The old days when good, $15 an hour jobs mining coal were readily available in Southeastern Kentucky are long gone. Nowadays the big employers are Wal Mart, Cracker Barrel, and CSX (formerly L&N Railroad.)
You’ll work your fingers to the bone and make 16k per annum, if you’re lucky. Now the state of Kentucky is starting to come to its senses and reevaluate its natural resources in the Bluegrass state.
Earlier this week, state Agriculture
Commissioner James Comer announced the marketing initiative Appalachia Proud: Mountains of Potential. It could be big.
Eastern Kentucky has some of the richest, most fertile soil in all of the Americas. The cannabis grows strong and tall; the corn is sweet like sugar candy, and you simply have not eaten til you’ve had a plate of shucky beans that a little old granny woman has uprooted out of the black soil.
Sadly, when you stroll the aisles of a local Kroger or IGA Foodliner you won’t find a speck of Kentucky produce. It’s all brought in from Florida, Colorado or Texas. In the height of corn season all the regional grocers trumpet “Colorado Corn!” with handmade signs.
That’s about to change.
Appalachia Proud is a marketing campaign designed to coax vendors into using local farmers instead of bringing in out of state goods and vegetables. Further, the president of the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation David Ledford has discussed building a conservation and education center in southeastern Kentucky utilizing a reclaimed coal strip mine.
This would provide a venue for local farmers to vend their fresh vegetables.
There are hundreds of thousands of acres of land reclaimed from old coal mines dotting the Southeastern Kentucky landscape.
Currently, if you want fresh, local vegetables in towns like Corbin, Barbourville or London you have to go to a flea market where you’ll hopefully stumble upon a farmer amongst the coon hounds, Taiwanese hand tools and cotton candy sellers.
Well, apparently Comer hasn’t visited a roller rink or a quick mart parking lot in Eastern Kentucky in a good long while as “Kentucky Bluegrass” is readily available, and freshly harvested from the good Kentucky soil in just about every town in the entire state.
Legal? Not even close, but as a cash crop Marijuana long ago replaced King Corn. If you live in a holler in Bell County, Kentucky and the only job anywhere nearby is working a quick mart for $7 per hour, you very well may head into the hills around Spring time to sow your seeds and wait for October when you can sell your product on the open market for 5-7K per pound.
Industrial hemp on the other hand is preparing to make a comeback.
Higher education is getting on the bandwagon as Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, University of Louisville, Murray State University and University of Kentucky are going all in with tie-ins to research plots that will be grown state-wide.
Do not expect Kentucky to join Washington or Colorado anytime soon with legal cannabis but even the baby step of legalizing industrial hemp is a big deal in a state as retrogressive as Kentucky.
My grandmother Nellie Sullivan grew hemp in Knox County, Kentucky before the feds stepped in back in the 40s and told her to turn her attention to corn and tomatoes. She lamented losing one of her prime cash crops but did as she was told.
Can Appalachia Proud duplicate the success of similar programs like Food We Love in southeast Ohio, Appalachian Harvest in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee, Greenbrier Valley Grown in West Virginia, and Appalachian Grown in eastern North Carolina?
Time will tell but it is gratifying to see Kentucky making attempts to rescue its moribund, coal industry-tied economy.
Everybody can’t get rich selling weed but there are plenty farmers, honey producers and ginseng harvesters in the Cumberland Highlands who could use a hand getting their goods to market.