Berea College's Grow Appalachia partners with national organizations to support wellness hubs

Posted at 7:27 PM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-07 19:43:44-04

BEREA, Ky. (LEX 18) — Grow Appalachia has been supporting people in central Appalachia who deal with food insecurities. They do this through community gardens, education and nutrition programs, and partnerships with area farmers. Now, they are expanding their reach even further.

Program Manager Martina Leforce says, "What we're really looking at is helping families build household food resiliency and community food sovereignty through at-home food skills that then can translate into farmers markets and then value-added kitchens."

Grow Appalachia is partnering with the National Recreation and Parks Association and the Walmart Foundation to bring more wellness hubs — working with partners in Berea and Whitesburg. Wellness hubs will support farmers markets, providing tokens for youth to buy from farmers, serving free and local meals to youth, teaching food skills, and mentoring new hubs across the country.

"I'm really looking forward to the next 18 months of this work because we're really focusing on not just doing the work but getting these stakeholders and partners together and understanding where is that alignment in our work? How do we support each other, share resources?” says Leforce.

This project's leaders say in addition to getting new wellness hubs — their goal is to get families in this area food security and independence.

“Food insecurity can take on a lot of different forms. For example, there might be food in the house, but is it fresh food? Is it nutritious food? Do families and youth have the opportunity to learn how to grow their own food,” says Leforce.

Martina LeForce says she was once a single mom. She knows that a family’s food budget can get tight. She wants families to know how to support their own food needs and where to get fresh food locally. Berea Farmers Market's president says this program allows them to double food vouchers for seniors, WIC, and children.

"Yeah, it's really good that we get those fresh fruits and vegetables into those hands of those participants and everything and we’re very fortunate and we're glad that we're able to do that,” says Berea Farmers Market President Rene Poitra.

Leforce says food insecurity doesn't have a face. Anyone can experience it. She says she wants communities to work together to address these issues and give everyone access to fresh foods.

"It's just really important for a community to see that, no matter what, our program is going to be there to show up for them and that they can bring home the resources that we have and then create joy for themselves in any way possible,” says Leforce.