A look at the growing number of grassroots organizations focused on serving nutritious food and creating jobs for people in recovery.
A unique initiative growing in the Ohio Valley is hitting at more than one issue plaguing the region with one all-encompassing goal: to hire people in recovery to grow and serve nutritious food to the community.
“[In West Virginia] we have the highest rate for obesity, and we have the highest rate for overdoses,” said Cheryl Laws, CEO and founder of Pollen8, one organization participating in the regional agriculture and food service project known as the Appalachian Food Enterprise (AFE). “But what we’re trying to do with the Appalachian Food Enterprise is take that negativity and show how to fix it.”
Last October, the AFE received a $760,000 federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, WFPL reported. The goal of the program is to create 46 jobs over the next 3 years for people in recovery from substance use disorder or coming out of prison, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
These “re-entry populations” often have a hard time finding a job. By training and employing them in farming and food service, they are being empowered with marketable skills and are provided a community as well.
“So not only are we really working to increase healthy food access, we’re also working to address the issue of finding jobs for individuals who are coming out of recovery, and who are coming out of prison,” said Reginald E. Jones, CEO of the Kanawha Institute for Social Research & Action. “If we do not hire them, they’re still a marketable person because of the skills that they developed along that continuum.”
One example is Gro Huntington, an urban farm based in Huntington, West Virginia. The non-profit operation, which provides fresh food to farmers markets and restaurants, is managed by people in recovery from local treatment facilities.
DV8 Kitchen is a restaurant in Frankfort, Kentucky whose recovery-driven mission has been covered by NBC News, The New York Times and more. Nearly every staff member at DV8 is in recovery, down to owner Rob Perez (28 years in recovery). The restaurant’s dedication to their staff’s recovery is clear—they close the kitchen early so staff can make therapy appointments, and they require staff to live in sober housing while they are working there.
Cafe Appalachia is another example of a grassroots enterprise promoting nutritious food, recovery and job opportunities. It is comprised of a restaurant cafe located in South Charleston, West Virginia, an urban farm in nearby Dunbar, and soon a food truck and catering business. Staff begin their training at Paradise Farms, where they learn about farming, and then learn how to work in food service at the cafe.
“The idea of the enterprise as a whole is that we want to be able to take a seed, put it in the ground, grow it, harvest it, process it, and get it out to the social enterprises, like the cafe, like the catering business, like the food truck, and create training opportunities and jobs along that entire continuum,” said Jones.
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