(Pictured: 11-year-old Ailesi, seated left, a member of Refresh Appalachia community garden planning committee, listens as various aspects and options of the proposed garden are presented.)
Among Americans Helping Americans® newest partners is Coalfield Development Corporation, which supports a family of social enterprises, including Refresh Appalachia, “that inspire the courage to grow, the creativity to transform perceived liabilities into assets, and the community needed to cultivate real opportunity in Appalachia through mentorship, education and employment.”
“Our vision is Appalachian places and people unlocking their full potential, power and purpose, Together, we are rebuilding the Appalachian economy from the ground up.”
Refresh Appalachia is its agriculture-focused social enterprise that currently works in Wayne, Mingo and Lincoln counties in southern West Virginia.
“By providing training in farm and food entrepreneurship, we aim to transform the lives of young people and those displaced from the coal mining industry,” says Refresh Appalachia director Adam Hudson. “Refresh Appalachia operates like a business but also provides goods and services in places that aren’t being served by the private sector.
“To this end, as we work to build our own thriving food and farm business, we are also focused on strengthening other farm-based businesses – and communities – throughout the region.
“We do this by providing workforce training, market access and distribution services for farmers while also increasing healthy food access by creating new market outlets serving low- and middle-income people.”
Refresh Appalachia directly employs low-wealth, low-skill individuals who receiving on-the-job training which includes six hours per week of coursework towards an Associate’s Degree at an institute of higher learning. It makes a three-year employment commitment to its employees so they have the time and support they need to obtain their degree, accumulate work experience, and move from financial vulnerability toward financial resiliency.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® we were able to provide a $15,000 grant to its Food Access Resources & Employment (FARE) program which is working to create a community garden in the Fairfield neighborhood of Huntington, a low-wealth neighborhood with a high minority population and located in a food desert.
With the funding from Americans Helping Americans®, Refresh Appalachia will be able to plan and implement an educational community garden program at a community center and hire unemployed people from the community which will be used for nutrition education program.
Among the community members involved in the planning process for the garden is 11-year-old Aikesi, the only child from a female-led household in Fairfield.
Aikesi was studying at the community center before the start of Refresh Appalachia’s first community-based planning meeting where neighborhood residents were invited to take part in deciding what they would like to see.
Although Aikesi had not planned on attending the meeting, Aikesi was intrigued by the discussion, joined the meeting and became an active member of the decision-making team.
“Her voice is an important one, as the youth program being built in the Fairfield community is undoubtedly strengthened by the input of the children it will affect,” reported a Refresh Appalachia AmeriCorps volunteer. “The individuals living in Fairfield, including but not limited to Aikesi, will have access to food grown in their own community.”
She and her friends helped determine what lessons would be taught, what food will be grown, and even what the garden will be named, putting in a strong foundation in place to build an inclusive and lasting program to abate the issue of food insecurity in Fairfield.
“There is not an ag-based effort in play in the Fairfield community,” says Adam. “Through this community garden project, we will provide people with unemployment and other resources to improve their lives and wellbeing.”
And as Refresh Appalachia noted in its recent program update:
“Funding provided by Americans Helping Americans® is enriching the Fairfield Community by bringing the members together, young and old, to learn about food production. In an area characterized by lack of access, these skills provide an invaluable tool for conquering food insecurity in their neighborhood.”