Breaking Beans

This post was contributed by Mae Humiston.

There’s a lot of talk about the future of eastern Kentucky. For decades, as in many other AppalacBOW1027A(2)webhian communities, coal has been the main economic force in the area. Now, with a decline in coal jobs, more and more people are asking, “What’s next?” It can be an unpopular question politically, but it’s also becoming a question of survival. How do we stay in our homes? How do we raise our kids here? How do we make it a place they want to stay?

My question to add is “How does food and farming fit into whatever is next?”

The answer to this question is being explored through Community Farm Alliance’s initiative, Breaking Beans: The Appalachian Food Story Project. “Breaking Beans” is named after a quintessential mountain community activity in which family and friends gather around a table or on a porch to tell stories while they process endless bushels of homegrown beans. True to its name, the project works to tell the story of how local food and farming in Eastern Kentucky can contribute to a bright future in the mountains.

Over the past months, five “Community Communications Fellows” from the eastern Kentucky region have been collecting and compiling the stories of people working in the region’s food value chain. Producers, distributors, consumers, educators, organizers – all sharing their stories in an effort to bring food and farming into the discourse around Appalachia’s future. By sharing their successes, challenges, and inspirations, those featured in Breaking Beans are showing their friends and neighbors the possibilities that exist for their home communities and economies.

Breaking Beans is also more than just a communications campaign. The sheer act of collecting these stories is a tool to forge and develop relationships. It can be a powerful thing to listen to someone’s story; it opens the door to greater trust. As the Fellows have found, collecting stories might make you friends beyond the project itself. Wanting to help with the project, the turkey lady might refer you to the farmers market manager and the green bean man, who then each refer you to a few more people, quickly weaving together a network of food and farming leaders. With all five Fellows involved in their own ways in food and farming, Breaking Beans has the capacity to create spaces for future collaborations between the storyteller and the story collector.

Breaking Beans is also a method to help eastern Kentucky’s food and farming leaders find their voice. Telling your story can be a powerful tool, but many of us struggle to figure out just what our story is or how to best tell it. Breaking Beans gives people the chance to shape, refine, and just get that story out there. What is banal in one person’s life is an inspiration to another. For example, one quiet coal miner’s incredible story was told through Breaking Beans and it exploded on social media reaching over 12,000 people, leading to other news organizations coming to ask him for his compelling story.

So what is next? So many things are possible, and Breaking Beans is here to make sure breaking beans is a part of it all. Check out the proAnneBaysMemeBOWject at


SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAMae Humiston serves as the Appalachian Transition Fellow with Community Farm Alliance, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, and Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Originally from Rockbridge County, Virginia, she left the area to attend Tufts University in Boston. There, she focused her Anthropology major on studies in food and farming, doing her fieldwork on Boston-area farms. After writing her thesis exploring the meaning of “local” in “local foods,” she graduated in the spring of 2013 and returned to Virginia. Continuing to focus on food and farming issues, Mae has done work on a farm and at a flour mill, as well as volunteered with the Virginia Association for Biological Farming.