Big Sandy chapter hosts seventh annual Growing Appalachia conference


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On Saturday March 5, folks from around eastern Kentucky came out to the Jenny Wiley Convention Center near Prestonsburg for the seventh annual Growing Appalachia conference, which is a day of workshops about small-scale farming, energy efficiency and renewables.

This year, covered topics included growing a vegetable garden, sustainable timber and forestry management, selling your arts and crafts on Etsy, getting started with backyard chickens, growing berries and brambles, food aggregation and hubs, industrial hemp, and a conversation about a regional just transition.

These workshops continue the efforts by conference organizers to offer workshops on a variety of topics and at varying skill levels so that people attending can gain some practical skills and knowledge so that they can find ways to stay and thrive in the mountains. But the conference has grown to also be a space where folks can come together around a shared vision for a brighter future for eastern Kentucky.

"They believe in the region. They believe we can all live well together,” said Kathy Curtis of Floyd County, one of the organizers of the conference.

Todd Howard, who led a workshop on industrial hemp, talked about how an emerging industry like hemp can play a role in helping grow the local economy of the region. “For so long, eastern Kentucky has shipped out our resources. But if we’re going to grow within, we have to do it here.”

Growing the economy was also part of a conversational workshop on regional Just Transition efforts, including the availability of millions of dollars to help those efforts through the POWER+ Plan. The POWER+ Plan is a $10 billion initiative to assist communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry in growing and diversifying their economies. Folks were excited to hear about the plan could support transition efforts, including those in agriculture and energy, and that fourteen local governments in eastern Kentucky have passed resolutions in support of the plan.

At lunch, a panel of folks from Letcher County – including Harry Collins from the Letcher County Extension; Chris Caudill, a Letcher County Magistrate; Janet Kincer, with Appal-TREE Community Outreach; and Abby Maggard, from the Whitesburg/Letcher County Farmers Market – talked about how they have been working to increase their community’s access to local, fresh foods. "We wanted to be a market that was accessible and available,” said Valerie Horn of Community Farm Alliance, who moderated the panel. Speaking on the success they have had all working together, Chris Caudill said, “One group of people with common goals can get something done."

This year’s Growing Appalachia conference was organized and hosted by the Big Sandy Chapter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and co-sponsored by Community Farm Alliance, Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, Grow Appalachia Cowan Community Center, the Floyd County Farmer’s Market, Appalachia Roots, and St. Vincent Mission. Special appreciation is due to the planning team and to all of the workshop presenters and panelists who generously donated their time and expertise.