SustainFloyd partnered with Via International, of San Diego, Calif. and Tijuana, Mexico, to develop Floyd County as a site for Voluntours, a program that combines education, cross-cultural exchange, and volunteerism while directly supporting community development and sustainability efforts in local, grassroots communities. SustainFloyd hosted 4 programs during spring breaks from 2013 to 2016.

Voluntours  introduced Floyd’s rich culture and community to young people  seeking experiences that will help them shape and develop lives with purpose and meaning. In Floyd they learnt first-hand from a community that builds on its strengths, welcomes strangers, and has a vision for a sustainable, resilient future in the midst of global change.

Developed and pioneered by Via International, Voluntours provides students and groups a service-learning, travel experience. In partnership with communities, Via International opens the door to meaningful educational travel and service learning opportunities for young people from colleges and universities, middle and high schools, churches and youth groups, government agencies, community organizations, businesses and corporations.

Via Voluntours has enabled students to experience the rich culture and heritage of local communities in the San Diego border region, New Mexico, Guatemala, Mexicali and Tijuana. In response to growing interest in sustainable development, rural Appalachian culture and innovation for community economic development, Via International is now adding Floyd County, Va. to the list.

For its inaugural project with SustainFloyd, Via brought a group of 25 college students (sophomores, juniors and seniors) as part of its relationship with St. Joseph’s University – a Philadelphia-based Jesuit university with undergraduate and master’s degree programs in the humanities, natural and social sciences, and business – to Floyd the week of March 2-9, 2013. The trip also served as part of St. Joseph’s Appalachian Experience program.

The group spent a chilly week working on local farms — including Riverstone Farm, Seven Springs Farm and SustainFloyd’s own Blue Valley Organic — as well as helping volunteer for Plenty! They also got lessons in Appalachian history from Radford University professor Ricky Cox, learned about the life of country artists from Ellen Shankin & Brad Warstler, learned about old-time music from Mac & Jenny Traynham, got flatfooting instruction from Ricky Sutphin and then got to try out their new moves at the Friday Night Jamboree. A similar pattern was followed for an additional three groups of students in successive years. Many students gained new insights into the possibilities to live simply and lightly on the earth, and with an understanding of the importance of developing local sustainable systems to keep communities self sufficient and healthy.

In 2017 SustainFloyd decided to review the program and consider introducing a more focused program specifically designed for students or other groups interested in issues of sustainable communities and local agriculture.


Images from the 2013 Voluntours trip to Floyd County during March 2 – 9. All photos by Jim McLaughlin of Via International.