Saturday, November 6, 2010

Red Bird Farmers Project – Improving Nutrition and Food Security

Nutritious food is often difficult to obtain by poor residents of remote communities in Appalachia. In Bell, Clay, and Leslie counties, KY, the result is high reliance on government assistance, as well as very high prevalence (top quartile nationally) of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

To help people of this area improve their nutrition and their ability to meet their own food needs, Red Bird Mission hosts the Red Bird Farmers Project.  This project includes a farmer's market, jointly owned farm and food preparation equipment, and training classes.  It also includes two major grants helping expand local food production. 

The first is Heifer International.  Red Bird Mission received a grant from Heifer to increase local livestock production.  A group of about 25 farmers attended the required training to obtain animals. The training included such topics as space and fencing requirements for each type of animal, amending the fields to make them safe and healthy for the animals, caring for the animals, and budgeting to make sure you’ll make money raising the animals.  Some of the farmers have even attended regional and national training. There they’ve networked with experienced farmers who are eager to answer questions for newer farmers.

The group decided to concentrate on chickens, goats, and cows. At the beginning, almost everyone wanted cows.  But as the participants learned that not all land in the area can sustain cows without having to buy large amounts of supplemental feed, they came to realize that goats or chickens might be more appropriate.

Through Heifer, money was available for farm improvements like chicken houses and fencing, as well as to buy the animals. When one of the members of the group thought they were ready to purchase animals, more experienced people from the group inspected the farm to make sure the requirements for their desired animals were met. Only then could they get the money to buy their animals.

A Heifer project participant’s commitment doesn’t end when the animals arrive. Each farmer’s contract specifies that they must “pass on” equivalent animals to someone else in the group as soon as their animals have reproduced and they have them to provide.

Farming is a family business

The 3 ½ year Heifer grant is expiring at the end of this year, but the Farmer’s Project will continue the program. What won’t be provided, though, are funds to get the farms ready to house the animals. Now farmers will need to come up with this funding themselves.

We visited Rodney (pictured here with his father), who had obtained goats for his farm through the Heifer International grant. He also received funding for a hen house that he’d designed himself, and says works just the way he wanted it to. Rodney was definitely an animal lover, and his animals appeared to be healthy and well fed. He said his female goats were all pregnant.

Rodney has become quite an entrepreneur, not only raising goats and chickens, but also growing seedlings in the spring for local gardeners and running a feed and veterinary supply store for other local farmers so they all don’t have to drive the long distance to town. He raises hay for his animals, and sells about 4 dozen eggs per day from his chickens.

Stacia Carwell with
gardener Dwayne
The second major grant in the Farmers Program is Grow Appalachia, a program that encourages local production of vegetables. Grow Appalachia is funded by John Paul DeJoria, CEO and founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems, Inc. In partnership with Berea College, Grow Appalachia was managed at Red Bird Mission by Garden Project Coordinator Nancy Seaberg.

This was the first year of Grow Appalachia. About 29 people, families, or groups participated, many of them gardening for the first time. About 2/3 of the participants live on less than $700/mo. Others, like Dwayne (shown here with Stacia Carwell, Familiy Ministries Outreach Manager), were experienced gardeners who wanted to be a part of the program and served as resources for the less experienced members.

Grow Appalachia participants attended classes, and received locally grown seeds and plants. They received tools if they needed them, canners and jars at the preserving class, and fruit plants for a low price at the class on fruits.

All told, the participants in this first year of Grow Appalachia produced about 600 bushels of produce, and all of the participants want to continue next year!

Nancy Seaberg, gardener Sue, and rototiller Carolyn
Nancy put us to work rototilling to put one of the gardens to bed for the winter. This garden was at the senior apartments and had been divided into 5 plots. A few green pepper plants were still bearing in one corner, so we left that area untilled.
We also got a chance to talk to one of the gardeners. Sue was very happy with her garden. She had harvested lots of green beans, many of which were now in her freezer, and she had also shared a good portion of her produce. She is eager to garden next year, but wants her plot to be next to a friend’s plot. It turns out she likes hoeing, but not planting, and her friend likes planting but not hoeing.

We feel that Red Bird Farmers Project is a great example of the leverage Red Bird Mission achieves by partnering with other programs such as Grow Appalachia and Heifer International, bringing new opportunities for nutritious food and self-sufficiency to residents of the Red Bird area.

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