Most of you know what a great program Grow Appalachia is in helping people toward food security and income generation. But did you know it also builds communities?
Each year St Vincent Mission operates a Christmas Store program for people in our service area. Clients whom the Mission has helped in one way or another are invited to sign up for an opportunity to “shop” for their family members. First year participants are invited with no requirements because they have already provided some sort of community service in order to receive assistance. Second year participants must complete the six week nutrition and budget counseling EFNEP program offered by the UK Extension Service to be eligible and people who are third year or more must put in 12 hours of community service. The gifts for the store are all new and donated from individuals and groups across the country and several people come to the Mission to help either prepare for the event or actually “work” the store.
In 2011, members of one family that works the store every year asked Sister Kathleen, “If money weren’t an issue, what would the Mission like to do?” Well that simple question led to some brainstorming sessions which became “The Vision Planning Project” which included ideas like a charter school, a recycling/manufacturing plant and an expansion of the Grow Appalachia program which had just completed its first successful year. We talked with Peter Hille who was with the Brushy Fork Institute at Berea College at the time and he suggested that we focus on one project, the Grow Appalachia expansion, since we had already experienced success with it.
We scheduled a town hall meeting for the end of March 2012 and started inviting everyone we knew. We expected about 35 people to come to the gathering so imagine our delight when 63 showed up. Peter led us through the process of turning our dreams into reality and by that Saturday afternoon we had four working groups each with its own focus: farmers markets, community gardens, school gardens and seed and story saving.
In the eighteen months since that initial meeting we have become Appalachian Roots, a grassroots organization dedicated to the health and well-being of our region through agriculture. Our two most successful endeavors have been undertaking a community food assessment with Community Farm Alliance and getting a $10,000 Healthy Communities grant to promote the Floyd County Farmers’ Market.
Our members include not only farmers and extension agents but also professionals in community development and health fields, members of local government agencies and schools, representatives from local churches and business and any one else who wants to plug in. We have recently incorporated in the State of Kentucky and are in the process of applying for 501(c)3 status. It has been an awesome ride.
So yes, at the front end Grow Appalachia is a food security program. But when you take the vision of John Paul DeJoria and David Cooke and combine it with the enthusiasm of someone like Sister Kathleen and the work of dedicated community members something more grows. For us it’s the health and well-being of a region.
Appalachian Roots Inc. meets the second Thursday of every month at 5:30 pm at the Floyd County Extension Service. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out our website, www.appalachianroots.net.