Federal, State Officials Applaud Rural Resources, Which Needs Funds
BY MICHAEL S. RENEAU
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
Sally Causey and her staff at Rural Resources probably never thought they'd have to show a presidential appointee from Washington, D.C., where their outhouse was, but this week they did.
Earl F. Gohl, whom President Barack Obama appointed as the federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in 2010, visited Rural Resources Wednesday with a host of other local, state and federal officials.
The visit comes as Causey and Rural Resources have applied for several grants and loans to fund a new building at Rural Resources to replace the facility destroyed by a fire in 2009.
With his tie loosened and shirt collar unbuttoned, Gohl sat in the Glendale Community Center Wednesday afternoon with a plastic foam bowl filled with soup and cornbread prepared by Rural Resources Mobile Market volunteers, two of whom credited the program for helping them buck their drug addictions.
It was the final stop on his tour of Rural Resources and the numerous programs there.
"I work in a big fancy office up in Washington, D.C., but the work that you do here really affects you, and your family and the people who live next door to you in your community," Gohl said to the Rural Resources team and the officials gathered.
"There's really nothing more important than that. I want to thank you for doing this."
He told The Greeneville Sun he was impressed with how Rural Resources uses local food production to help the Greene County community with a host of other social issues.
"That's the value -- it's their leadership. It's understanding what their assets are to deal with hunger, to deal with [drug] treatment, to deal with how you work with kids. It's just very creative," he said.
"Food is an important part of any economy."
Causey, who is executive director of Rural Resources and an Appalachia CARES/AmeriCorps leader, walked Gohl and the other officials around Resources campus, showing them the cattle, rabbits, earth worms and produce there.
She specifically highlighted the Farm and Food Teen program and the Mobile Market, in which Rural Resources staff and volunteers take produce grown on their farm on the road to Greene County communities.
Jordyn Suchnan, 16, who is enrolled with the Farm and Food Teen program, told the group that she's taken what she's learned at Rural Resources and taught her parents how to run a produce garden at home.
As part of the program, she's developed a small business to create and sell made-to-order casseroles to local families using produce from Rural Resources.
Causey showed them where the office facilities stood before a 2009 lightning strike sparked the fire that destroyed the facilities.
Now the Rural Resources staff uses a loaned construction trailer for their office space. The trailer has no bathroom, so they use an outhouse.
They have no kitchen, so when one of their programs requires participants to cook, they have to borrow kitchens from local churches and community centers.
Rural Resources Communications Coordinator Eva Griffin said the new facility the staff hopes to build would cost about $500,000 if it includes all the equipment they want for office use and a commercial kitchen, although they have also developed other less expensive scenarios.
So far, Rural Resources has secured grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Development program for $85,000 for both a new building and to set up a conservation easement for the land at Rural Resources to make sure it's never sold.
Any additional grant money from ARC would be allocated for a new building, Griffin said. "It can be an anchor in the community."
Rural Resources has already initiated a local capital campaign specifically for the building and land. At least 20 percent of the cost must come from local donors, not state or federal grants, Griffin said.
Gohl's visit Wednesday had been planned before Rural Resrouces applied for an ARC grant, he said.
In fact, he said, he didn't know Rural Resources had applied for the grant until he arrived in Tennessee. Griffin said the application was only submitted five days ago.
ARC grant recipients must be nominated by the governor's office of their respective states.
From there ARC officials in Washington select applications to recommend. Final approval comes from Gohl before a grant is awarded. He usually signs off on 98 percent of the applications that make it to his desk, he said.
Congress created ARC in 1965 to coordinate federal, state and local efforts to jumpstart economic development in parts of the Appalachian region.
Gohl's work with the 13-state ARC region exposes him to many of the same social problems that some parts of Greene County face. But, he said, Rural Resources stands out for him.
"It's unique in the way they approach it," he said.
"This is a low-capital, low-budget operation that is striving to get big results. And it's very grassroots.
"This is how we're going to solve these challenges."