Howdy family,

Jeffrey Helton, VISTA with the Grow mothership, here. Before the holidays, I blogged about how our program received $10,000 from Tom’s of Maine—a feat that wouldn’t have been possible with an outpouring of heartfelt nominations from our family. (That’s you. Thanks again!) Of course, just before our team could head home to relax for a couple of weeks, we were treated to more news that perfectly suited the atmosphere of wintry giving… We’d received $10,000 from CSX, too!

For those who don’t know, CSX is a railway transportation company that serves most of the east coast, with its rail lines also intersecting across all of Appalachia. This particular funding effort, provided in partnership with the Conservation Fund, was created to address issues with food distribution infrastructure with a special focus on transportation—CSX’s bread and butter, of course. Holly Korb, our other VISTA, and I got to work on the grant back in September, brainstorming project ideas with our team, researching food security statistics for our region, and crafting narrative.

During that proposal, our initial vision was to purchase a refrigerated box truck, with the goal of using it as a food aggregator, planting the seeds for a stronger food distribution network in our region.

That vision has since expanded—although it’s worth keeping in mind that we’re fine-tuning as I write this, and we likely will be even as the project is implemented. (That’s just how projects work!) This $10,000, alongside our matching funds, is a mere part of a larger effort. This money will go towards purchasing a ¾ ton pickup truck as well as 1 or 2 trailers that will be refrigerated with the help of CoolBots.

With this vehicle and this equipment, we will collect produce from gardeners in StrikeForce counties and export their goods to Lexington markets, where these gardeners will have a higher profit margin. Our plan is to focus our produce collection along the I-75 corridor, extending down to McCreary County, where we’re building a food hub using USDA funds—a perfect route for our attempts at building up the delivery and processing infrastructure in the region. The deliveries, which will involve  the coordinated growing of produce in bulk (like romaine lettuce) among our farmers, will go to Lexington juiceries, school systems, and retail centers.

The switch from a box truck to the pickup and trailer combo is for the sake of versatility. A refrigerated trailer might be detached from the truck in Laurel County for an “aggregation period,” where farmers can drop off their produce on Monday and Tuesday. Meanwhile, the truck might be delivering high tunnel materials to a nearby county—or even delivering the other trailer further north. On Wednesday, the truck can collect the aggregated food from Laurel County and perhaps bring it to a Lexington grocer that loves working with local producers.

Even though the details are always shifting, we’re really looking forward using this project to reinvigorate StrikeForce counties and supporting a sense of trans-regional unity with the Appalachian distribution structure. We also hope that you all appreciate this peek into the developments here at the headquarters. Perhaps some of you readers will even end up participating in this project!

Until next time,