I’ve always made it a priority to keep up with current events. I read the newspaper, listen to NPR on the radio, and watch a bit of the national news on television every single day because I want to know what is happening in the world. During the pandemic, following the news allowed me to grieve the loss of life, and gain a sense of hope as vaccines and treatments developed. In the last few weeks, watching the crisis in Ukraine unfold and deteriorate into war has left me with feelings of compassion as the lives of so many families are being needlessly disrupted and destroyed.
Beyond the emotions it can create, keeping up with current events has value because what happens in the world can also have a direct impact on lives in our community. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has done more than cause illness and death. It has also disrupted the global supply chain and triggered the highest inflation rate in a generation. You only need to look at the price of gas at the pump to realize the war in Ukraine is having a direct and immediate impact on our lives. Knowing what is happening beyond our community gives us a chance to prepare for the future and take action that might lessen the impact.
Did you know that Russia and Ukraine account for more than 25% of global wheat exports? Ukraine is also a major supplier of corn and produces almost half of the world’s sunflower oil. Russia and Ukraine are also major suppliers of metals used in the production of microchips. Aside from the recent and very noticeable increase in energy prices, the war in Ukraine will undoubtedly raise the cost of everyday items like groceries, automobiles, and electronics in the future. The war will likely prevent farmers in Ukraine from planting crops in the spring, and economic sanctions could dramatically reduce the availability of Russian goods on the world market. Knowing these facts, each of us should look for ways to prepare for the further increase in the cost of living.
In the United States, the median annual income for a typical household is $65,712. Viewed on a statewide level, Kentucky has one of the lower median incomes in the nation at $52,295, which ranks 40th out of 50 states. However, Knott County, where Hindman Settlement School is located, has a median household income of $31,198. Therefore, a typical resident of Eastern Kentucky has a much more difficult time dealing with the dramatic price increases of recent months. The struggle to make ends meet will become even more difficult in the future as the impact of the war in Ukraine makes its way to grocery shelves in the region.
While it can be stressful worrying about how current events will affect our lives, there are some very simple things we can do to minimize the impact. One way to combat the increasing price of groceries can be simple and enjoyable; plant a garden! While it is impossible to control the price of a head of lettuce or a bunch of carrots at the grocery store, once planted, the price of the food in your garden won’t fluctuate, no matter what else happens in the world. But planting a garden takes planning and requires action long before the full brunt of the crisis reaches home.
For many years now, Hindman Settlement School has strengthened the community by helping residents learn how to grow and preserve their food. Through our “Roots and Rows” program we provide a wide variety of seeds, thanks to generous donations of seed packets sent by HSS supporters from across the country. We help participants in our program plan their gardens through a partnership with the Knott County Extension Office. We distribute fertilizer; gardening tools; and will bring a rototiller to a resident’s home to help them prepare the ground for planting for those in the community with physical or financial barriers. We offer classes on gardening and work to create a collaborative community where more experienced gardeners can help those who are just starting. This spring, we will be posting an informative series of gardening tips on social media. We distribute canning jars from our wonderful commercial kitchen, where we teach techniques for preserving food for the winter months. While we have been doing these things for many years, recent events will certainly increase the demand for our Roots and Rows-Foodways programming.
If you are a resident of Knott County or the surrounding region and are worried about how rising food costs are going to impact your ability to feed your family, I hope you will decide to join our gardening program. With spring fast approaching, the best time to get involved is now! We can help you get started and support you along the way with training and advice.
If you are a supporter of the Hindman Settlement School, I hope you will consider donating to our Foodways program. I expect many more people in our service area will need help during these difficult times. Your donations will ensure we have the supplies and have the financial ability to meet a growing need in our region.