Jenni Roop - The Benjamin Button of the Workforce: From Depleted to Rejuvenated

It has been almost two months since this new journey began and for the most part, it has been like nothing I have ever experienced before. I have been working since I turned of age to do so without parental consent and if you are familiar with the food production industry, you know those concrete floors and 50 pound bags of flour are more than unforgiving. I do miss the constant activity: the rush of a lunch shift, the rewarding feeling of tired feet, and the sizzle of a fresh, hot meal ready to be served to eager, watering pallets.

The kitchen realm is one focused on time. If you are waiting tables, your tip gets lower with every passing minute. If you are the cook, you have servers starring daggers at you to get that food on a plate. Then there is management, the jack of all trades: Creating menus, recipes, and procedures, training and scheduling multiple staff members, ordering supplies, inventory counts, surprise health inspections, covering shifts for no extra pay, whether you’ve already worked 60 hours that week or not. The worst part? Dealing with your own supervisors. You know the ones…nothing is ever good enough, nothings on time, you’re not doing enough because they can’t see your every move while you’re stuck in that boiling hot, fluorescent, concrete and stainless steel cave. When your every move is scrutinized, you get good (fast) at documenting and reporting, disciplinary action and delegation, time management, and organizing. So good, in fact, that it is engrained in every fiber of your being, making it much harder to adapt to such a laid back environment. Though the world as I knew it before becoming an Appalachian Transition Fellow was high stress and required me to have no life and little relationship with my family, the skills I have developed have been extremely useful in the work I have been able to produce with Appalachian Sustainable Development so far. (Luckily, all of my colleagues here are driven to the MAX!)

Since January 17th, the working groups have begun the decision making and planning process for their 2017 projects, I have met with the Washington County Virginia School Boards Nutrition Director to create a working bond through their backpack program, there have been clear intersections developed between ASD, First Tennessee Development District, and 2nd Harvest Foodbank of Northeast Tennessee through Senior SNAP outreach and the potential VeggieRX program, planned to pilot in Bristol. I have also completed a short side project for Sylvia Crum, the Director of Communications and Development with ASD; a NO FARMS, NO FOOD flyer for our Farm to Table themed events that can be reused throughout the year.

There has been more than enough to keep me busy each day and, for the first time in my life, I really look forward to coming to the office every day and to go home without a million pounds of stress and bitterness resting on my shoulders. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the work, that I view through previously hindered eyes, to be larger than life. Though I still have a lot to learn, I am ready and willing to use a newly developed passion and wisdom gained through hard work and constant scrutiny to make a difference in our region, our communities, and our families’ lives. With a clearer mind, rested body, and happiness in my heart, maybe those premature grey hairs will stop sprouting from my 26 year old scalp!

Hope Hart: step 1 - Orientation

If you would’ve talked to me five years ago, I never would have thought that as a new college graduate I would be greeting the new year by packing my bags and moving to Whitesburg, Kentucky, a small town in the heart of central Appalachia.

I also would not have guessed I would be taking a bus tour of Appalachia as an orientation to my new job, a year-long position at Appalshop in Whitesburg, as a part of the Appalachian Transition Fellowship.

I grew up in West Virginia my entire life, but the world of Appalachian advocacy is relatively new to me. As an adolescent I didn’t consider that my family’s views on hardship could be a part of a specific mountain ideology; I didn’t realize my grandmother’s quilting hobby or my grandfather’s love of finger pickin’ banjo music could be tied to a larger cultural narrative.

Perhaps most strikingly, I was naive to the history of oppression and exploitation this region has endured for centuries. With industries extracting our natural resources of coal, timber, and natural gas though the cheapest means possible, lacking any conscience for its negligence towards the local people and their land, it’s no wonder we’re in the position we are in. “The rest of the country treats us like we’re the cost of doing business in America,” Daile Boulis, a resident of Loudendale, W.Va., sums it up well. But there are silver linings. As we know, the world may be broken, but hope is not crazy.

We AppFellows took a tour of the region to become better oriented with the new and unfamiliar surroundings. In five days traveling the region, we visited thirteen organizations all fighting to make their communities better places for all people who live there.

In Kingsport, Tennessee we attended a conference focused on food and health in Appalachia. It was held at the Second Harvest Food Bank, an organization that processes 1.5 million pounds of donations every month. Their massive warehouse reminded me of a Sam’s or Costcos, except the shelves and freezers were full of food no one was going to have to buy to eat.

In Norton, Virginia we visited the nonprofit Appalachian Voices who is collaborating in a land study to identify who owns the land in the surrounding area. An alarming portion of land in Appalachia is not locally owned, and absentee land ownership is a huge obstacle for the economy. In 1982 a survey of 20 million acres of land and mineral rights found that almost half was owned by 50 private owners and 10 government agencies, with the federal government being the largest owner of property in Appalachia, controlling over two million acres.

In Hazard, Kentucky we met with the Community Farm Alliance (CFA) and Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, Inc. (MACED), two organizations committed to community development through food access and entrepreneurship.

Unlimited Future is a business incubator in Huntington, West Virginia who provides financial support, rental space, and training to budding small businesses to increase their likelihood of success.

Traveling to Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, we learned about What’s Next, WV, a two-year old communications effort that is actually succeeding at getting people to look beyond their differences and disagreement and actually start having productive conversations to identify problems and work towards solutions in their communities. Who knew this was possible?

We also stopped by KISRA in Charleston, who are growing the most visually satisfying and cutest lettuce I have ever seen in their farm-to-table greenhouse project, but then in Calhoun County, West Virginia, the cuteness of this historical village surpassed all expectations, the restored buildings all located in a local park and preserved by a small yet very passionate and dedicated historical society. The park is one of the few dark zones left on the East Coast, meaning light pollution is low there, which allows incredible views of the night sky. Known as the “Dark Skies Project” and the “Star Project,” one fellow is dedicating his year to updating the park to make it more tourist-friendly.

But these aren’t the stories that usually get told. Usually the only good thing I hear about Appalachia is that it’s beautiful. Our mountains, rivers, and forests tap deep into the souls of those who witness them.

But you rarely hear kind words about the people and our culture.

My new position is at Appalshop, a media, arts, and education center that’s been around for almost 50 years. My focus will be on regional communications with the hopes of strengthening our connections within Appalachia and beyond to the nation and world.

As we were in the van weaving in and out of the mountains on the tour, I kept thinking about if there’s something about Appalachia that has perhaps been overlooked, muting our struggles in the stillness of the mountains.

There’s no easy answer, but perhaps the first step is to simply share that we’re here too.

Alice Beecher: Moving Past Cynicism and Into Community

As my car curves up the crooked gravel driveway that leads to the Highlander Center, the sun dips against the Tennessee Mountains like a melting copper coin. There is something energetic, almost sacred, about walking this ground, about the history of resistance embedded in this landscape. Every time I come to the Highlander Center, my internal cynic loses another inch of her grip on my heart. At Highlander, surrounded by brilliant thinkers and organizers, I find myself really believing that a better, more just, more resilient world actually is possible.

As I embarked on a tour of Central Appalachia along with the rest of the 2017 cohort of Appalachian Economic Transition Fellows, I realized that this faith in the possibility of change is essential to building a new, democratic economy in the mountains. In many movement and organizing circles, fatalism can be contagious. In my own history as a community organizer, I have too often felt mired by the weight of confrontation. I fixate on all the systems and institutions I want to tear down, rarely focusing on creating the community and relationships essential to developing the world I want to build up. The Appalachian Transition Fellowship gives young people an incredible opportunity to both learn from and add capacity to organizations doing the slow, confusing, and creative work of imagining the future of this region. From a star park in beautiful, rural Calhoun County WV to community radio and video production in Whitesburg, KY; from an aggregation of growers and food marketers in urban Kingsport, TN, to downtown revitalization efforts in Hazard, KY, the AppFellows host sites present a diverse and creative template for a new economy in Appalachia (and across the country).

In the years I have spent organizing in and around Appalachia, I have gone on many tours of a very different nature. Tours of abandoned mountain top removal sites and toxic prisons. Tours of company stores and fracking wells, oily water and artifacts left by miners who fought and died for their right to unionize. It goes without saying that the industrial development of this region carries a heavy history. It is only the fortitude of tightly bound and proud communities that can transform the economy of these mountains from one based on extraction and exploitation to one built on collective participation and the just distribution of wealth and resources, an economy that is owned by and built for the people who live here. Of course, what that looks like in real terms is complex. As we visited the various sites, it became clear that there is no silver bullet industry that will shift the economic landscape in Appalachia. Nor should there be. A diverse, community centric, and dynamic economic ecosystem is essential to challenging the monopoly on wealth and power responsible for the poverty that exists in these communities.

As an outsider, I decided to come to Appalachia because it is the first place I’ve ever lived that felt like home. A place where my neighbors ask me about my family history, where my friends are quick to pull my car out of the ditch in the road and give me free jars of homemade sauerkraut. While we were driving back to Tennessee, my friend and Highlander staffer Samir told me that the original Greek definition of the word “economy” was “to take care of home”. While I was not born here, Appalachia is my chosen home, and to take care of this land means to plant the seeds of a slow and diligent resistance. By building up alternative economic structures that will give Appalachian people agency over their health and livelihoods, we work to contradict a history of oppression and create collective power.

Jenni RooP: Transitioning Tears - From Despair to Delight

My trip to the Highlander Center began with tears as I pulled out of the drive way and watched my husband, Brad waving good-bye with our German Shepard’s paw. On the hour and a half journey to New Market, TN., I couldn’t help, but think “What the heck am I getting myself into?” Joining the fellowship was a huge decision and, quite frankly, a leap of faith: at that moment, a very scary leap. I had no idea what to expect. I had never been part of a fellowship program or any type of group at all, really. The only thing I knew for certain was the stressful world of corporate monotony.

As I bounced up the gravel drive in my little car, the nervous tremors began. When I saw the first group of people emerging from the lodge, I avoided eye contact, smiled at the ground, whispered “Heeyyy…”, and kept on trucking inside to find my room….Oh goodness, it was like the summer camp I never experienced. We had room mates, community bathrooms, the whole nine. This was major culture shock for someone who obviously grew up under a rock. I took a deep breath, counted to 10, and reassured myself that I could totally do this. “Maybe it will help to get my things organized”…I situated my bags strategically around the side of the room that had yet to be claimed with luggage and pulled out my two comfort items: a shirt of my husbands and my daughter’s stuffed puppy named “Cuddles”.  A touch of home made this feel much better.

The first evening wasn’t so bad, especially since my mentor, Kathlyn, was there. Through the night, she was the buffer for my awkward and nervous personality. I met lots of new, very friendly folks, participated in some “ice breaker” activities, and had a wonderful dinner. Everything was going very smoothly….and then bedtime came and the Sandman took his sweet time showing up. Being away from my family at night was by far the hardest part of the tour. No bed time stories or good night kisses, no warm body resting next to me, no cold wet noses nudging me sweet dreams. Fortunately, when I did finally sleep, morning rose quickly and I was grateful for good, endless coffee and a beautiful morning view.            

As time went on and my timid nature became a distant memory, I grew ever fonder of the smiling “fellows” who I would be working with during the year. Never once did they complain, ever frown, or make me feel like “The elephant in the room.” I did that all by myself. Instead, they were friendly and always had a listening ear and great advice. I gained a healthy respect for this program and for all involved in this year’s cohort. Though we had a bumpy start due to the weather, once we got on the road, the true experience began. A long day in Tennessee at the Intersections conference on Monday became an adventure to Kentucky and then West Virginia the rest of the week, all places I have never visited before. I can’t speak for the others, but I sure did learn a lot about the wide world of nonprofits, fellowships, and other organizations involved in this work. This program has and will continue to provide us with a wealth of knowledge and grand adventures throughout 2017 and will likely be an experience none of us will ever forget, just as I will never forget the friendships forged from something that began with such dismal thoughts and homesick tears.

Now that I am home in Abingdon, Virginia, resting soundly in my own bed, accompanied by the sweet presence of my tiny family, I feel thankful. Daily, I find myself worrying about the fellows who are starting a new life in a new community. I hope they are able to call these places home for the year find comfort in knowing that they have one big support system backing them, no matter what: The Appalachian Transition Fellowship.

A Most Gracious Host (Community)

I’ve dedicated the past couple posts about the work I’m doing and now I’d like to touch just a little bit on what I think is one of the neatest things about my Fellowship experience: my host community.

(Despite what is an overall warm-and-fuzzy post, I’m not trying to win any favors here – and it wouldn’t do me much good. The pattern seems to be that even when there’s a rift, a difference of opinion, or any measure of frustration, people still find a way to work together. And that’s not something you see just anywhere.)

Most of my work happens in and around Perry County, a seahorse-shaped county in eastern Kentucky with a population of just under 29,000. The county seat and largest city is Hazard, my home for the Fellowship (and beyond?). Hazard itself has a population of something like 4,500, though both population numbers fluctuate with job availability.

The city and the county – not to mention eastern Kentucky as a whole – are abuzz with what we can generally call “transition work.” I would argue that at the center is a force. That force is the “staying spirit” – the want and urge and need to make a community that people can stay in and have their employment, educational, and social needs met.

Let me give you an all-too-brief look at some of what’s growing out of that “staying spirit” here in Perry County.

The first thing that comes to mind is our downtown revitalization group, InVision Hazard. I know that my good friend and fellow Fellow, Willa, would challenge the idea that downtown revitalization is the solution to our problems, but I do think it can be part of a solution – and not just if it’s successful. The most amazing thing about trying to revitalize downtown is how quickly it gives people a focus and a reason to come together. There’s something more tangible about the concept of downtown revitalization than “strengthening economies” or “rebuilding community.” Although a relatively new group, InVision has already hosted several successful events – including a “Haunted Harvest” for Halloween that brought as many as 700 people to downtown. But, skeptic Mae asks, what if we don’t walk away from InVision with a revitalized downtown? I will bet that we will still be better off because people came together to talk, to plan, to make, and to build – and that in itself is community revitalization.

One of the first Invision Hazard steering committee meetings ]

One of the first Invision Hazard steering committee meetings ]

Closely related to InVision is our River Arts Greenway project. The concept behind this project is to get people outside AND downtown by developing a walk alongside our river (which may ultimately also result in more cleanup efforts for the river which may lead to more watersport tourism which may lead to more restaurant demand etc etc).  Accompanying this Greenway will be pieces created by local artists representing the area’s history, heritage, hopes, and future. It is a creative project that can help lead to greater interest in the arts, the outdoors, and the area.

Drawing from an Artists Charrette for the RiverArts Greenway Design 

Drawing from an Artists Charrette for the RiverArts Greenway Design 

Another effort that, to me, indicates a way-to-stay search is the “food and agriculture movement” which is comprised of several initiatives including my own position, Farm to School, Farm to Table, Grow Appalachia, all the great work of the area Extension offices, and farmers’ markets. In the past decade or so, the “food movement” has exploded on a national scale and is often touted to perhaps be more of a panacea than reality proves, but it does offer its own piece of the solution to rampant diet-related disease and diminishing job opportunities.

Farm to Table Coordinator, Jason Brashear, helps deliver local tomatoes to a Perry County school 

Farm to Table Coordinator, Jason Brashear, helps deliver local tomatoes to a Perry County school 

Real quick, while I’m thinking about local food, I have to give a shout-out to our Treehouse Café and Bakery in downtown Hazard for two reasons:

1.      It’s one of the few places to get lunch and dinner downtown

2.      If the walls could talk, they could tell you about the countless meetings over cupcakes and coffee to plan all the pieces of the “transition movement.”

One of many community group meetings over dinner at Treehouse – this one about engaging more stakeholders in InVision efforts.

One of many community group meetings over dinner at Treehouse – this one about engaging more stakeholders in InVision efforts.

Eating and meeting at Treehouse and backing InVision, the ag/food initiatives, and so many other projects is the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, one of my hosting organizations. The Foundation is inspiring in that it promotes philanthropy not only in the form of monetary contributions – but also in “time and talent.” Their goal is to engage everyone in philanthropy and help them invest in their own community. Beyond their mission and their extensive involvement in so much that’s going on, they are also a delight to work for: watching and working alongside people who are trying to make a dream come true – and believe that you can too – is truly the best motivation. 

Check out Our Mountains' Episode 13 on YouTube for more information:


Apart from these and the many other organizations and efforts I didn’t even mention thanks to space constraints, I would cite another indicator of the staying spirit: a turnover in the local government with the most recent elections.

Audience of the Town Hall Candidates Forum for Mayor and Judge Executive. Photo by Robert Donnan

Audience of the Town Hall Candidates Forum for Mayor and Judge Executive. Photo by Robert Donnan

As with many small towns, Hazard has its share of long-term incumbency and a “that’s just the way it’s done” mindset. Our last mayor came into office in 1978 and had been there until he passed away in 2010, at which point his widow assumed office as the first female mayor of Hazard. My point is that thirty years of mayordom is a long time for anyone, living or otherwise. With this past fall’s elections, we witnessed a huge turnover in our elected officials. I can’t say for sure that I agree with all of the new officials’ visions and ideas (more research is needed), but the fact that voters decided, “Out with the old, in with the new” shows to me at least some sense of a readiness for change.

Now, I will absolutely acknowledge that in each of these efforts, there are certain people who are missing from the table. I don’t mean to claim that any one of these projects or efforts will solve all our problems. But I will assert that the work happening through each of these projects and the others I didn’t mention can be powerful, can be catalysts, and can possibly help make Hazard, Perry County, and eastern Kentucky be a place where people want to - and can - stay. 

- Mae Humiston

What is This Thing?

When the ReUse Tool Library opens this year, it will have about 550 items in its inventory. Most of those will be new, but around 200 will have been donated through the thrift store. The first step for a tool donation entering the system is to figure out what it is, who made it, and what it’s used for. All this is necessary for archiving the tool and determining its replacement value. Sometimes this is easy—a clear manufacturer name and model number plus a good internet connection means it’ll take just a few minutes to track down even the rarest object. Other times, we’re not so lucky. Often I know enough to guesstimate a few possibilities. Though just as often, I'm clueless. When desperate, we crowd source an answer from Reddit. In those situations I usually end up learning something. These tools are typically not widely used or have fallen out of fashion. Chances are they may never be borrowed from the library. But they can still tell us about the way certain activities can be accomplished and just how resourceful people can be.

Here are a few examples of some of the more interesting or esoteric tools that have come through my door.


Manufacturer: Lawrence Stationery Co.

Eyelet fastener pliers or leather punches were used, unsurprisingly, for punching holes and placing eyelets in leather. Made in New Haven, Connecticut, around the turn of the century.

Manufacturer: Oster

Model: Clipmaster 78150-013

A variable speed clipper approved for trimming horses, cattle, llamas, and goats. Might work on other animals. Figure we’ll give it a test run when my co-worker buzzes his head for the summer.

Manufacturer: Craftsman

Model: 9-4186

When drilling the hole for a dowel, a doweling jig helps guide the bit. Placing dowels are an essential part of creating joints in woodworking. Not sure what year it’s from, but here’s its instructions.

Manufacturer: Shelton

Model: Ratchet Versatool

The original combination screwdriver. Includes a Phillips-head and a wide and narrow flat-head. One eBay seller claims it was given away by the Lebanon Connecticut Business Association between 1902-1973. Based on its plastic components, I'd say toward the end of that range.

Manufacturer: Granberg Industries

Model: G-106 File-N-Joint

Any idea what this tool is called or what it’s for? It’s a file guide used for sharpening chainsaw teeth. Looks like a tedious process, but keeps you from having to purchase a new blade. Check out this video demonstrating how it’s done.

Manufacturer: Tec Imports

Model: Stickleback

A gimlet is a small hand-tool used for boring or drilling, usually into wood. This particular gimlet was made in Germany.

Part multi-tool, part Russian nesting doll, the steel and brass hammer breaks down into three different flat-head screwdrivers..

Manufacturer: Henry Disston and Sons

Here’s a pretty unique crosscut handsaw. The blade and the hardware were made by the Henry Disston and Sons company in Philadelphia sometime around 1917. The handle doesn’t seem be the original and looks to be homemade. The new design actually makes it hard to saw with….oh well.

Manufacturer: Henry H. Taylor Tools

This is a vintage (that is to say, patina’ed) set of wood graining combs. Wood graining tools are used to apply a grain like pattern in paints or glazes. These metal ones come from in Sheffield, England.

Manufacturer: E.C. Stearns & Co.

And finally, saw set pliers or a saw set tool adjust the amount a saw tooth bends away from the blade. This affects how the saw cuts and helps to keep the blade from binding.

Have any unique tool you’re proud of? Bring it by the ReUse Tool Library.

- Zach Swick



The Logistics of the Land

As noted by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), “Appalachia stands to reap substantial economic gains from the increase in foreign trade, especially with Latin America. However, failure to invest in the transportation infrastructure necessary to maintain the Region’s competitive stance and its ability to connect with the global supply chain will result in lost economic and employment opportunities.”   Appalachia has unfortunately always faced transportation challenges due to its geological makeup and sparsely populated areas.  

In the early 1800s, the National Road (aka Cumberland Road) was built by the federal government and connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers.  In the mid 1800s, the rail system proved to be a giant leap forward for transportation, but it still left many areas in the region secluded.

Even still, after 1) the Good Roads Movement (formed in the 1880’s), 2) the auto trail system (early 1900s) and eventually 3) the highway system (1926), many of the roads in Appalachia were narrow, winding and composed of dirt or gravel. This turned them into mud during winter and dust in the summer. With only two lanes that snaked through the mountains or the valleys, they were slow to drive, unsafe and worn out.

The last major transportation project the country underwent was the construction of the National Interstate. Unfortunately, this served the cross-country traffic primarily and did little to assist those who lived in the mountainous interior. Effective progress was made in 1965, however, when the ARC created the Appalachian Development Highway System.  This development connected the region to the National Interstate, resulting in economic growth to the area.

n a food system value chain, there are suppliers, producers, aggregators, distributors and wholesale buyers. Today, food suppliers in Appalachia still struggle to get their products to market due to the burden of the increased and often challenging distance between them and the buyers. This distance usually requires an enormous investment in managing and operating the transportation necessary to connect these pieces in a value chain. Appalachia, however, has only a few of these pieces in place and food hubs like Appalachian Harvest in Duffield, VA, must assume the role as both an aggregator and a distributor.

All of these factors make it difficult to find independent long term financial sustainability; therefore, the most efficient way to obtain sustainability in rural Appalachia is to foster collaboration with other food hubs, farmers, and buyers that could leverage existing infrastructure and routes. Logistics are often cited as one of the key barriers to food entrepreneurs accessing large, lucrative markets for their products.   

Solving these issues is the primary purpose of my fellowship with Appalachian Sustainable Development and Virginia Tech.  With the help of my host communities, we will support entrepreneurs and expand market accessibility by providing greater access of distribution alternatives for Central Appalachian food producers, as well as foster connections with food markets to work on innovative strategies in order to open up new markets to the consumer.

The author, Derrick Von Kundra

The author, Derrick Von Kundra

- Derrick Von Kundra

The Costs of Making, Using, and Discarding: MSW Series


"One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that 'the problem of production' has been solved. Not only is the belief firmly held by people remote from production and therefore professionally unacquainted with the factsit is held by virtually all the experts, the captains of industry, the economic managers in the governments of the world, the academic and not-so-academic economists, not to mention the economic journalists ... This mainly due to our inability to recongise that the modern industrial system, with all its intellectual sophistication, consumes the very basis on which it has been erected."

E.F. Schumacher Rhodes Scholar, Oxford economist,

and father of appropriate technology

Small Is Beautiful (1973)

 In some ways we really have solved the problem of production. For example, we can produce a lot of textiles, and cheaply. In 2011, worldwide fiber consumption topped more than 93 million tons. The scarcity of clothing that marked past ages is gone for many people. But this surplus comes at a cost: monetary, social, environmental. The World Bank projects that global urban solid waste alone will double between 2012 and 2025. Management costs of collected waste will grow from $205.4 billion to $375.5 billion. But the risks of excessive production and consumption go beyond the price tag for collecting and disposing of trash.

First, a word of caution about models—the results of studies and techniques like life-cycle assessments and economic impact analyses are not exact. The information we get is only as good as the models and data we use. These are complex situations with fickle figures and even the best model will produce unreliable results if given unreliable inputs. “Garbage in, garbage out,” as the computer scientists say; especially true in our case. So, sure, all models are wrong, but some are useful. And all the models indicate that there are serious economic and environmental consequences to extraction, production, consumption, and disposal.

Let’s look at plastics.  Last year a report was prepared for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) that tried to calculate the negative impact of plastics in the consumer goods industry on natural capital.  They came back with a global baseline estimate of $75 billion per year. As large as this figure is, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t include many factors—the end-product manufacturing stage, the opportunity cost to future generations by using non-renewable resources, microplastics in the ocean, etc.—due to technical difficulties, scientific uncertainties, and a lack of general consensus.

The report is also sector specific. At sometime in the last few decades, clothing switched from being mostly derived from renewable resources to non-renewable resources. Of all the textiles produced each year about 60% is synthetic, that is, petro-chemically based; that is, plastic. The rest is plant-based, mostly cotton. Three materials, acrylic, polyolefin, and polyester, make up approximately all of the synthetic fibers. Polyester is the majority material at 60%.  The UNEP estimates a conservative cost for plastics in the clothing and apparel industry at more than $4 billion. About half of that comes from greenhouse gas emissions. Making artificial fibers also releases water-borne emissions like dissolved solids, acids, iron, and ammonia. Production is chemically intensive. In fact, out of all chemical use worldwide, production of man-made fibers accounts for approximately 5%.

                So, we should just buy cotton clothing then? Problem solved? Well, no, that isn't really the answer either. Conventional cotton production is chemically intensive as well; 11% of all agrochemicals and 25% of all insecticides go into growing cotton even though, as of 2000, the crop only made up 2.4% of all arable land. Social and environmental effects of agrochemical use include: “fatalities, short term illnesses, increased medical costs[,]…the build up of pesticides in human and animal food chains,…[c]ontamination of drinking and ground water, the evolution of insect resistance/resurgence, pest/predator cycle disruptions, [and] biodiversity and soil fertility reduction.” Irrigation of cotton also leads to problems such as “eutrophication, salinisation, pollution, wildlife contamination, raising water tables and habitat destruction.” So the unrestrained use of a renewable like cotton isn’t a panacea. In fact, while production of polyester fiber is much more energy intensive than production of cotton fiber, cotton can have a larger ecological footprint in terms of productive area used. Plus, polyester is more durable so it can be used longer and is recyclable—recycling polyester is 84% more energy efficient and produces 77% less CO2 than creating virgin polyester.

Anyway, if these costs are significant, why don’t we account for them in our purchasing decisions? To answer that, we should consider that the recovery rate of industrial textile waste is 75% or almost five times the U.S. recovery rate for post-consumer textiles. Why is fairly simple. First, it's easier to reuse and recycle materials and products that are uniform and in large volume. A t-shirt factory can get a much better deal on the commodities market for truckloads of just t-shirt scraps than I can for a trash bag of mixed clothing. Second, manufactures feel directly the cost of textile waste. Anything that can't be sold has to be hauled away to the dump for an observable fee. In contrast, most American consumers pay for garbage services as part of taxes. For the majority of materials, whether I put a lot or a little trash on the curb does not have a direct economic effect on me.  There is little incentive to conserve, reuse, or recycle when those activities cost me more time and money than simply just chuckin' it all. What we have is the problem of a slow and nebulous connection between an action and its consequences. We have a feedback breakdown.

As such, these economic and environmental costs are classic examples of externalities and market failure. In this situation, there are two solutions: regulation and economic instruments. The first option is more commonly known. Governments impose regulations to influence behavior. However, economists are generally wary of government intervention. The second option, economic instruments, are market solutions that try to correct for market failures.  An contemporary example would be tradable carbon credits.

If economists generally agree that internalization of environmental externalities is desirable, why is so little of the impact of waste reflected in the cost of products? Part of the reason is that there still are some technical difficulties in calculating and monetizing environmental costs. But the major impediments are political ones.  Businesses' don't want higher production costs and consumers don't want to pay higher prices for products. Environmental effects of waste are typically long-term, diffused, and hard to quantify.  The effects of more regulated production and higher prices impact the bottom line now. Meanwhile, governments, the largest actors in the political area, are largely subservient to both businesses and consumers and not interested in slowing economic throughput. This lack of will makes any comprehensive environmental pricing reform in the near future highly unlikely.

                That isn't to say we should abandon attempts at political reform. On the contrary, policy-makers play a large role in inhibiting or promoting textile recycling and reuse. The only long-term structural changes will be new policies that internalize environmental and social costs. However, the challenges of managing wastes like textiles are occurring now and require near-term solutions. Luckily, there are some fixes that can be undertaken immediately. More on that later.

- Zach Swick

How Do We Talk Transitions Without Downtowns?

When people gather in conferences or workshops to talk about economic transition there are two schools of thought that I hear and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how contradicting they are.

1.      Gentrification is bad.

2.      Downtowns need to be maintained and celebrated as forces behind economic transition.

Gentrification tends to happen in larger urban areas, when struggling cities see a shift in their city planning.  Suddenly the folks who have lived in this city and called it home for years can no longer afford the living expenses of their own community because it has been taken over by a new group of people who are upper middle class.  Gentrification is dangerous because it wears the mask of “healthy transition” but the truth is that it doesn’t lift people up around it, it only expands the gap of wealth within the community but in a way that makes it harder to see.

As someone who grew up in a region that had little to no downtowns it took a while for me to grasp the concept of gentrification.  Movies, television, teachers and society as a whole have taught me as a child of rural Appalachia that urban is better.  There was never any explanation beyond that.  Cities meant vibrancy and opportunity, so hearing and seeing that sometimes people in cities don’t have any other opportunities beyond us.

So then the answer becomes how do we create more opportunity for folks?  Small downtown USA is often the answer.  There’s nostalgia from folks who either lived in these small towns when they were at their prime and there’s hope from young organizers who want to have spaces to gather with other folks and take away some of the isolating feeling that sometimes rural life gives us.  However, the history of downtowns is way more complicated than that.  In the south downtowns have a history of segregation and in central Appalachia downtowns did not appear organically, they were usually owned and operated by extraction companies.  Mill towns and coal camps became common in states like Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. 

Downtowns were part of the company.  You could work for the company and because of cost of living your entire check and then some was expected to go back to the town.  And while that was already difficult on families, it was even more difficult when the companies left and the heart of their communities were no longer there.  Now it is common to drive through Appalachia to see these towns and see empty deteriorating buildings with name plaques on them honoring outside landowners who never lived in the community.  I never had a downtown.  We called Neon a downtown, but we only spent anytime there one weekend a year for our town festival when vendors filled the streets and music played on a small stage. 

There are no restaurants, no stores except a couple of church thrift stores and in my town there is only one intersection with a caution light.  It’s frustrating then, when folks talk about downtowns being key to transition.  I can remember as a kid when I lay down to sleep I would spend my last minutes awake city planning, only I didn’t know that’s what it was called.  I would imagine cafes, shops, gyms, and courtyards with picnic tables.  I blame the Appalachian angel that is Dolly Parton for making us all believe we can come back to our towns and turn them into an oasis of miniature golf and restaurants. 

Urban is opportunity.  Downtowns are vital.  These are the ideas that were embedded in our young minds, but now I’m looking at my home community with the idea of transition.  And while I still love to daydream that one day I’ll sit in downtown neon with a group of friends in a restaurant while sharing a bottle of wine, I know that that will probably not happen.  I still think my community has chances to prosper and find a way to have it’s own healthy economy, but I don’t think we will ever find that answer by focusing on our downtown. 

If we want to talk about economic transition for rural economies than we need to let go of this idea of towns and start focusing on what these communities already have. We also have to get creative; it’s time to start using the knowledge we have and start talking more innovatively about transition for rural communities.  I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m ready to have conversations that talk about my community and not my town.

- Willa Johnson

As We Transition Our Economy, Let's Support Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Appalachians

Change is happening in our mountain communities. Recently, our region has been working towards transitioning our economy away from extractive industry, and  toward models that work for the people. Working class families across Central Appalachia have  sacrificed so much to build our nation’s infrastructure through coal mining and other resource extraction. It’s long overdue that we work to provide safe, fair, and well paying jobs to mountain people.

Just last month, my friend was a victim of discrimination and police brutality at a West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles office. Police were called after my friend, a transgender man, attempted to present his identification to register his truck, creating an “emotional disturbance” to DMV staff. The manager called a police officer to interrogate my friend about where he acquired his IDs - IDs which were legally his, but did not reflect his gender identity. The officer struck my friend, spraining his wrist, when he reached for the IDs in the officer’s extended hand. The officer said, “If you want to stop having problems at the DMV, just put MALE on your license or shave your face. If I were you, I wouldn’t come back here.”

In attempting to make a routine transaction at a state facility, my friend was accused of identity fraud, refused service, and verbally and physically assaulted by a police officer. Over a month later, he has still been unable to register his truck. Until there are safe spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming people, we must stand by and compromise our quality of life.

Historically, Appalachians have experienced a lack of safety in their day to day lives from the costs of extractive industry. The collapse of the unions, loss of clean water, homes destroyed from subsidence, and countless other violations have hindered our ability to live freely and safely in our communities . Often, there are further divisions in Appalachia due to deeply embedded racism and homophobia. Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in particular experience higher threats to their safety, often more so if those individuals are people of color. While white cisgendered people in Appalachian communities struggle with access to proper healthcare and employment, queer and non-white communities suffer further, often resulting in poor mental and physical health. According to national statistics from the Transgender Law Center, transgender people were much more likely to experience threats, intimidation, harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence than non-transgender people.

This infographic called “Walk in Our Shoes” from The Gender Book, allows you to navigate through what some transgender and gender non-conforming people experience in day-to-day life.

A Kentucky legislator has proposed a bill that would ban transgender students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. This outrageous legislation would require schools to compensate cisgender students $2,500 each time they told officials they'd shared a bathroom with a trans schoolmate. What happens when that trans person is in West Virginia, where legislators are considering a bill that would allow anyone over the age of 18 to carry a concealed weapon without permit? For a community of people who are already at a higher risk for being a victim of violence, states are eliminating safety protections for people who are targeted for hate crimes day after day.  We must speak out against these disturbing legislation proposals and demand protection.

The reality is that transgender and non-conforming members of our communities are suffering. It’s our job to demand that Appalachian transition includes protection for transgender and non-conforming people. We can do this through advocating for non-discrimination and hate crime protections, gender neutral bathrooms, and asking each other our preferred gender pronouns. And more than these policy changes, we can do the personal work calling out discrimination and micro-aggressions in our homes and workplaces, and creating a welcoming environment for all marginalized communities. In order to achieve a truly just transition, we have to fight to protect all people.

-Kendall Bilbrey

Appalachian Transition Fellow

The Alliance for Appalachia

  1. Transgender: Transgender (sometimes shortened to trans or TG) people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the physical sex they were born with.

  2. Gender non-conforming: A person who doesn’t conform to society's expectations of gender expression (male or female), but something in between or beyond.

  3. Cisgendered: A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender/sex based expectations of society (also referred to as “Gender-straight” or “Gender Normative”)

Slow Money

“Cha-Ching!” That was the sound of your money quickly vanishing into a register at a McDonalds, Arby’s or Wendy’s. You can probably correctly guess that your physical dollars are taken from that register after closing time and then deposited into a bank, or, simply counted to be added to a total and then put back into that very register to be used as change the next day. Either way, the transaction happens way too fast to give you enough time to think about where your dollars will end up metaphorically.

When you slow down to think about it, you may ask yourself: What percentage of my dollar…pays for employees’ wages? Is given out as bonuses? Is used for advertising? Is paid to Lobbyists? Is given to Special Interest groups? Is given to distributors for their service? Is paid out to farmers for their labor and their products?

You may finally ask yourself: What exactly did I just contribute to?

 If you’re starting to feel blood rush to your head and become anxious, it’s because you have given these questions too much thought. It’s okay. Just take a deep breath and slow down your heart, your mind, your food and your money. 


Slow Money, its name derived from the Slow Food movement, is aimed at organizing investors and donors to steer new sources of capital to small food enterprises, organic farms and local food systems. After the publication of Woody Tasch’s “Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money– Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered”, Tasch (pictured below) initiated the Slow Money movement from an idea that came to him while writing his book. He then formed a non-profit in Boulder, Colorado in November of 2008.

his past November, I was fortunate enough to attend the fifth annual Slow Money gathering in Louisville, Kentucky. The event featured prominent authors, farmers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, politicians, leaders and professors. The gathering also held multiple breakout sessions for intimate discussions, a showcase of budding business owners, documentaries about unique agriculture and town hall meetings that were extremely informative. 

arrived in Louisville with my family on Monday afternoon and after checking into our hotel room, I was eager to attend the conference. We headed over to the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and soon met up with some friends of ours who own Laughing Water Farm in Marion, Virginia. After a keynote speech from a co-founder of The Lexicon of Sustainability, Joel Salatin (pictured above) took the stage.

Joel, who was featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary film, Food Inc., has gained international fame for his farming techniques and practices on Polyface farm in Swoope, Virginia. I briefly mentioned Polyface in my last blog since their philosophy evolves around environmentally friendly methods, working to heal the land, giving extra care to their animals and being 100% committed to the local food system. This is actually what brought Michael to Polyface from California. Joel refused to send him food outside his local food shed. 

Joel received a well-deserved standing ovation after his speech. He was well spoken, down to earth and incredibly informative. After the applause died down, the guests made their way to the reception where we mingled with farmers, entrepreneurs, professors, students and investors. After an hour or so, the first day was over and we were off to a late dinner. We were given some recommendations for restaurants committed to local food in the city and to my surprise, Chipotle was on the list. 

The second day started off with a welcoming message from Woody Tasch and then quickly hurled into town hall meetings and a breakout session. With five breakout sessions to choose from, I ended up selecting the one titled GMOs (pictured above). If you’re not familiar with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), they are organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. Vandana Shiva, known internationally for her stance against GMO’s and globalization, spoke in great length about the importance of seed liberation and her farm in India. A personal hero of mine, it was a great honor to hear her speak and bask in her wisdom. 

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva

The last day of the conference featured entrepreneurs who were financially sustainable, but looking for new capital, which is a major aspect of the Slow Money movement, to invest in sustainable agriculture. These businesses are dedicated in preserving the land for future generations and are committed to local and sustainable markets. After I attended a breakout session with local chefs, we all went outside for a group picture. Looking at the picture below brings to mind the lessons learned, the conversations shared and the knowledge gained. It was truly a memorable experience.

- Derrick Von Kundra

Owning My Failure: Who Came to the Table?

Failure. It is a scary word. In fact, if you asked me what my deepest fears are I would say failure and ending up ordinary. I was blessed/cursed with a Type A personality- meaning I always overwork myself, I never say no, and I will bleed if it means I can achieve a goal. Failure is not something that I take lightly, nor is it something that I freely admit when it occurs.

I’ve just finished watching a video presentation from a former staff member of my Alma Mater. In the presentation, Tasha Bradley, who once ran the Black Cultural Center at Berea College spoke to the success of failure and how you cannot have one without the other. Her presentation inspired me to be honest with myself about a recent failure of my own.

A few nights ago I sat in front of a packed house, waiting to give my presentation to the community at large about UpGrade Athens County and all the amazing ideas and pieces of programming we had in store. Months of work had gone into this moment; nights without sleep, weekends spent tethered to the computer answering emails, updating websites, and creating visual aids.

There is a power to where you sit at a function. During this launch event, I sat as part of a panel of experts and leaders facing the crowd. As I sat waiting not so patiently for my turn to speak, keeping the butterflies in my stomach and the bile in my throat at bay- I had a feeling that this was it. UAC was launching this evening, we had advance to the semi-finalist stage of Georgetown University’s Energy Prize Competition and now we had less than two years to change Athens County Ohio and possibly win five million dollars. To say the stakes were high would be an understatement.

Finally, I approached the podium and looked out on a sea of faces. The first I noticed; my Father and Stepmother who had driven almost two hours just to come and support my professional life. Seeing them front and center made me extremely nervous, even with my formidable background in public speaking. More so than my parents surprise visit, I only had five minutes to introduce the public to a new service through UAC, Made possible through the network I had created as an Appalachian Transition Fellow. The service is designed to have community members call and be connected to a local energy expert (who happens to be me) who can answer their questions, connect them to financial and talent resources to carry out their UpGrades, and guide them through their energy efficiency projects.

About five lines into my prepared words I stumbled, I faltered, I embarrassed the holy hell out of myself. Why? Anyone who has ever seen me in a professional setting knows that I am a good orator and can engage and enlighten a crowd with ease… the answer came down to one sentence. UpGrade Athens County is dedicated to increasing the energy efficiency of all community members. Seems simple enough, but as I looked out onto the crowd it suddenly felt like a lie. The sea of faces I had mentioned a moment ago—not a single one belonged to a person of color. In that instant I knew that I as a Fellow and as a responsible human being had failed. 

Athens County’s permanent residents are predominately white- but there exists in our community a plethora of people of color who have made Athens their permanent home. There is also a mega house of multi-cultured engaged young people who attend Ohio University; and UpGrade Athens County, I, had failed to attack a single one of them.

I omitted that line of my speech and kept going, visibly affected by my realization for the remainder of my words. As I took my seat again, a fog came over me as I took a moment to reflect on UAC creation, planning and implementation. Why had I never realized that our entire planning committee was white only? The majority of those also retired, self employed, or generally financially stable? How could it have not come to my attention that in the six months I had been working with UpGrade Athens County I had not had an in-depth conversation, a meeting, nor even a brief interaction with any one of color, or anyone of low socio-economic standing? Here I am living adjacent to this community because even on my stable income I cannot afford the inflated rental market that Athens has due to the university, I am the low income, young, marginalized voice trying to engage in energy and this community and I literally cannot afford it—yet I have never thought to systemically change this, or even voice it, for not only myself, but for the entirety of this portion of the community that feels ineffectual.  

During this fellowship, I have been fortunate to receive countless hours of training on equality, transition, and justice. I know that for Athens County to transition their economy they must have a table representative of all aspects of their community. Yet I had done nothing to ensure this was a possibility. As I sit here writing, reflecting, I wonder if the reason I stayed silent about the absence of diversity was due to the fact that I got caught up in the ‘rat race’ of just trying to get things done as they came and never took a moment to notice—or was it because I still do not feel as though I truly belong at the table myself and thereby kept silent as to not ‘rock the boat.’ To be sure, I am the youngest member of the UAC central planning committee, I am new to Athens, and to some I am an infiltrator put here by an outside organization to ‘fix’ Athens County. Even if all the preceding facts are true, they still should not have kept me from sharing the knowledge I was bestowed by my Fellowship.

Yes, in the first six months of my fellowship I have failed to create a table in which all members of the community feel welcomed and are present. In owning my failure I hope to turn it into a success. This realization at the halfway mark will guide my remaining time as a Fellow and I will strive to not stay silent for fear of alienation but to speak up not only in my role in UpGrade Athens County, but within my other role at ACEnet and as a community member at large. I am fortunate enough to be in the political pulse. On a first name basis with mayors, commissioners, heads of area influential organizations- it is time I stop acting like an employee of these various organizations and begin acting like a Fellow.

- Carol Davey


Teaching An Old Market New Tricks

In a previous post, I mentioned that when I explain my Fellowship, I typically describe it as having two interconnected and mutually beneficial parts. One part is a communications campaign, “Breaking Beans,” to encourage the inclusion of food and farming in the discourse of transition in eastern Kentucky. The other part is the subject of today’s post: helping a high-potential, low capacity market level up.

 How are these two parts working together? The thought is that as the ideas and actions of food and farm innovators are brought to public light through the communications campaign, people will be increasingly able to visualize similar things happening in their own community. This creates a political environment friendlier to new initiatives as well as changes in systems already in place. And as communities have more ideas, there’s more worth communicating, and the mutualism perpetuates.

My work with our local farmers market is one example of a change to an existing system. Many markets in the region – and across the nation – have been trying out ways to increase access to fresh, healthy, local foods for all people. From making the market family-friendly with kids’ activities to accepting SNAP benefits and offering “Double Dollars,” there are many models to experiment with. But in order to experiment, a market needs a dedicated individual or group who can pursue the needed certifications and connections and relationships.

Historically, our local farmers market has been run by the Tourism Board. For almost a decade, Tourism has done great work building up the market, recruiting farmers, securing space, and advertising. However, the staff person for Tourism had so much more to do in their role that they were only able to do the bare minimum for the market – which doesn’t include all the things that take a market to the next level.

As more and more media stories (some of them being Breaking Beans pieces) came out about the awesome things happening at markets all around, it became increasingly clear that if we didn’t start getting creative with our market, we were going to fall behind our neighbors.

That’s where I come in. One of the goals of the AppFellows program is to increase the capacity of organizations and initiatives. And increase capacity is what I am doing. At the end of 2014, the Tourism Board announced it was stepping down from managing the market, turning it over to one of my host organizations which, as a result, meant I was the new point person. Finally, the market has a person who is paid to spend a good chunk of their time and energy on the market. A person to attempt the daunting task of applying to accept SNAP and WIC. A person to visit vendor farms. A person to work with all the media outlets to advertise for the market. A person to help move the market forward with the times.

But the plan isn’t to keep me as this person. Instead, I am currently working to help set up a board with representatives from the vendor group and the community. This group will then become the decision-makers who will guide the market into the future. Included in their decisions will be the hiring of a market manager – who will then be responsible for things such as contacting vendors – arranging trainings, marketing the market, enforcing the market rules, and being a contact for the market.

Why is this project worth an AppFellow’s time? Because ensuring the growth and prosperity of a farmers’ market serves several purposes:

1.       To provide a market opportunity for growers and crafters – a little extra cash in the pocket is a good thing, especially when the going gets rough.

2.       To increase the accessibility of fresh, healthy foods for all people – most vendors sell fruits and vegetables harvested that morning. Offering Double Dollars, accepting food benefits, partnering in a “food prescription program,” and having programs for kids enables more people to not only shop but to feel encouraged and welcome to shop at the market.

3.       To reinvigorate a sense of community. A neighboring market claims that people who visit markets have 15-20 social interactions per visit versus 1-2 interactions at a grocery story. Who knows where an increase in social interaction might lead?

4.       So much more!

My project may be focused on just one market, but success in this project means more local money, more healthy eating, and more community engagement – a model that can be used pretty much anywhere.

-Mae Humiston

Breaking Beans

Usually when I explain my Fellowship, I describe it as having two interconnected and mutually beneficial parts. One part is helping a stagnated farmers market move forward (more about that in a future post) and the other part is facilitating the creation of a visible narrative around food and farming in eastern Kentucky. The Community Farm Alliance and I are approaching this second part through an initiative called “Breaking Beans: The Appalachian Food Story Project.” This project has been garnering increasing attention over the past few months and so I decided to write about it for a guest post for the Appalachian Foodshed Project’s blog:

There’s a lot of talk about the future of eastern Kentucky. For decades, as in many other Appalachian communities, coal has been the main economic force in the area. Now, with a decline in coal jobs, more and more people are asking, “What’s next?” It can be an unpopular question politically, but it’s also becoming a question of survival. How do we stay in our homes? How do we raise our kids here? How do we make it a place they want to stay?

My question to add is “How does food and farming fit into whatever is next?”

The answer to this question is being explored through Community Farm Alliance’s initiative, Breaking Beans: The Appalachian Food Story Project. “Breaking Beans” is named after a quintessential mountain community activity in which family and friends gather around a table or on a porch to tell stories while they process endless bushels of homegrown beans. True to its name, the project works to tell the story of how local food and farming in Eastern Kentucky can contribute to a bright future in the mountains.

Over the past months, five “Community Communications Fellows” from the eastern Kentucky region have been collecting and compiling the stories of people working in the region’s food value chain. Producers, distributors, consumers, educators, organizers – all sharing their stories in an effort to bring food and farming into the discourse around Appalachia’s future. By sharing their successes, challenges, and inspirations, those featured in Breaking Beans are showing their friends and neighbors the possibilities that exist for their home communities and economies.

Kathy Curtis

Kathy Curtis

Breaking Beans is also more than just a communications campaign. The sheer act of collecting these stories is a tool to forge and develop relationships. It can be a powerful thing to listen to someone’s story; it opens the door to greater trust. As the Fellows have found, collecting stories might make you friends beyond the project itself. Wanting to help with the project, the turkey lady might refer you to the farmers market manager and the green bean man, who then each refer you to a few more people, quickly weaving together a network of food and farming leaders. With all five Fellows involved in their own ways in food and farming, Breaking Beans has the capacity to create spaces for future collaborations between the storyteller and the story collector.

Breaking Beans is also a method to help eastern Kentucky’s food and farming leaders find their voice. Telling your story can be a powerful tool, but many of us struggle to figure out just what our story is or how to best tell it. Breaking Beans gives people the chance to shape, refine, and just get that story out there. What is banal in one person’s life is an inspiration to another. For example, one quiet coal miner’s incredible story was told through Breaking Beans and it exploded on social media reaching over 12,000 people, leading to other news organizations coming to ask him for his compelling story.

So what is next? So many things are possible, and Breaking Beans is here to make sure breaking beans is a part of it all. Check out the project at

This piece was originally posted to:

- Mae Humiston

AppFellow Carol Davey Helps Athens, OH Advance in $5 Million Energy Prize!

As part of her fellowship, AppFellow Carol Davey wrote and coordinated the program plan supporting Upgrade Athens' application to the Georgetown University Energy Prize. They've advanced to the semifinals! The official press release is below. Congratulations, Carol and Athens County!

Athens County Ohio Advances in $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize

Athens County among elite communities across the nation leading the way on energy efficiency

 ATHENS, OHIO – January 14, 2015 – Today, Athens County officially advances to the Semifinal round of the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a national competition that is challenging communities across the U.S. to rethink their energy use. At a press event in Washington, D.C. today, Athens County was announced as one of the 50 communities who are leading the way on energy efficiency.

“This competition gives Athens momentum, says County Commissioner Chris Chmiel, “It is starting just as our SOPEC aggregation program is gearing up.  We will be judged on how much we improve our community’s energy efficiency over the next two years. Watch out America – Athens County is stepping up to the plate!”

 “The Athens County Commissioners as well as mayors and executives across the county, have told us that this Prize gives them the momentum to accelerate their energy efficiency efforts,” said Dr. Francis Slakey, Founder, and Executive Director of the Georgetown University Energy Prize. Slakey continued, “These Semifinalist communities are leading the way for other small- and medium-size cities and counties to secure their energy efficient future”.

 “This announcement comes after months of planning by dozens of people on an array of different committees. It’s truly a community effort,” says Paul Wiehl, the Mayor of Athens. “People are motivated. They want to save money, they want energy efficient homes, and they want to be energy independent. Every step is a positive step in that direction and we all can do it.If we all participate – the entire community wins. “

 “The competition looks truly like America,” said Dr. Slakey. “Not only do these communities come from across the map, they represent the nation’s full political, social and economic diversity.  Some are paying the highest prices for energy; some have the ambition to be carbon net-zero, but all communities share the goal of transforming America's energy future.”

 Athens will be holding its own Kick-off Event next Tuesday, Jan. 20th from 6:30-8:30 at the Athens Community Center. The UpGrade Athens County plan for how to win this competition will be explained and city and county residents can learn how they can get involved.

 Sarah Conley-Ballew is the Acting Director for UpGrade Athens County. "It's time for Athens Countians to raise their energy IQ.  UpGrade Athens County wants to bring awareness about our energy consumption, encouraging everyone to think about their energy use on an everyday basis.  We can connect people with energy efficiency upgrades to the buildings where you live, work, and play, providing innovative ways to save energy. Join the effort today, and remember: Every kilowatt counts!"

 To learn more about the Georgetown University Energy Prize and to track the competition’s progress, visit, or UpGrade Athens County at (follow the Prize on Twitter (@GUEnergyPrize) or Facebook ( and UpGrade Athens! ) . Or contact UpGrade Athens Coordinator Sarah Conley Ballew at

 About Georgetown University Energy Prize

The $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize challenges small- to medium-size towns, cities, and counties to rethink their energy use, and implement creative strategies to increase efficiency. To compete for the Prize, local governments, residents, utilities, and others will need to work together to demonstrate success in sustainably reducing energy consumption over a two-year period. For more information, visit

You can join Georgetown University for a LIVE for a Tweet chat about the Prize at 1pm EST / 10am PST on January 14th.  Follow @GUEnergyPrize and use the hashtag #GUEnergyPrize to join the conversation.

Lifting Bootstraps

Research suggests that West Virginia is expected to lose as much as 19,000 residents by 2030. According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, this decline is driven by a natural population decline, where more residents are dying than being born. Another driver is the "in" versus "out" migration of the state. The collapse of the coal industry in the southern counties, for example, has forced families to pull up stakes in search of employment in states with more economic diversity. With a smaller working age population, it is difficult to even think of developing new enterprises in the Mountain State.

West Virginia served as the engine of the industrial revolution in the United States. Today it looks as though its people, the fuel of the engine, were given little back. West Virginia has been listed as the "most depressing" state in the country and taking a drive through the rural isn't hard to see why. Driving home I will take  county route 3 between Charleston and Beckley. When descending into the valley, with the glare of chemical manufacturers in my rear view, I see abandoned gas stations, deserted mechanic shops, and rows upon rows of worn down mobile homes. There's a new diner that opened so I stop in. The walls are filled with football merchandise and tributes to the coal miner. There's a faint country station coming through playing what's hot on the weekly top 40, but what stood out most was the fact that at prime lunchtime, I am the only customer.

"How's business?" I ask.

"At first it was good, until they idled the mine," one of the owners tells me. She and her husband both own and operate the diner. They have invested their entire life savings into a restaurant that, even on a good day, gets about 7 customers.

"No one can afford to eat out I reckon." She continues.

We chat, talking about how her neighbors just left for Ohio to find work. They were a young couple with one child and one on the way. When the mine went idle her neighbors wife tried finding a job as close to home as possible. Local retail jobs, that are close to home, are coveted because it brings at least enough in to put some food on the table, a tradition of the "bust." But with only a handful of jobs in the area, retail and grocery stores have not able to afford to keep business open.

"By the time you pay bills and put gas in the tank, you're lucky to have enough to save."

The average commute to a city is an hour from the Coal River Valley. Families will schedule when to go buy food when it's time to visit the doctors office, or else risk paying more to go to work than payment received.

Four months later I would drive by that diner again, only to see the lights off and the building gutted. Another victim to economic instability.

This is not a unique story in the coalfields and thus not difficult to frame why depression is so high. With so many variables in determining how rural communities can develop in WV, one must ask the hardest questions, Can we rest on our laurels? Can we continue to perpetuate the identity of our state and its people based on a fixed point in time?

Senator Robert Byrd said, "West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it." We no longer live in the industrial age. Mechanization made manpower obsolete in the mining sector and we are now seeing the ramifications in our communities. But through all of the sacrifice and hardship, I believe there is a silver line in the dark cloud. Today science and technology, especially in agriculture, can be used in our efforts to revitalize and revision our rural communities that once pulled this nation up by the bootstraps. We can bring our children back home! We can put our people to work! But only if we can swallow that bitter pill called change, to stop looking at innovation as attack, and to accept that we have everything to lose if we cannot start truly looking forward.

- Adam Hall

Let's Go Local!

“So, I left a good job in the city, working for the man every night and day. Now I don’t lose a minute of sleep, worrying about the way things might have been."

Not long before I did though, I became eager to promote local businesses, instead of the corporate behemoths I talked about in my last blog. I’m not alone with these buying habits; in the last decade, local food has become extremely important to consumers.

Since there is no formal definition of the word local, I will use it to mean food that is grown and processed within 100 miles of their retail market. This includes retailers, restaurants, institutions, farmers market and community supported agriculture (CSA).

According to a National Grocery Association 2014 Consumer Panel (Page 15), over 87% of consumers regard the availability of locally grown produce as a very/somewhat important factor in their grocery shopping decision. They also identified that 73% of consumers make eating local foods a regular habit. To understand this recent trend, let’s look at two different publishings: A.T. Kearney, Buying into the Local Food Movement from 2013 and an article titled Ten Reasons to Buy Local Food, from the University of Vermont in 2010.

As noted by A.T. Kearney, 66% of shoppers believe that purchasing local food helps your local economy. This perception is supported with the University of Vermont’s article that states that “local food supports local families” and that “local food builds community.” Another reason noted by A.T. Kearney is that 60% of consumers believe it deliveries a broader and better assortment of products. This notion is also supported by the University of Vermont’s article, earning three of the ten available spots. They note that the top three reasons to buy local food is that “locally grown food tastes and looks better”, “local food is better for you” and that “local food preserves genetic diversity.”

Among the other social and economic reasons why consumers prefer local food, the fact is that consumers are willing to pay more for local food...

...and transition their discretionary dollars to the local food market. The USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture estimated that there were $7 Billion in local food sales for 2011. This is up from $4.8 Billion in sales from 2008. It’s no surprise then that the top two menu item trends for 2014 according to a chef survey through the National Restaurant Association (Page 14) are “locally sourced meats & seafood” and “locally grown produce” respectively.

When I joined the Fellowship last year and took one step closer to the food system, my own ideology around local food has evolved. I personally believe that supporting the local food system is more important than ever. Just like the majority of shoppers interviewed in the A.T. Kearney report, I believe that purchasing local food helps your local economy. When given directly to a farmer at a farmers market or through a CSA, not only will the farm earn more for their product, the money will stay in your region and contribute to their care of the land, instead of leaving your state and into the hands of a CEO.

When a farm adopts environmentally friendly methods, works to heal the land and gives extra care to their animals such as Polyface, then you’re doubling down on your dollars by keeping your money locally and supporting methods that are sustainable. This is the complete opposite practice of the industrial food system that supports Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that are not sustainable, create a larger carbon footprint and treat their animals very poorly.

I believe that when you support local food, you reduce your carbon footprint. You won’t be supporting a food system that requires more energy to operate (usually non-renewable) and functions on a greater distance of travel. Lastly, I believe that local food tastes better and is better for you. This is because local food is picked in its prime, when it’s the freshest, not having to worry about spoiling when shipped across the country.

Now that the fellowship has brought me one step closer in working with the local food system in my area, I’m able to understand how it works on a deeper level. I was fortunate enough that in my first week, I was able to work with Rooted in Appalachia in a pilot program to provide local food to health workers through a pop-up farmers market. With Rooted in Appalachia providing local food to restaurants in my region, I can now support local farmers and establishments when I go out to eat.

-Derrick Von Kundra