This was a busy week, so busy, I’m not sure what actually got accomplished. Time will tell.
Thanks to Martin Richards for the image of Letcher County one morning this past week.
Monday-The week began with the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) gathering in Pikeville, Kentucky. This was to follow up on the work that has happened in the past 16 months or so since the original announcement of this initiative in December, 2013. For folks not in Kentucky, I’m not sure I can explain it accurately enough to risk it and for the folks in Kentucky, you probably have as clear a grasp as I do. I love the idea of SOAR, that a structure is now in place to allow many voices to be heard and a part of the process in identifying next steps in pushing our region forward. There were highlights and lowlights of the day, but I’m going to choose to remain positive. I just can’t stand to accept the alternative and will believe things are going to be better for Eastern Kentucky. Thomas Perez, Secretary of Labor was there and surely said all the right things, now if it can just be followed up with action. There is a certain theme that resonates here in the mountains, that the answers are here and we need not look to others to solve our problems, but find the solutions ourselves. I certainly agree with that, however, I feel the folks in the mountains are due some support in funding those solutions. I wish I were smarter, more certain of the facts, not just relying on my gut feelings, but it sure feels like this area I call home has received the short end of the stick for generations and it feels like OUR TURN to get the attention, get the funding, get the support. I’m talking about more than/different than welfare. One of the best parts of the day was seeing so many dedicated and intelligent folks there, David Cooke for one. The link below will lead you to an op-ed by Peter Hille, President of MACED for a clearer take on what is happening w/SOAR now.
Came back just in time for the Letcher County Farmers Market meeting. The growers here are really rising to the occasion. Local architect, Bill Richardson, shared the design for a permanent structure for the market. We need funding for that structure. Time will tell.
Tuesday, I was at Benham Inn with a roomful of people who had been invited to speak with/to Senior White House Advisor, Jason Walsh. He was there to listen to organizations and just transition efforts and to share information about the POWER+Plan. Our organization Cowan Community Action Group submitted a Just Transition proposal for capacity building to be in a position to be a part of this initiative. We should hear about that this week, good luck to all who applied. For the human interest part of the story, there were about forty people around the table and I was next to last to introduce myself, I kept looking around the room for who the Senior White House Advisor could be, as it turns out, when the nice man beside me introduced himself, I was sitting next to him. Martin Richards with Community Farm Alliance and I shared about 8 minutes in talking about local foods. I got to share the good things that Grow Appalachia brings to the region and I know he took a few notes. I talked about the work of CFA and the UK Appal-TREE project and what our local community is doing to support our community thru the Farmers Market. Sister KC was in my opening comment and I referenced her question she had presented at SOAR, “What is local foods?” I didn’t presume to give the answer, but just shared as fast and furiously as I could w/my four minute window what it looks like here. I will share at the end of the panel discussion, he had three questions, the first was about energy, the second on local foods and finally on art. I see those as a nice trifecta for moving things forward. Another personal note, at some point I realized I should have brought printed material to pass along, so I began filling my name card w/my best school teacher print on what I’d like him to takeaway. At the end, he kindly asked if that was for him and for a business card. I’m just sorry I forgot to put a visit from the First Lady to our Farmers Market on my wish list. My favorite takeaway and reference to my feelings about SOAR were when he clearly stated that the region that had provided energy to the country for decades is DUE support. I tread lightly when discussing politics out of ignorance, mine and/or others I may be talking to but when whatever party that has the power to help is talking about opportunities for our region and listening, I will always listen and share.
Tuesday night was a kick off for the Letcher County Summit and as a smaller group we had the chance to have conversation about possibilities for the county and we had a delicious dinner.
Wednesday and Thursday discussions were dialed in even more local with the Letcher County Summit hosted by the Cowan Community Action Group and sponsored by a grant thru Burshy Fork of Berea. We had about 50 from across the county attend to share their visions and determine a plan of work. Dr. Vaughn Grisham served as an excellent facilitator and inspiration. Local politics and perceptions can be awkward to overcome also, but we must, this was a start. Agriculture was a group that merged w/Entrepreneurship and I believe it will move forward. One of our immediate ideas, was to follow the lead of John Paul DeJoria and have a Shark Tank or more accurately, “Fish Bowl” to allow local aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch their plan and award $10,000 to the best plan. That one hasn’t made it over the hurdle yet, but it was considered and the President of a local bank didn’t say no to funding. Time will tell.
Friday, back to work, which I think I prefer and know I’m better at than talks. Met w/Lisa Turner from Berea College and ten new Grow Appalachia participants to begin a small study to determine if working in the garden improves health. I’ll share more of those details later, but it sure was nice to be with good people who are growing gardens. Hearing their stories of introduction was pretty inspiring. In the afternoon, Hilary and I met with the Letcher County Public Schools Food Service Director and Superintendent to discuss the upcoming Farm 2 School grant. I’m grateful Hilary has this. Ending the day w/a visit to new grower and his farm who plans to plant six acres of sorghum, and all that could come with that.
Saturday was a day to show respect to one of our best volunteers w/Grow Appalachia, Pat Yinger, as she celebrated her husband, Richard Yinger’s life who passed on April 4th.
Sunday, I was going to do laundry and clean my house, I told my son, I was going nowhere and only taking care of home. About 30 minutes later, he called and asked if I was sure I wasn’t supposed to do anything, because he had just talked to someone at the grocery store who said I was I was joining her for a community event at MCHC and tabling. Thank goodness he saw her, because I did not want to miss that event, I had just let it slip. We made it and it went well.
All the while these events were taking place, new participants were being introduced to Grow Appalachia. Thank goodness David Fisher is taking good care of the gardens. Orders being placed for sweet potato slips, plans made for the next event, t-shirts/bags being ordered for the market. Appal-TREE cooking class happening, thanks to Regina and Holly for taking care of that. Seems there are always conversations of potential opportunity taking place. Plans for post surveys w/Appal-TREE and upcoming research projects w/the Summer Feeding program.
I’m not really sure why I chose to do a check in as a blog, but I think it’s to illustrate the role that agriculture is playing in community development in Letcher County and EKY. It is so much more than just growing gardens. I’m even less sure why I’m a person at the forefront. All I know is I have never worked as hard, slept as little as I do now or had more respect and appreciation for so many here. Every single day I am inspired by someone and their story here, when I take the time to listen. If any on this really matters, only time will tell.