What do we do after we celebrated the last day of the Summer Feeding Site at the Letcher County Farmers Market?   We have faith in our community and keep going.  

Business plans are not my strong point.   I just knew it didn’t feel right to offer free fresh meals in June and July, encourage kids to try a yogurt/fruit smoothie or breakfast wrap with fresh eggs and local veggies and just STOP because the Summer Feeding Program had to end when school started.  If it was the right thing to do in June and July, we needed to find a way to continue in August, September and October.

We found a way to open our food booth as usual and began serving free meals to children and at low cost for adults.  I was hopeful, we might have a sponsor, but not certain.   I had spoken to Mike Caudill, CEO of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation earlier in the week, when he asked about our Summer Feeding Program Celebration and his question was, ‘What’s Next?”   I shared our dilemma about wanting to continue the Free Meals for kids.  He asked for, and our market submitted a plan for the remainder of the Market season.  Mr. Caudill is also a member of the Community Advisory Board for the Appal-TREE  project, Appalachians Together Restoring the Eating Environment, a Community Farm Alliance and University of Kentucky joint research project with a grant from the National Institute of Health.
We were pretty excited when he and his wife were among our first customers.    We were thrilled when he shared that after review and discussion, MCHC would sponsor the Letcher County Farmers Market Food Booth and we would be able to continue to purchase fresh fruits/vegetables from our growers and serve free fresh free meals to kids in Letcher County.   
Our market is WIC eligible and approximately 1/3 of market sales are coming from WIC recipients.  The Double Dollars program by CFA matches the WIC vouchers and allows our growers to sell more of their produce and recipients to purchase double the produce.   The free meals make for a nice morning at the market and sends a strong message to children and their families.  
We’ve been told that the Summer Feeding Site and partnership with the Letcher County Schools at the Market was the first in the state and possibly the nation.   We believe MCHC’s commitment to promoting healthy eating is just as groundbreaking.    A Health Care Provider that is not just distributing pamphlets, radio announcements, or newspaper ads to promote healthy eating, but actually providing the food and resources to share it for a season, seems pretty committed to improving the health of our community through diet.    Thank you Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation! 
What’s Next?
Grow Appalachia is establishing meaningful partnerships with other Organizations, Universities and Community Stake Holders and together working to find creative solutions and opportunities for our community.   

The partnership with the Letcher County School System was a wonderful step in making fresh, local foods available to children and supporting the local growers.   On our last day we served 73 healthy meals to children in Letcher County for free and 75 at a minimal cost for adults ($1.50.).    We were very pleased to have our City Mayor, James W. Craft and Judge, Jim Ward welcome Martin Richards from Community Farm Alliance, Kathy Gallagher and Cyndi Willmarth from the Kentucky Department of Education, Tim McNeilly from the USDA, Adam Rice from Congressman Hal Roger’s Office and Daniel Wilson, SOAR Agriculture Leader from Governor Steve Brashear’s Office to recognize the Summer Feeding Site  as a model for the state and nation.    Don Maggard, Local Farmer speaks well of the support of Grow Appalachia in this story.   We hope you have time to listen.   .

To learn more about the summer feeding program and hear remarks, please listen to the story for Making Connections on WMMT by Elizabeth Sanders.