by Sister Kathy Curtis
[This is Part Two of a three part series. Part One]
In the summer of 2010 Todd Howard of HF Farms sold produce at a farmers’ market sponsored by the City of Prestonburg. One of many people in eastern Kentucky laid off during the coal industry slump, Howard had turned his family garden into a greenhouse and farming enterprise with his business partner, David Fryman. That first year went well selling out every week.
Their second year, however, was not so great. Due in part to a change in location, business was terrible.
“I was done. We had no help. Nobody was listening,” said Howard.
Then Howard reconnected with Martin Richards of Community Farm Alliance whom he had met that spring at the Growing Appalachia Conference. Richards told him about the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Conference being held that year in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“So,” Howard said, “I applied for a scholarship and got it.”
The conference “was an Ah-ha! moment” for Howard. He heard from people in Mississippi and rural Georgia who were farming in areas with similar economic demographics as eastern Kentucky – and making a living. Howard came back to Floyd County motivated and inspired.
At that same time Sister Kathleen Weigand of St. Vincent Mission held a town hall meeting focused on using agriculture as an economic incubator.
“It usually takes years for things to percolate to eastern Kentucky but here were a bunch of people excited to support local foods – people wanted to volunteer to take it to the next level.”
That year, 2012, the Floyd County Farmers’ Market with seven anchor vendors, civic and private sponsors, and lots of volunteers grossed $23,000 and it continues to grow.
“Local folks helping one another; I think that’s the key to success,” said Howard.
Howard is one of several people here in the region who thinks that one of eastern Kentucky’s biggest problems is that “We look to the outside to fix everything. If we can’t come together in our own neighborhoods, Frankfort, the Feds, they’re not going to help us.”
Howard and his wife recently made a list of all the people who they have been talking to about earning some income through agriculture.
Howard said, “Within a ten mile radius we came up with twenty people. Whether it’s pigs, chickens, planting a third of an acre to make a little extra cash, they all want to know, can you help me? Nobody’s gonna get rich but if you can make $1000 in twelve weeks, why not?”
These days Howard is branching out.
“The farmers’ market is a great place to start. It is critical to have that entry level place to cut your teeth,” explains Howard. But it has its drawbacks. Howard has three children who play ball and have other activities that take place on Saturday afternoons. Saturday is also a time when friends and family come help on the farm to get those labor-intensive chores, including harvesting for the community supported agriculture (CSA) shares, done.
The CSA model seems to be working. Howard said, “Last year was our first attempt at running a CSA. We sold about twelve shares for thirteen weeks. This year we are expanding to 30 members for 16 weeks. We are also looking to expand into institutional markets and restaurants.” Is this another Field of Dreams?
In part three Howard discusses the obstacles he must overcome and the allies he is developing in his effort to show agriculture is a viable option for economic development in eastern Kentucky.