TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
You and Me Coffee and Tea in downtown Corbin was a sea of local, regional, state and federal representatives Tuesday afternoon.
To spread a little good cheer to the community by announcing the Corbin area was one of four designees nationwide to receive a chunk of $250,000 in grant funds.
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded technical assistance and implementation support through the $250,000 Livable Communities program.
Sandi Curd, the chairwoman for the Whitley County Farmers’ Market, said the county’s farmer’s market “had a wonderful year” and were able to open “a third venue in Corbin.”
“But we have big dreams — big dreams for a year-round market,” Curd said.
And with these grant funds — that dream is one step closer to reality.
ARC Federal Co-chair Earl F. Gohl spoke to the group of about 35 Tuesday about the grant monies.
“These four communities (including Corbin,) will receive technical assistance to help support the work they try to do,” Gohl said, adding that later a smaller grant for project implementation may be available.
“As (the farmers’ market) expands, it will strengthen the local economy,” he said. “And (it) will really help not only support the growers but also the downtown (area).”
The assistance and support will help these communities improve their livability by promoting economic development while safeguarding the natural environment.
The 2013 program focuses on developing local food systems as a means of revitalizing traditional downtowns and promoting economic diversification. Selected communities drew on the help of their local development districts or their local university or community college to submit their winning applications.
Through the Livable Communities program, a team of small town development experts will work with each community to develop achievable plans for the local production, distribution, and consumption of healthful foods. The plans will support reinvigoration of downtowns and traditional neighborhoods in a variety of ways, including locating farmers’ markets or food hubs in “Main Street” areas.
An example would be the newest of three summer farmer’s markets set up in downtown Corbin.
“There is a growing momentum for the idea of integrating local food systems into rural economic revitalization efforts,” said USDA Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O’Brien. “Local foods are a critical component of creating stronger, healthier communities. These projects, along with the Livable Communities Partnership between EPA, USDA and ARC, show how innovation and cooperation are absolutely essential to successful community development. “
EPA Agriculture Adviser to the Administrator Sarah Bittleman was also on hand Tuesday to promote the grant monies.
“It’s exciting that so many Appalachian communities have a renewed interest in revitalizing their downtowns by promoting local food systems,” Bittleman said. “Focusing development in downtowns and existing neighborhoods is good for the natural environment and human health because it helps preserve rural lands and makes it easier for people to walk, bicycle, or drive shorter distances to their destinations.”
The goal for the EPA is the promotion of healthy people in a healthy environment, Bittleman said.
“We want to create healthier people and create a healthier environment,” she said. “It’s our bread and butter that we try to strive for every day — (we’re) thrilled to be a part of this process.”
O’Brien agreed. “We support that vision,” he said. “Government is at its best when it’s led by you.”
They explained that Corbin was selected for a project to expand its seasonal outdoor market into a year-round local food network hub in downtown Corbin.
Whitley County Farmers’ Market is a small market of about 30 vendors in a mainly rural county that includes the cities of Williamsburg and Corbin. It has achieved steady growth over the seven years of its existence.
However, to expand, the Farmers’ Market must develop ways to market local foods not only to individuals and families during the summer, but also to institutions and businesses in the county, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, state parks, and restaurants year-round. This project will help meet the technical and organizational challenges associated with this expansion.
Also on hand to hear the news was Gerry Roll, with the Appalachian Funders Network.
She said this would help throughout the Appalachian region, “and lift our community out of the poverty this area is known for.”
“People make (these things) happen — money makes it happen faster,” Roll said.
Gohl said the grant funds will be approximately $18,000-$25,000.
Curd explained the next step is to prepare a business plan — the grant monies will cover the expenses associated with preparing that plan.