After the decline in the coal industry, Eastern Kentucky saw exponential growth in the local food system. For the first time in decades, people looked at ways regenerate an agrarian culture that was once so strong in the coalfields. Growing the local food economy was a surefire strategy to diversify our regions industry. It may not have been the silver bullet, but an improved local food system certainly strengthens the region. I could ramble on for days about the economic impact local foods can and does play on the region, but instead of figures and dollars, I’d prefer to discuss the greater importance of supporting this local, back to the land movement. 

Community.  A single word that gives each and every one of us a sense of place, yet in our overly homogenized world, at times can be hard to find. Local food allows a community to form and folks to visit, slow down, and communicate with neighbors, friends, and family. In our recent efforts at the Knott County Farmers Market, we have seen a small community form and grow with each passing market week. Some folks turn out to socialize and chat, others come for the fresh vegetables, but everyone shakes a hand, gives a hug, and catches up with someone they’ve known forever or met last week. Our farmers market community has been growing, with the addition of Tuesday’s on Troublesome, a bi-weekly festival with live music and food, we saw a 97% increase in market attendees.

Entrepreneurship. At the very essence of the local food movement is the birth of entrepreneurs. Yes, farmers, gardeners, and producers are entrepreneurs. The hope and optimism of growing your business and seeing success not only fuels the producers, but it creates the “Can Do” synergy that springs forth a budding economic ecosystem. As this region looks at bootstrap efforts to change our socioeconomic landscape, small businesses that focus locally, not only grows the economy, but creates a regional identity and pride for our home. The Knott County Farmers Market Is allowing those entrepreneurs to expand and grow. During the recent season, we saw 27 unique vendors and an increase in total revenue. 

Access. I would be mistaken, if I didn’t mention food access.  Food insecurity is prevalent in rural Kentucky and even worse in Central Appalachia. The growth in the local food system, certainly increases access and allows more people the opportunity to incorporate fresh, local ingredients into their daily diets. Farmers Markets encourage the use of SNAP and WIC through the Kentucky Double Dollars programs, many partner with health care organizations and offer veggie prescriptions, and others simply just make produce available each week. On top of markets, CSA’s, summer feeding programs, and Fresh Stop Markets are spreading the harvest into areas not normally served. Our Grow Appalachia program at Hindman Settlement School is helping families grow and preserve food. In our 4th year, we served 63 families and produced over 20,000 pounds of food. 

Local Food isn’t our region’s saving grace. It isn’t a replacement for coal jobs. It isn’t the revolution that changes it all. But… It is a place to grow community, inspire entrepreneurs, and allow healthy food to be accessible to many. And that is the true value of local food.