Union College to host Roundtable on Food Economy of Eastern Kentucky

Published on
May 19, 2014

Union College will host the Roundtable for the Food Economy of Eastern Kentucky on Friday, May 23, as it is the final site for a three-day Kentucky Food System Tour conducted by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

“We are pleased to host the ARC Food Summit on Union’s campus,” said Union President Marcia Hawkins. “It is a privilege to work with ARC and community leaders to advance the economy and health of Eastern Kentucky.”

The roundtable will be held in the Kenneth L. and Sarah K. Ramsey Health and Natural Sciences Center from 1:30-3 p.m. Those wishing to attend are encouraged to arrive between 1-1:15 p.m. to have a chance to visit informally before the session begins.

The roundtable is the culmination of three days of visits across eastern Kentucky that will examine how a vibrant local food system can promote food access, nutrition, and health; foster entrepreneurship; and help strengthen and diversify the local economy. The Kentucky tour is itself part of a series of food economy tours that ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl has been making across the 13-state Appalachian region.

The Kentucky tour has been especially designed to explore the links between the economic development dynamics of a local food system and effective strategies for addressing Appalachia’s particular food access, nutrition, and health needs. Twin questions have set the framework for the tour: How are communities building on aspects of the local food economy to address larger questions of nutrition and health? How can solutions to these larger access and health questions help build a strong local food economy? The trip has also sought to place these emerging food economy developments and opportunities within the context of SOAR, Eastern Kentucky’s initiative for creating a stronger regional economy. Roughly half of the trip is being spent in the federally designated Promise Zone; there are stops in four of the eight Promise Zone counties.

Through a focused discussion among a diverse and experienced group of local food experts from across Kentucky, the roundtable will expand on these themes to help ARC and other federal agencies gain a better understanding on what efforts are being made – and what efforts still need to be made – to grow the local food economy in Appalachian Kentucky.

Gohl will lead the roundtable and will be joined by representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Representing Union at the roundtable is Dr. Amanda Fickey, who is the Coordinator of Appalachian Studies at the College.

“The Appalachian Studies Program is committed to improving the economy and health of our Appalachian region,” said Fickey. “Supporting the diversification of the local food economy is an important part of this commitment.”

Expected participants in the roundtable include: (State and Local Stakeholders): Dr. Amanda Fickey – Coordinator of Appalachian Studies, Union College; Tony Wilder -- Commissioner, Kentucky Department for Local Government; Jerry Rickett – Chief Executive Officer, Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation; Martin Richards – Executive Director, Community Farm Alliance; David Cooke – Director, Grow Appalachia; Aleta Botts – Executive Director, Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD); Gerry Roll – Executive Director, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky; Dr. Connie White – Deputy Commissioner of Clinical Affairs, Kentucky Department for Public Health; Daniel Wilson – Wolfe County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, SOAR Agriculture Working Group Chair; Marian Guinn – Chief Executive Officer, God’s Pantry Food Bank; Deanna Tackett – Director, Division of School and Community Nutrition, Kentucky Department of Education; (Federal officials:) Earl Gohl – Federal Co-Chair, Appalachian Regional Commission; Tom Fern – Kentucky State Director, Rural Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Dr. Jennifer Seymour – Senior Scientist for Policy Initiatives, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Dennis Bega – National Director of Regional Operations /Office of Communications and Outreach with the U.S. Department of Education (invited).

Staff for Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and for Congressman Hal Rogers are being invited.

The Kentucky tour is the 12th Appalachian state ARC Federal Co-chair Gohl has visited expressly to examine work in the local food economy. The trips have ranged widely across the major elements of a vibrant local food economy: farmers markets, food aggregation and distribution systems, grower cooperatives, culinary training programs, FFA chapters, specialty food producers, agritourism, farm to school programs, technical assistance providers, and agricultural business lenders. The goal has been to learn ways communities are using their local food system to create a stronger economy. While a number of the stops have received ARC support in the past, the trips have examined successful activities regardless of funding source, and many of the visits have not received direct ARC support.

Over the past 10 years, ARC has invested $7.6 million in food systems-related projects. In doing so, ARC and communities across Appalachia have discovered the valuable role that vibrant local food systems can play in diversifying the economy, strengthening the regional workforce, and creating local wealth. This roundtable will serve as part of a region-wide conversation around how Appalachian communities are using local food systems to strengthen their economy, create jobs, and foster economic and community development.

Boosting local food systems is one focus of the White House Rural Council, an interagency group created by President Obama to strengthen the economy of Rural America. Other federal agencies have been represented on many of the ARC food system tours, and three other federal agencies will be joining ARC for portions of the Kentucky tour.