Last week, in an op-ed to the local paper, Bill Best wrote “When articles are written about Appalachia, the most frequently left-out words are "gardening" and "agriculture." Yet Eastern Kentucky was once self-sufficient in food production and could easily be again.” As true as that wording is, it is difficult to conceive that most people don't think that way at all.
I have never thought of Eastern Kentucky as a hot bed of food production but the hill folk, from the settlers on forward had to feed themselves some way. I can also relate first hand that there are many fine cooks who have made their way out of the hills. Eastern Kentuckians have survived of much more that coal jobs.
There has been a lot of talks lately about what could or should be done to aide in the relief of the region's economic problems, but they all seem to center on incentives or developments which are generally better suited to urbanized areas. A large industrial park or an outlet mall style shopping center need both population density and transportation access to be successful. These are items that the area lacks.
While progress has been made in reclaiming many a strip mine site and the coal companies conducting “mountain top removal” are required to put things back to as “natural” as they can, preparing the land for agricultural production is not on anybody's radar. Neither the coal company's nor the local's, since Eastern Kentucky is not a “farming” area.
Best points out, correctly, that the necessary skill sets are not being handed down from the grandparents, who eked out a living on poor land, or the parents, many of whom could not wait to leave the area, or the education community, which is preparing our youth for global competition. The idea that having a place to call home and having it be able to sustain its residents simply escapes many of us these days.
If east coast investors were the foundation of the coal companies that caused such damage, could it be farm investors that will begin the turn around? A Lexington based company, American Farm Investors, has been purchasing farm properties in Central Kentucky, then utilizing Kentucky farmers and selling grain to Kentucky end-users. What would prevent a similar group of investors from making agricultural land out of reclaimed land?
It may be time to redefine the box that is the concept of Eastern Kentucky agriculture.