St. Joseph’s University – March 2014
Photo Credit: Elisa Sabatini

St. Joseph’s University – March 2014
Photo Credit: Gabriel Reed

St. Joseph’s University – March 2014
Photo Credit: Gabriel Reed

St. Joseph’s University – March 2014
Photo Credit: Will Rattigan

St. Joseph’s University – March 2014
Photo Credit: Will Rattigan

St. Joseph’s University – March 2014
Photo Credit: Gabriel Reed

Program Fees

Program Development

Is a key expertise of Via Staff providing faculty and student leaders collaborative input to refine itineraries. We create unique access to local partners and coordinate all pre-trip activities.

Travel Services

Provide 3 meals-a-day including snacks and clean water, lodging at community site, adventure activity and museum entrance fees, first aid supplies, and 24-hour supervision. (Via transportation optional)

Educational Services

Create dynamic cultural exchange through a full-time Regional Coordinator and translator, presentations by local experts and partner organizations, discussions on regional issues and initiatives, community preparation and participation support.

Community Support

Covers the cost of volunteer work projects, bringing vital resources to community-driven initiatives, and funding the purchase of tools and materials that facilitate the visitor experience.

Sustainable Development Support

Provides an important donation to mission-based initiatives for year-round program development of micro-creditnutritionleadership educationecology training, and sustainable development initiatives.

Via's Integrated Model

We’ve designed our programs to provide high-value, affordable travel while maximizing volunteer and educational impact. Via provides full-service support and coordination to simplify logistics for group leaders and engage seamlessly with community-driven initiatives and local community members. Via’s regional facilitators and educational program development provide and integrated approach that offers visiting volunteer groups a deeply immersive, inspiring, memorable, and transformational experience that is safe, stable, reliable, and impactful.

We are very proud to offer this level of access and impact. To receive an exact quote based on your organization’s specific needs, please complete the form.

For More Information or to Request a Quote

Subscribe our Newsletter

Join Via’s Email List