Big Sandy chapter hosts sixth annual Growing Appalachia conference

Sharing ideas about community!On Saturday March 21, more than 80 people from around eastern Kentucky came to the sixth annual Growing Appalachia conference in Prestonsburg, which is a day of workshops about small-scale farming, energy efficiency and renewables.

Workshops were organized so that whatever scale you were working at or whatever your interest was, there was something for everyone that day. Covered topics included beginning beekeeping, learning about the cooperative business model, planning your home garden, a discussion on growing our own clean energy future in the mountains, soil building and nutrient management, do-it-yourself energy efficiency, seed saving, and more!

In addition to gaining practical skills and knowledge in the offered workshops, lots of people came to the conference for the chance to get to talk with people from around the region and to continue to build community. “I liked being around like-minded people. People who are interested in and care about the same kinds of things. That was the highlight for me,” said Holly Niehoff, who came from Rowan County.

Will Bowling, a farmer from Clay County, sees the conference as a way to make connections with those who are already farming and to also inspire others who aren’t to get involved in agriculture. “Some of the bigger things are networking to get commercial agriculture growth in the region, beyond farming for yourself but growing a little extra to market to others. Helping people to understand the economic opportunities in farming and talking to people and seeing what they’re doing.”

Others were excited to learn about the possibilities of renewable energy and energy efficiency in the region. After attending the Greening Our Schools workshop where presenters heard from a representative from Richardsville Elementary, the first net zero school in the country, Willis Newsome of Floyd County talked about the potential for similar projects in this region. “I loved the solar thing. I loved the concept, the school being self-sufficient. I reckon that education could be built into it. I’d hope Floyd County would look into it. It would be a good mindset and good for our community to see how it works.”

Bill Best displays his heirloom seeds for folks.Organizers of the conference were excited to have Bill Best of the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center in Berea, who is known for his work with heirloom fruits and vegetables, give the keynote address this year. Mr. Best talked about the history of seed saving, how it nearly died out, and people who saved seeds out of necessity helped to maintain the genetic diversity of the region’s beans. For those who are interested in learning more about seed saving or getting heirloom seeds of your own, Mr. Best and others will be participating in the Appalachian Seed Swap on Saturday, April 4 in Pikeville. More information can be found on the Facebook group page.

Many folks are interested in keeping the conversations and good work of the conference going all year long. With that goal in mind, additional workshops have already been scheduled for the coming months. On April 14, the Letcher and Harlan County chapters have partnered with the Letcher County Farmer’s Market for a Good Agricultural Practices training to be offered in both Letcher and Harlan counties. And in May, there will be two workshops offered in Floyd County: Getting Started Keeping Chickens and Gardening in Urban/Small Spaces. For more information, visit the event pages on the KFTC calendar.

This year’s Growing Appalachia conference was organized and hosted by the Big Sandy Chapter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and cosponsored by MACED, Community Farm Alliance, Grow Appalachia, the Floyd County Farmer’s Market, Appalachia Roots, and HF Farms. Special appreciation is due to the planning team and to all of the workshop presenters and panelists who generously donated their time and expertise.