As Eastern Kentucky continues to wrestle with how diversify its economy for the future, two groups are joining together to push the effort along by advocating what might be considered a return to the past.
Community Farm Alliance and the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky announced Wednesday a new effort to help spur economic development through small-scale agriculture.
The groups announced a plan to hire an Eastern Kentucky “Farm to Table” coordinator to work on encouraging farming in the mountains, as well as developing markets where new and existing farmers can sell their wares.
In a press release issued Wednesday, the groups noted that agriculture is increasingly viewed as having a major role to play in Appalachian economic development. They pointed to the December SOAR conference as evidence, where three of the nine breakout groups — regional collaboration, tourism and entreprenuership — listed local food and farms among top priorities.
“With the growing interest of both communities and farmers in the region, the economic importance of schools and state parks as institutional markets, and the overwhelming need to address economic and nutrition issues, Eastern Kentucky is prime for local and regional food system development,” the release noted.
Clay County farmer Will Bowling agreed.
“There is indeed a demand for local foods in Eastern Kentucky,” Bowling said. “In fact, the demand for regionally produced food far outstrips the current supply of these items. We’re thrilled for the help to fulfill this need in our community. Development of a strong local food system could provide great benefits to both consumers and producers in Eastern Kentucky. The economic potential of regional food system development is especially intriguing. Sales of farm fresh foods to consumers in eastern Kentucky are set to explode over the next few years.”
Floyd County farmer and CFA board member Todd Howard says that small-scale agriculture in the region is an endeavor worthy of continuing development.
“In Eastern Kentucky small-scale agriculture is a real bright spot,” Howard said. “In order to move forward it’s imperative that we continue to develop economic opportunities for our agriculture in Eastern Kentucky.”
Howard also said developing agriculture in Eastern Kentucky should be a given, considering the region’s history, but work is required to take advantage of the region’s unique strengths and to confront its unique obstacles.
“We have such a strong culture around food in Appalachia,” Howard said. “Folks have become really excited to come together to figure out how local food and agriculture can lead us forward. In Eastern Kentucky we are faced with a variety of unique challenges, but none as difficult as market development. Institutions, restaurants and consumers are demanding access to locally grown food, but as a farmer myself, I feel like I’m constantly reinventing the wheel to develop markets. The Farm to Table Coordinator will be a wonderful link between farmers and market development.”
The coordinator will work on building a network of local food stakeholders; coordinate CFA’s Farmers Market Support Program, of which the Floyd County Farmers Market is a member; work to build opportunities for farmers to sell to institutional buyers, such as schools and state parks; and promote discussions about local food and farming in Promise Zone counties.
The groups plan to have the coordinator on staff next month.