Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rural Action Leads Partnership to Bring Fresh, Local Produce to Rural Seniors

KILVERT, OH - In Kilvert, Ohio – a town too small to even call a village – locals are receiving fresh, local produce delivered right to their doorsteps thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of regional partners in Athens County, Ohio.

Susie Parsons, the head volunteer at the Kilvert Community Center, lit up with a smile as Rural Action Sustainable Agriculture team members brought in local fruits and vegetables fresh from the Chesterhill Produce Auction last week. Tom Redfern, Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, and Joe Barbaree, the Sustainable Agriculture AmeriCorps VISTA, hauled two car-loads full of produce over winding country roads to the small, historically significant Appalachian community for a delivery loaded with everything from sweet corn straight out of the field to tomatoes grown along the Ohio River.

While this certainly isn’t the first donation to make it to the Kilvert Community Center, it’s some of the best produce they’ve seen. “This produce is always in good condition because it comes from the Chesterhill Produce Auction,” mentioned Parsons. Upon arriving, all of the food was divided equally to be sent out to elderly citizens in the community and those in the surrounding areas. In all, 100 senior community members in food deserts – areas without easily accessible fresh foods – would soon have quality meals for the next week delivered to them by folks from the community center.

This recent round of fresh, local produce from the Chesterhill Produce Auction was only possible through the collaborative work of local businesses and organizations. Bob Fedyski, Local and Institutional Foods Specialist at Rural Action, partnered with Donkey Coffee and Espresso in Athens to make the donation a reality. As the small coffeehouse in the college town of Athens approached its ten-year anniversary, Fedyski worked with the business to set up a raffle with proceeds going to purchase food from the produce auction to be donated to local groups. Raffle participants could win free coffee for one month from Donkey, and citizens with limited access to fresh, healthy foods would see farm-fresh produce on their plates.

Participation in the raffle brought in $150 for the produce purchase and left the winner, Lisa Mieskowski of Athens fully satisfied helping the community. “When I saw that Donkey was taking donations for Rural Action during their anniversary week, I was more than happy to donate to help another movement working to bolster rural areas,” said Mieskowski. “Now that I’ve been named the raffle winner, I get a reminder with each free cup of coffee how businesses in Athens take an active role in giving back to the community.”

If all goes accordingly, deliveries will happen regularly as other businesses and groups partner with Rural Action and the Chesterhill Produce Auction to make donations to Kilvert and other areas in which fresh food is scarce and transportation to reach grocery stores or farmer’s markets just isn’t possible. For many of the residents in Kilvert and similar areas, food choices often amount to mainly processed foods. For an isolated community such as Kilvert, transportation miles away to Athens and other food hubs isn’t always an option.

The Kilvert community has a deep history of coal exploitation and exclusion from other towns and government attention due to extensive mixed race ancestries. All of this created and sustained deeply imbedded poverty that exists to this day, but alongside a strong sense of self-sufficiency and resilience. The Kilvert Community Center itself is a simple building that has seen a harsh, complex past. It has survived natural as well as man-made disaster. Fires and government cuts have made an already difficult undertaking every bit harder. And it’s a theme common for the majority of the Kilvert community and those surrounding.

So when Susie Parsons sees beautiful produce flood the floor of the community center, she’s grateful and proud of the fresh produce she knows is grown in the surrounding communities. What she sees isn’t free food – it’s food intentionally sourced from quality, local producers in order to build upon a complex chain of producers, buyers and community supporters. It isn’t charity she sees – it’s a beckoning for all to join and build a stronger community. It isn’t a bandage she sees – it’s a chance for the entire community of Kilvert to see lasting change as the result of a strengthened, proud local economy.

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