By Sister Kathy Curtis
According to two women from Prestonsburg, Kentucky, that was one of the benefits of growing up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Becky DeRossett and Bonnie Hale are board members of Appalachian Roots Inc., a local non-profit dedicated to “making healthy foods available to communities throughout Eastern Kentucky.” During a recent interview they shared why they are involved in the local foods movement through their volunteer work with Appalachian Roots’ Friends of the Floyd County Farmers’ Market group.
DeRossett can trace her Appalachian roots back to the 1700’s. She says mountain people were always self-reliant and put great value on the land. Growing up, her family had a garden, a cow, and chickens. They also owned a small country grocery that had “brought-on food”. She remembers as a child getting three eggs from the chicken coop and taking them into the store to trade for a candy bar. The problem now, she believes, is that people have abandoned that self-sufficient way of life and chase after more and more “brought-on” things.
Hale, whose family left eastern Kentucky when she was five for better opportunities in Estill County, including a college education, returned to the mountains with her husband Durward to raise their family. “We traveled a lot when our kids were growing up so they could have different experiences,” Hale says. Although her adult children both live outside of Kentucky, Hale makes sure that her grandsons know about their Kentucky heritage. She wants them to know “the world is big. It’s a great big wonderful place. But what we have here is a great big wonderful place too.”
Both Hale and DeRossett say their work in the local foods movement is built on their sense of place. “We need to quit looking elsewhere for our help and realize what we have already,” says DeRossett. As Friends of the Market, they help run Double Dollars, a program that helps food stamp and WIC families by doubling the amount of fresh food they can buy with their benefits. The majority of funding for Double Dollars comes from donations from the community itself.
As board members of Appalachian Roots, both women are concerned about the health, wellness, and economic challenges of our region. To address the extremely high incidence of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in eastern Kentucky, they believe a viable food system is crucial. Research has proven fresh whole food available at farmers’ markets and in home gardens provides proper nutrition, which can help diminish these health problems. Plus, food that is grown and sold locally retains its nutritional value but shipping costs are not an issue since the food is being shipped less than 100 miles in most instances. Recently Hale found onions in a local store that were grown in Peru. “What, we don’t grow onions in Kentucky?” she asks.
DeRossett and Hale agree that eastern Kentucky needs to be competitive if they want to keep young people in the region. “If my grandsons wanted to move here,” Hale says, “they should have the same opportunities in Kentucky as in Seattle: access to fresh food, jobs in chosen field of interest and better infrastructure for technology.” For her, working on food access issues is a start. They are also dedicated to exploring agriculture – food production, processing and marketing – as an economic development strategy. DeRossett asks, “Wouldn’t it be exciting to have a small scale food hub here in Floyd County?”
DeRossett and Hale both look forward to the Floyd County Farmers’ Market opening day. “It’s a social outlet for us,” they explain. They have found a fun and flavorful way to help grow the market too; they plan on applying for a sampling permit so they can offer samples of vendor’s goods to customers once a month.
These women show that even non-farmers can help grow a local food system. And have fun doing it.