On Monday, March 18, the public was introduced formally to the Appalachian Food Enterprise, an interorganizational collaboration of KISRA, Pollen8, Café Appalachia, Café Appalachia Catering and the Appalachian Food Service/Truck.
The introductory program took place at Café Appalachia on D Street in South Charleston. Visitors were able to enjoy a luncheon, as well, featuring locally grown and harvested items such as Paradise Farms garden salads, West Virginia honey-dipped garlic chicken, scalloped potatoes, sauteed squash and zucchini and carrot cake.
KISRA (the Kanawha Institute for Social Research & Action Inc.) is a faith-motivated initiative that was started in 1993 by Ferguson Memorial Baptist Church in Dunbar. Its program areas entail community health, employment, asset development and learning.
Funding for the Appalachian Food Enterprise comes through an Office of Community Service grant of nearly $800,000 awarded to KISRA through the Department of Health and Human Services last year, earmarked to establish a food hub that will promote community health, support local food production/farm enterprises and create jobs throughout the community.
At the gathering, KISRA CEO Reginald E. Jones discussed the Appalachian Food Enterprise initiative’s origin and the far-reaching impact he anticipates it having.
“KISRA, along with Pollen8, two nonprofits who are serving similar populations and have similar visions, decided to come together to make a larger impact than either individual organization could do on their own,” Jones said.
He said the initiative is designed to create a network of social enterprises focusing on healthy food access and “creating job opportunities for populations that are traditionally difficult to employ, like folks coming out of prison, re-entry populations, folks coming out of substance abuse recovery. We’re really targeting low-income, TANF folks, trying to get people off of the system and getting them trained with some employable skills that will make them marketable in the food sector.
“At the same time, it will be addressing many of the healthy food access issues we have across the state,” he said, mentioning the lack of access to healthy foods, chronic diseases and obesity as examples.
“Overall, the goals of the collaboration are to create those jobs,” Jones said. “We’re going to be creating 46 jobs over the course of the next three years.
“Ideally, we want to take a seed, put it in the ground, follow it all the way to the point to where it’s being distributed in a venue like the Café, a catering business, a food truck, all ventures we’re going to be opening in the near future, but also providing training and job employment opportunities along that entire continuum.
“It’s really ambitious, but we think it’s an impactful idea that will really address a number of social issues that the state’s suffering with right now,” Jones said.
The Appalachian Food Enterprise network will specialize in bringing food from farm to table from local sources. Café Appalachia will use the organic produce — most of which is grown at KISRA’s Paradise Farms — and other food items.
“The Café brings people from all walks of life to the same table of life, so to speak,” Pollen8 Director and Café Appalachia founder Cheryl Laws said. “In addition to promoting fresh and healthy meals, the Appalachian Food Enterprise will help foster a greater sense of community.”