A Story About One of My Heroes: Mae Humiston

By Sister Kathy Curtis

In 2014 I was invited to apply for a fellowship with Community Farm Alliance (CFA) telling stories. I love stories and the best part of this fellowship was that the stories were about the food and people of eastern Kentucky, a topic I am passionate about.

I was accepted and in September of 2014 I found myself with five young people outside of Nashville at my first ever CMOP conference. CMOP stands for Community Media Organizing Project whose purpose is to help people working on social justice issues learn how to use media to get the word out about their cause. Since the focus of the fellowship was getting the word out about the developing food system in eastern Kentucky, it was a mandatory meeting.

At the end of the weekend, the fellows gathered for orientation, to come up with a name for the project and to meet the young woman who would be our supervisor, Mae Humiston.

Mae Humiston recording at Appalshop

Mae was working with Community Farm Alliance through an Appalachian Transition Fellows program and Martin Richards, the ED of CFA, had decided her organizational skills would work well with us five free spirited story tellers. My first thoughts—too organized, too structured, she is going to be really hard to work with.

As usual when it comes to my snap judgments, I was wrong. Mae is organized and structured but she is also patient, supportive and empathetic and now my friend.

After the first grant period was completed and our evaluations turned in, I thought, “That was fun. Now what?” How about Breaking Beans The Radio Show?

Yep, I was pretty sure I would not be able to do that but I didn’t want to seem like an old dog that couldn’t learn new tricks. Besides, how hard could it be? All I’d have to do is talk right?

Wrong, within four months, Mae was teaching me how to edit the audio. And then the show went to an hour format and my co-host Ethan Hamblin got a great gig in Ireland so it was just me and Mae and then…well to be fair, she never left me on my own.

Until now. Yep, Mae is leaving CFA for a great opportunity with a new Community Development Financial Institution in Hazard called Redbud Financial Alternatives whose mission is to help people get out of bad debt cycles so they can afford safe and reliable housing. 

I accepted this position because I see it as an incredible opportunity to grow my perspective and experience in working on rural and Appalachian issues… it doesn’t feel like these kind of opportunities come along too often anymore, so I’m taking the chance.” Mae told me when she let me know she was leaving CFA. 

So, you might be thinking, this is sentimental and all but not really an Appalachian Food Story. So why is it on the blog?

Because Breaking Beans: The Appalachian Food Story Project is about the stories of people working in Appalachia for a just transition and a good life. And that is Mae Humiston’s personal mission. She is from Appalachian Virginia and she has a great desire to learn all she can about creating just and equitable systems that lift up and celebrate the diversity that is everywhere in our region. She will be one of the young people who return to their home towns committed to helping it thrive again.

But not yet.

She told me, “I definitely plan to continue to be involved with CFA as a member and volunteer, and I’m still going to live in Hazard – so you’re not rid of me entirely.”

Well Mae, considering all you have done not only for CFA but for the region that pleases me to no end. And by the way, how does it feel to be in the spotlight for a change?

Breaking Beans: 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. Read the stories at cfaky.org/blog