Podcast: Local Foods, Local Places in Harlan, KY
Harlan, Kentucky, participated in the Local Foods, Local Places technical assistance program in 2017. Listen to this podcast to hear how Harlan is working to grow the local food economy and revitalize downtown.
Podcast music: “Corporate (Technology)” and “Country Road Drive” by Scott Holmes, www.scottholmesmusic.uk, Attribution-NonCommercial License. “Marathon Man” by Jason Shaw, Attribution 3.0 United States License.
Narrator: Welcome to this podcast about Local Foods, Local Places, a technical assistance program managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This podcast is about how Local Foods, Local Places helps communities grow their local and regional food economies, and tells the story of one town in particular: Harlan, Kentucky.
From 2015 through 2017, we’ve worked with partners in nearly 80 cities and towns across the country to reinvest in existing neighborhoods through local food systems. Local Foods, Local Places is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, EPA, CDC, the Department of Transportation, HUD, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Delta Regional Authority.
Join me as I speak with some of the residents of Harlan, Kentucky, about their experience with Local Foods, Local Places. I am Alix Kashdan, a research fellow from the EPA, and in 2017 I worked with Harlan on this program.
Harlan, one of many Appalachian communities to take part in the program, is a community of around 1,600 people in southeastern Kentucky. Like many small towns throughout Appalachia, it has struggled for decades as the coal economy has declined, and the community hoped the Local Foods, Local Places workshop could help it explore how local food could help diversify the economy, improve health, and revitalize the downtown. Local Foods, Local Places brings people together to create a vision for their community’s future. I spoke with attendees at Harlan’s workshop about the community’s history and their hopes going forward.
Woody Hartlove: My name’s Woody Hartlove, I’m the farmers market market manager and I’m also the president of the board of directors. I’ll tell you about what happened here. I had a motorcycle ATV repair shop for about eight years. It was very successful. Then when the coal mines started shutting down, my sales cut in half in one year, and I had to close down the shop. I’ve been unemployed for four years.
Narrator: Woody told me that through the Grow Appalachia Program, he began to learn about vegetables and marketing food. He had a small garden as a hobby, and realized he could turn it into a profitable business.
Woody Hartlove: We’ve developed the farmers market as a means to help folks like myself that are doing this kind of thing – market gardening.
Ashley Bledsoe: I am Ashley Bledsoe, I am the janitor of the Harlan Center. I’m looking into getting a loan for a taco trailer that will buy the majority of its ingredients here at local farmers markets. The tacos I will be fixing will be gourmet tacos, suitable for all people. The trailer will travel to different communities in the county that don’t have rich food resources. The majority of my ingredients will be sourced from the farmers market. That way it’ll be Appalachians helping Appalachians.
Preston Jones: I’m Preston Jones, and I am the assistant director at Pine Mountain Settlement School, and I’m also the vice president of the Harlan County farmers market. The revitalization of downtown Harlan which is near and dear to my heart, grew up right in downtown Harlan basically – the hill right there above the city – and a lot of fond memories of growing up down there. I hate really to see the shape that it’s in right now with so many vacant buildings. I just see opportunity though, and that’s really exciting to me to see such a group of people come together with that same hope for downtown.
Narrator: In Harlan, community members, local leaders, and state and federal partners came together for a two-day workshop to strategize, share resources, and create a plan for moving forward. Several federal agencies were represented at the Harlan workshop, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Farm Service Agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During the workshop, I spoke with several of these agency representatives, who describe how this work links to the missions of their agencies.
David Guthrie: David Guthrie, health advisor at Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. We’re excited about this project because it could lead possibly to better health outcomes. We know that eating right is definitely the way we want folks to go. Farmers markets, locally grown produce, getting more people to realize this could be part of their regular day and regular diet.
Stephanie Bertaina: My name is Stephanie Bertaina and I’m with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and I’m a senior policy analyst there.
EPA is one of several federal funding partners for the Local Foods, Local Places program. We’re here in Harlan to help the community of Harlan think about how they can make the most out of their downtown farmers market and how locating it downtown can be good for the community. EPA is involved because reinvesting in downtown aligns with our mission of protecting public health and the environment. It helps conserve open space, protect air and water quality, and maximize use of existing buildings and infrastructure, which saves natural resources, as well as taxpayer dollars. Helping communities leverage the power of local food as a tool for revitalizing downtowns is good for people’s health, it’s good for the environment, and it also is good for the economic bottom line for communities.
Amanda Robertson: Amanda Robertson, beginning farmer regional coordinator for Kentucky and Tennessee with the Farm Service Agency. I try to reach out to beginning farmers to raise awareness about USDA programs. From this workshop, I hope that the folks here in Harlan realize what the United States Department of Agriculture has to offer and how they can utilize the programs that USDA offers to help them get their farmers market up and going as well as help it to sustain and be successful.
Stephanie Bertaina: Local Foods, Local Places is really about helping communities use local food investments, local food systems to create and catalyze development in existing places. For Harlan, having their farmers market downtown is helping to create activity in a downtown that’s fairly vacant right now. By bringing new life and people to downtown, you’ll be able to reuse that infrastructure, which conserves important resources and will help the community build on the investments they’ve made for generations in their town.
Narrator: Jeremy Williams, the county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, and Preston Jones, assistant director of the Pine Mountain Settlement School and vice president of the Harlan County farmers market, spoke with me about how government partners can help communities.
Jeremy Williams: I’m Jeremy Williams, county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources here in Harlan County. With the groups here today, you all have the knowledge, you all have been down this road before, you’ve helped other places. And you’ve seen the hard stuff and you’re able to help make it easy.
Preston Jones: The federal agencies, they can’t have an office in every town and every small village in the state of Kentucky, we know that. But there’s places like Pine Mountain Settlement School that are all over and have these networks, already working with people, and if we could get some help, if we could pay a salary for a staff member. And that’s what we’re trying to do and hopefully some stuff from the USDA is going to come through and we’ll be able to do that, we’ll have a staff member devoted to helping people find these programs and to fill out the paperwork so they don’t have to drive an hour and half, because most likely they’re not gonna do that and they’re not gonna take advantage of the programs, even if they do know about them. Getting the word out and then finding local networks and those people that are plugged into those and giving them resources to help do that work.
Narrator: By the time Harlan held its workshop, the town had already been focusing on using local foods to help revitalize downtown by planning to open a new downtown farmers market, cleaning up and reusing vacant buildings, and working to incorporate a prescription veggies program into the market where patients at the Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation get prescriptions to buy fruits and vegetables at the market. Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation – a Federally Qualified Health Center – applied for the workshop in Harlan. I spoke with Mike Jackson from Mountain Comprehensive about their role.
Mike Jackson: My name’s Mike Jackson, I’m the program coordinator for the Farmacy program for Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation. The Farmacy Program is basically an opportunity for people with certain diagnoses, patients of ours, to get money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers market. We’re trying to help them get started. We have a clinic here in Harlan, so we’ll be providing some patients for them.
Mountain Comp was instrumental. It’s a community outreach project for us and we want to be involved of course in every community that we have a clinic and a health care action in. We just want to help the Harlan farmers market grow and make sure that the community is enriched with our presences as well as a social aspect and a health care aspect.
Narrator: Harlan plans to capitalize on several community assets to pursue its goals around local food, the arts, and revitalization. I asked Preston Jones about the settlement school’s role in the community.
Preston Jones: Pine Mountain Settlement School was founded in 1913. Today we run the environmental education program, which also includes Appalachian culture and heritage and native American culture and heritage. We operate a community agriculture program which provides seeds, tools, fertilizer, any type of organic garden input you may need in order to get started or to expand your gardening production. We also provide educational opportunities through that, that a lot of them are focused on high value, niche market production, I really see the work that we’re already engaged in is gonna fit so nicely with the farmers market. And, I think a lot of the farmers are going to be people and families that have come through our community ag program, and they’ve received the education and they’ve received the assistance.
Narrator: Next up is Robert Gipe, the director of the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College.
Robert Gipe: I came to Southeast Community College in 1997. I can remember when the arts were not perceived as being very useful. We were kind of on the outside of what was thought to be economic development. But when I came here, I got hired to connect the community to the college through the tools of culture.
People wanted something, some kind of cultural center downtown. This region is negligent in its arts education. Very few schools have functioning art education programs. That so much creativity can go into supporting entrepreneurship, supporting downtown vibrancy, is just getting lost, it’s just never getting developed. It’s been a longtime dream of mine: what can we do to stop that. It seems like a good moment, with creative place-making as an ascendant idea, both in terms of arts funding and in terms of bringing artists and cultural workers to the table. What can we do to attract investment, what can we do, when development comes, to ensure that our workforce, our people, will benefit from that.
Narrator: Workshop attendees in Harlan wanted to use Local Foods, Local Places to build on their ideas for downtown revitalization and develop a strategy to capitalize on their new farmers market. I spoke again with Jeremy Williams, Harlan County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources:
Jeremy Williams: One, a revitalization of not only downtown, but a revitalization of community. The farmers market plays a huge role. Seeing something to take local foods, local artisans, bring them together, and that would help revitalize the downtown movement.
Narrator: And here’s Preston Jones again, from the Pine Mountain Settlement School and Harlan farmers market:
Preston Jones: I really hope to see a vibrant farmers market be established and I want to see a lot of producers come out, and I want to see a lot of high quality produce being offered consistently to the community. The health benefits that will come out of that and the economic benefits that will come out of that, and the diversification of our economy that we so badly need here.
Narrator: Woody Hartlove, market manager and president of the farmers market board of directors:
Woody Hartlove: We think the Local Foods, Local Places is going to be a tremendous help because what we’ve learned about it and heard about it from other communities that have participated is that it’s really boosted the economy.
Narrator: Following the workshop, Harlan launched its farmers market in June 2017, including integrating the Farmacy Program. The farmers market board is exploring integrating Appalachian arts and culture into the market and investigating opportunities to build a permanent pavilion to house the expanding market. The town is also exploring options to clean up and restore a building downtown to use as a hub for arts education and other arts-related activities, and reusing and rehabilitating an existing facility would save resources that would otherwise be used to build elsewhere. Additionally, the Appalachian Regional Commission is providing $20,000 in implementation funding to assist Harlan with these efforts. Community leaders continue to pursue grants and other opportunities around local food, health, and the arts to make Harlan a thriving and healthy place.
The EPA is partnering with other communities to help diversify the local economy through local foods. For more information about Local Foods, Local Places and other programs that protect the environment and health while supporting economic growth, please visit www.epa.gov.