By Sister Kathy Curtis
Beverly May lives on Wilson Creek in Maytown, Kentucky in a house designed and built for playing music and dancing with friends. She grows vegetables and herbs in the same spot her great-grandmother grew them three generations ago, in much the same way.
“Appalachia has a tradition of gardening. Mountain folks know what a tomato is supposed to taste like and that green beans are not a side dish,” says May. An original vendor of the Floyd County Farmers’ Market current incarnation, May sells herbs and funny looking tomatoes. She says that one reason she keeps a garden is to grow things “you can’t get at the grocery store.” In 2014 she grew and sold indigo rose tomatoes and lemon cucumbers.
She also grows and sells both potted and cut herbs. She doesn’t make much money in those sales but sharing recipes and other uses for her herbs is a fun way to connect with her customers. “I’m as likely to learn a new way to use an herb from a customer as I am to pass one on to them,” May explains.
As a healthcare professional, May loves having an active role in the local food system. She believes that by buying locally at a farmers’ market or from a local farm itself, a consumer has more control over their food choices. It will be fresher so it will taste better and by knowing the person who grew it, a person can ask questions about how it was raised.
She uses organic methods in growing food in part so that she has some control over what goes into her body. Her customers understand that, too. When told that nothing was “put on” the potatoes May was selling, a customer responded, “Good, I don’t have to peel them then.”
May is also an advocate for social justice. “Poor people have to eat really crappy food.” She pointed out that most low income families have limited dollars to spend on food so their choices are generally highly processed, high calorie fast food. She believes the food system in our country is based on “shipping stuff from place to place and is not sustainable. The money goes to shippers not farmers.”
She agrees that correcting the public’s perception of food is a big one; too big to be fixed by farmers alone. So she grows and sells herbs and the farmers’ market, shares recipes with her customers and talks about sustainability while playing old time fiddle songs with her friends. After all, that’s what mountain folk do.
Breaking Beans: The Appalachian Food Story Project is an initiative of Community Farm Alliance to tell the story of how local food and farming in Eastern Kentucky can contribute to a bright future in the mountains. For more on the project and the Alliance, visit cfaky.org.