Appalachian food producers find selling opportunities in catalog

Project provides an economic boost

swthompson@herald-leader.comMarch 31, 2011 

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    If you would like to be on the catalog mailing list or to place an order, go to Appalachianhome.org. The showroom, at 2592 Palumbo Drive, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Call 1-877-919-9901.

    Kentucky food vendors in the catalog include Robinson's Meats in London; Rainbow Harvest in Liberty; Sunflower Sundries in Mount Olivet; Ms. Parker's Artisan Spreads in Winchester; and Sutton's Honey and Mom Blakeman's Candies, both in Lancaster.

A year ago, Cara Parker of Winchester experimented with a beer cheese recipe to enter in the Beer Cheese Festival. Her beer cheese spread is not a bright yellow like the traditional beer cheese we see at the supermarket, so she went looking for a different market.

Now, Ms. Parker's Artisan Cheese Spread is available only through the Appalachian Home Catalog. Parker not only found an outlet that ships her product across the nation; she also found a place that offers business advice and marketing skills.

Parker first approached Appalachian Home Catalog about selling her flavored butters.

"When she came to us about compound butters, we were thrilled," catalog management and development director Candace Sword said. "They would fit in perfectly with our gift sets. We have a pancake mix and a maple syrup. What better to put with that?" Sword said.

Parker joined dozens of food vendors and crafts people who are selling their products through the catalog, first mailed a year ago.

Appalachian Home Catalog is a program of the Christian Appalachian Project, which serves people in need in Appalachia through a variety of services.

"Our goal is to help vendors increase their sales, employ others and put money back into the community," Sword said.

The catalog business is not new to CAP.

"We have tried this before, a long time ago," Sword said. "We were trying to make everything ourselves, thus employing people that way, and that did not work out. Some of it was seasonal employment; therefore, it was not creating sustainable jobs for people. And it was very difficult to make everything, plus ship it, plus try to do everything else. This time, we think we've hit on the thing. You've got to find what people are doing and doing well, and support that.

"We take a product like this (Parker's) that's not really on the market anyplace else and sell it."

In November, the CAP staff decided to open a showroom on Palumbo Drive, where at least one of everything they sell is displayed. In addition to food items, Appalachian Home sells handmade wooden cutting boards, pottery, baskets, jewelry, soaps, lotions and birdhouses from crafts people in Kentucky and 12 other states: Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Appalachian Home accepts products that meet at least one of certain criteria:

■ The vendor's business is in an Appalachian county.

■ The product is produced in an Appalachian county.

■ A portion of raw materials (primary ingredient) for product are sourced from an Appalachian county.

Fifty-three counties in Kentucky are in the Central Appalachian Region, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

"Occasionally an exception is made," Sword said. The catalog offers books by Jon Carloftis, a native of Rockcastle County, and his collection of Louisville Stoneware bird houses. "Jon has been a big supporter of ours," Sword said.

All the food items and handmade crafts reflect Appalachian heritage, and the staff is looking for more items to sell. "We're not quite well-known enough just yet for people to come to us. We're still having to go out and find them," Sword said.

Parker found Appalachian Home because she was familiar with the Christian Appalachian Project.

"I grew up in Martin County and saw so many people struggle. I just know the hard time people have. It's not that they don't want to work; there's just not the opportunity," Parker said.

Sword said anyone who has a product to sell that fits the criteria may talk to her and her staff.

"We can help by letting people know what steps they must go through to put their product on the market.

"If it needs help, from a packaging standpoint, or even possibly tweaking it, we offer assistance. That's what we're here for, to help people start or grow their business, or how to market it better."

Reach Sharon Thompson at (859) 231-3321 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3321.

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