I am an Eastern Kentucky business owner. I am a baker of corn bread, an heirloom seed saver and a hillbilly farmer. I offer no apologies. I am Appalachia Proud.
There is an agricultural renaissance going on east of the Winchester Wall. Farmers in Appalachia are one of our best kept secrets; so secret I did not even know others existed until the East Kentucky Food Systems Collaborative began piecing together a network.
County lines can be powerful things; they identify us but they divide us too.
The Appalachian agriculture community is all about connections. It is not a hootenanny with ranks of shoeless rednecks; it is a group of determined resourceful farmers who make a living in the dirt of our hills and hollers.
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Agriculture in Appalachia sustained our forefathers. It can define our future.
I grow green-striped cushaws, cut short beans and Bevens tomatoes in the shadow of Bent Ridge where family long gone rests. They survey fields that six generations of Pinsons have plowed before me. When I plant Old Dutch beans in freshly turned furrows I know the ancestors smile. I am connected to a rich mountain legacy.
But it is not just the past that links me to happiness. Picture the faces of children as they yank peanut vines from the ground, shocked to find their after-school snack dangling in a profusion of pods and sandy soil. You should hear the giggles.
Me? I imagine the possibilities.
Famed author Eudora Welty coined the phrase "a sense of place." Appalachian farmers have that sense of place. It is not fictionalized romance; it is the way we live.
We are not row croppers of Western Kentucky and we do not want to be. Our beans taste better. Just ask the curator of Appalachian legumes, Bill Best of Sustainable Mountain Agriculture in Berea. A fixture at the Lexington Farmer's Market, Best's beans are just a small bite of Appalachia's hidden possibilities. Honey, ramps, ginseng, sorghum, greens, apples, grapes and pawpaws are examples of products we can bring to market.
At Pikeville's Farmer's Market customers wait in line, snatching up locally grown produce. Within a two-hour window vendors sell out. Consumer demand for Appalachia Proud produce far exceeds what we are now growing; and that does not take into account what restaurants, tourist attractions and institutions are clamoring for.
When Kentucky's Department of Agriculture proclaims "Appalachia Proud, Mountains of Potential" they mean business.
Traditional wisdom has pushed aside the notion of agriculture as a tool for economic development in Appalachia, but that is exactly the kind of thinking that has stymied efforts to create a strong food economy. It is time for a new vision.
Do not ask me if Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer's Appalachia Proud initiative p will bring economic success to our hills. Seeing is believing. The time for mountain farmers is now. We have something to prove.
We are Appalachia Proud; watch us grow. Hillbillies, start your tractors!.