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Building a New Economy, Together.
Updated: 6 days 17 hours ago

Now is the Time for Kentucky’s Rural Electric Cooperatives to Move on Clean Energy

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 14:09

This is an op-ed that ran in several outlets in January and February 2023.

Rural electric cooperatives provide power to nearly a third of Kentuckians, serving 1.5 million people in 117 counties. In recent months, the federal government has allocated unprecedented funding to help co-ops pay for the changes that will move us to a clean energy future, save us much needed money on our bills, and create good local jobs. There’s more than $10 billion on the table for co-ops, but that money is likely to be quickly allocated. That leaves Kentuckians facing an important question: will our co-ops go after this funding and use it to help us lower our energy bills? The need has never been greater.

Established by the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, co-ops have brought electricity to rural communities that private corporations did not find profitable to serve. They have played key roles in our local economies. However, over time, the member-ownership model has faced significant challenges here in Kentucky and in other southern states – including heavy debt for fossil fuel infrastructure that needs to be retired. Today, skyrocketing electric bills and concern about the climate crisis have driven more interest than ever before in modernizing our country’s energy landscape. The allocation of $10 billion dollars for co-ops being included in the Inflation Reduction Act was the federal government’s response to this moment of opportunity.

The unique, member-owned structure of co-ops as nonprofit utilities means that they are intended to be governed by their members and aligned with principles outlined by the National Rural Electric Cooperative. To help empower co-op members to push for significant changes, Mountain Association and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth released scorecards assessing Kentucky’s 24 rural electric cooperatives on their governance practices and types of programs offered to co-op member-owners. As a whole, our co-ops averaged just 34.1 out of 100 possible points, with 20.6 out of a possible 50 for services and 13.5 out of 50 points. Jackson Energy ranked highest overall with a score of 48, while Meade County Electric earned just 16 points out of 100.

The scorecards evaluate each co-op in two broad categories: member services and governance. Each co-op can earn up to 50 points for offering members service programs like inclusive financing for home weatherization, community solar options, fair compensation for energy generated by rooftop solar, broadband internet, the ability to opt-out of right-of-way spraying, and the ability to protect medically vulnerable households from disconnections due to non-payment. In the governance category, co-ops can earn up to 50 points for making board meetings and documents open and accessible, providing clear and accessible ways to communicate with the board, posting bylaws and IRS 990 forms on their website, and having accessible and democratic board election procedures.   

While Kentucky’s cooperatives deserve a lot of credit for their solar net metering policy, their scorecards show much opportunity for improvement in other areas. Our hope is that both co-op employees and member-owners look at the scorecards as an opportunity to take advantage of the historic new federal investments that are being made available. We hope the scorecards increase lines of communication at each co-op about what energy efficiency and solar programs are available for homeowners and renters, how rates are established, and how each co-op is going to modernize and adopt cheaper and cleaner renewable energy and begin investing in local resiliency in the face of climate change and extreme weather events.

Citizens are more interested in getting engaged than ever before. Clean energy is more reliable and affordable than ever before. And there’s more money available for co-ops than ever before. Let’s bring all the pieces together. Find all the specifics about your Kentucky co-op’s score on the website: The Kentucky scorecards are part of a regional scorecard effort to empower co-op members across the South.

Chris Woolery is the Residential Energy Specialist at the Mountain Association. He can be reached at

Woodworking Business in Stanton, KY Takes Off

Fri, 03/03/2023 - 10:08

Cheeses, pickles, candy, fries, s’mores, meats, meat flowers… you name it, you can arrange it on a charcuterie board.

Tina and Gene King, woodworkers behind TG Designs in Stanton, Kentucky, have seen it all. They said their business has doubled over the past year in part due to the versatility of what people are now using charcuterie boards for.

While charcuterie boards are a relatively new trend, quality wood products have always been a staple in people’s homes. Tina knows this well, growing up as the daughter of a carpenter largely in Powell County.

“I played in the sawdust when I was little. I made sawdust pies instead of mud pies,” she laughed. “In those days, woodworking was something you picked up out of necessity. You grew what you ate and made what you needed.”

Gene, who grew up in Pike County, was also connected to woodworking and continued to practice it as a hobby throughout his career in the military. Though Tina was a musician and teacher, she studied music and business while she was at Eastern Kentucky University. Around 2013, she told Gene that she thought they could make a business of this tradition they both had in their families.

In 2015, they decided to commit to get the business going in a big way. They worked with Mountain Association on a loan to support the construction of a bigger shop. They steadily built their business from there, doing a lot of craft shows, networking at shops in the region, and beginning to do nationwide wholesale production.

Tina said everything was set to grow when the pandemic happened.

“As with everyone else, we were doing what we could to barely survive.”

She said they used the down time to build out their website, adding an e-commerce component via Mountain Association’s Business Support program. The work they put in paid off as things started opening back up.

Tina and Gene try to recreate the beauty and simplicity of the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky in their work.

“With the online presence, we have been able to get the customer we want. We also began selling through FAIRE, which is the site museums, gift shops and other retail outlets use to find new products.”

Tina said they now have retailers placing repeat orders each month from Alaska to Germany. Their most popular items are their charcuterie boards horses and kitchen utensils. She described the excitement they get when an influencer begins to use one of their products and sales of that item take off overnight.

“We had a chef in California who used our bread knife and we sold tons of those! We recently had a chef who wanted a charcuterie board overnighted for an event she was doing. In Kentucky, we’ve had several big companies use our items to give VIP gifts.”

While Tina and Gene love the experience of working with well-known chefs and companies, they also love supporting homegrown efforts.

“We have a close friend who makes beautiful candy arrangements on our charcuterie boards to raise money for homeless and veteran initiatives in Louisville.”

Construction of their shop in 2015

Over the years, they’ve worked hard to overcome challenges to their business’ growth. They worked with a local internet company to fix their broadband issues that bottlenecked their workflow. Gene has also taken several photography classes to learn how to make their products stand out. Now, he uses PhotoRoom on his phone to take all of their photos.

They’ve had only parttime help over the years, including a college student apprentice who is currently studying at Morehead State who they said has been a wonderful support to their business.

One of their biggest challenges currently is the price of their raw products. They get all of their wood from a lumberyard in Morehead who sources everything from within 75 miles of their yard. Walnut, for example, costs six times the amount that it did when they first started.

They create unique custom products using their CNC machine, a piece of equipment supported by Mountain Association’s loan.

Still, Tina and Gene said it is important to them that they keep their prices affordable and accessible.

Check out their products and more of their story on their website here: (RETAIL) (WHOLESALE)

“Our medium is wood, what we love most is taking rough wood through the jointer and planer to reveal the rich colors and the vibrant textures that were hidden by the rough exterior.”

Unity Allies is Building ‘Beloved Community’ in Laurel County

Tue, 02/28/2023 - 11:24

Beloved community: a community in which everyone is cared for, absent of poverty, hunger, and hate. 

In 2020, Chase Carson began uniting people around a vision to grow beloved community in and among Laurel County’s population of 62,561 people.

Representatives from Unity Allies/Laurel County Diversity & Inclusion Council table at community events throughout the year.

The vision was to create a council where people could gather and work together toward promoting diversity and inclusion in the area. With Chase’s leadership, many people raised their hands to volunteer their time and expertise. In Fall 2021, Unity Allies and the Laurel County Diversity and Inclusion Council, a chapter of the organization, received its official 501c3 nonprofit designation.

“Our main goal is to spread awareness on diversity,” Chase said. “We speak and table at events where we serve as a non-judgmental resource for kids and adults alike to ask questions and have conversation. We have literature and free giveaways where all you have to do is answer a question – what does inclusion mean? It may seem silly, but it gets people talking and thinking.”

They hope to create a presence in Laurel County that helps people of all races, abilities and identities feel welcome. Diversity and inclusion can only help Laurel County’s future, a place where 20% of the population lives in poverty.

“If people see everyone coming together, they will want to move here and live here, creating more businesses, jobs, and housing,” Chase said in a February 2021 presentation to the London City Council. “The council acts not only as a task force, but as an expectation.”

Chase reads ‘Mae Among the Stars’ at the Laurel County Public Library. The book is about a young black girl who goes to the moon, based on the true story of Dr. Mae Jemison, an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut, and the first black woman to travel to space.

Last year, the council worked with a nonprofit consultant through Mountain Association’s Business Support program to develop a strategic plan.

One of the key pieces of the plan was to develop a program providing equity audits for businesses, schools, hospitals and other organizations. After two years of research and finalizing details, in February 2023, they officially launched their “Unification Analysis” service.

This process, tailored to the workplace that has requested the service, begins with a set of questions they ask employees and management. After gathering and analyzing this data, they provide one-on-one coaching and share a report of best practices for that workplace to increase belonging, psychological safety and wellbeing for all employees.

“The nature of people is to gather in cliques, even in workplaces. Our analyses can help a business or organization find ways to break down those barriers. Data consistently proves that the more diversity within workplace, the more happy and productive employees are,” Chase said.

Meau Jones, one of the council members, along with Chase, will be the primary administrators of the program. Meau is the Director of Diversity and Special Programs at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College and serves on the Kentucky Department of Education Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging’s regional coordinator for the southeastern region of the state. Chase has training and certifications from the University of Central Florida, the King Center, Eastern Kentucky University, and Google’s #IAMREMARKABLE training program. Together, they hope to share their expertise and insight with businesses and organizations across the nation.

In 2021, Unity Allies was invited to the Kentucky state capitol building by Governor Andy Beshear to share about the work they are doing. One of the key components of their work is to always involve youth in their efforts.

Angelika Weaver, a resident of the area, says Chase is a great inspiration for the younger generations. “Chase has the wisdom and emotional intelligence of a seasoned advocate. He’s passionate about his work but can remain calm when talking to others about a highly divisive topic. You hear people talk about the ‘younger generation’ today not having the same work ethic or convictions as us older folks Spend five minutes talking to Chase, and it will make you feel hopeful about the future.”

They are proud to be the only organization offering this service that is based in Eastern Kentucky. They also offer Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion trainings.

Check out their website here to learn more and consider a donation to support their work.

Unity Allies is also a member of the SPARK Nonprofit Collaborative, an initiative by the Mountain Association to build capacity within Eastern Kentucky’s very small nonprofits. Learn more about SPARK here!

Affordable Heirloom Jewelry Inspired by Eastern Kentucky

Mon, 02/06/2023 - 09:27

While many people welcome a chance to work from home, it’s not the ideal scenario if you’re a jewelry maker with a young toddler.

“He’s trying to grab blow torches, and I’m sweeping up tiny pieces of metal and glass 20 times a day,” Jill Robertson of Appalachia’s Daughter describes her daily life since the floods hit Eastern Kentucky in July 2022, taking out her studio in the Appalachian Artisan Center. The floods forced her to set up shop in her home until the center completes its renovations.

“I’m fortunate that all I lost was stuff. It’s all replaceable,” Jill said. “My community has lost so much more.”

Jill grew up in the Chavies community of Perry County, and had her studio in Hindman in Knott County, both areas devastated by the historic flood. Rebuilding and recovery will be ongoing for many years, and has underscored people’s love for their homes and Jill’s passion in creating art that represents their area.

Flooded studio

She wields the force instilled in her by the mountains each time she picks up her hammer and flame tools to craft handmade necklaces, earrings, and custom stained glass. Her goal is to create unique jewelry from brass and copper that are heirloom quality pieces for affordable prices. The pieces of her collection have whimsical names like pendants called ‘Cane Pole’ and ‘Hammock Weather,’ but also more philosophical pieces like ‘Decisions’, ‘Intention’ and ‘Introvert’, and even a whole series inspired by the musician Stevie Nicks.

Whimsical and philosophical are two words one might use to describe Jill. Her skill combined with her passion and personality are what make her one of Eastern Kentucky’s great teaching artists.

Jill teaching a workshop.

She partners with local organizations, like the Appalachian Arts Alliance in Hazard, the Appalachian Artisan Center in Hindman, and local addiction recovery facilities, to offer workshops in everything from jewelry making to stain-glass and welding. She said she absolutely loves teaching these classes.

A full-time artist, Jill needed a better way to tell her story, sell her pieces and communicate about her workshop offerings. Jill worked with S Media through Mountain Association’s Business Support program to develop her website and e-commerce store. S Media completed the bulk of the development, while training Jill in how to update and maintain the site.

“Every other organization told me: ‘We’re going to teach you.’ It’s not that I couldn’t learn how to do a website and do it on my own via YouTube. What I wanted was for someone is to take this off my plate,” Jill said of the value of the program.

We are so happy to have been able to support Appalachia’s Daughter in this way. Please explore the new site to learn more about Jill, or purchase a custom piece. She is also available for workshops and creative place-making consulting for communities.

Jill says of the pieces on her site, “We hope that, if you see something that speaks to you, you’ll help it to continue speaking through you.”

You may also find ways to donate to flood relief efforts via her website. She is eager to move back into her studio at the Appalachian Artisan Center as soon as they complete their renovations.

Equity Journey Progress Update #2

Fri, 02/03/2023 - 13:24

The Mountain Association works to support a just and sustainable transition to a new economy in post-coal Appalachia. We know that a transition such as this cannot happen unless all people living in the region are considered and welcomed into the work of making it happen. We are proud of our organization’s efforts over the last 45 years to support small businesses, build value chains and test new ideas. But in recent years, we’ve begun to question how the role of white supremacy, racism, sexism, ableism, and the marginalization of people and groups, have impacted our region and how they show up in our own work. As a result, we are on an intentional journey to recenter ourselves around our core values of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA). 

We are publishing updates every six months on our progress in order to be transparent about our journey. It is our hope that this will be helpful for organizations and individuals who have similar goals. Our first update linked here described the history of our work in this area, the extensive training our staff participated in to get where we are today, and significant milestones from 2018 through May 2022. This update covers the remainder of 2022.

Significant milestones from June 2022 through December 2022:


  • Put together accessibility communication guidelines and tips for staff to better communicate with all people.
  • Added an additional accessibility toolbar to our website. Added 711 relay information to our contact pages on our website for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. Incorporating Alt Text into all blogs for visually impaired individuals who use assistive technology.
  • Published our equity goal and equity updates on our “about us” page in order to increase transparency.


  • Developed a process manual for our lending team that outlines how to engage clients with a trauma-informed approach.
  • Modified our loan application process to make it more accessible, reduce barriers for clients and incorporate more inclusive language.


  • Redesigned our energy team’s client assessment reports to make them more accessible and better describe the technical pieces of our energy savings recommendations.

Business Support

  • Revised rubric for approving consulting services applications for non-loan clients with additional points for businesses and organizations serving underserved communities.
  • Launched the SPARK Nonprofit Collaborative to support very small, community-based nonprofits in the region so that they can more effectively achieve their mission. The program is founded around trauma-informed work principles.


  • Developed significant programming after the July 2022 flooding to serve communities impacted by the disaster.

We invite you to contact us with any questions about our journey or about our path forward. Please contact Betsy Whaley, Chief Strategy Officer, at (859) 671-0212.

Forest Farming in Rockcastle County, Kentucky

Fri, 02/03/2023 - 10:58

Right down the road from the Anglin Falls trailhead, a popular hiking spot leading to one of Kentucky’s most beautiful waterfalls, Michael Beck and Joana Amorim farm and steward a piece of land they named Sylvatica Forest Farm.

“Daily life on a Forest Farm involves a lot of hiking for observation. It’s a long term job that requires a lot of patience and perseverance in exchange for beauty, abundance and serenity.” – Joana

Sylvatica is a word that stems from the Latin word sylva, or ‘forest’, and means growing in the forest. The name suited their vision for the 62-acre property they purchased in 2015. As permaculturists, Michael and Joana take a sustainable and systems approach to farming, striving to model patterns from nature in their production.

Having fell in love after meeting on a permaculture farm in Joana’s home country of Portugal, the couple began looking for property in the US where they could start their own farm. They searched for the right place for a year. Originally, they wanted to be on the West Coast and began looking for property in Oregon. However, with the increasingly more frequent climate events, from wildfires to flooding, they decided to head to Tennessee to look for land. Making their way through Berea, they decided to stop and look at a tract of land near Dispuntanta in Rockcastle County.

“This place checked all of our boxes: clean water from six different springs, a mixture of meadow and forest, and an incredible local community. We bought the property a week later,” Joana described. “It felt like destiny in a way… We never made it to Tennessee.”

The cabin Michael and Joana built.

The two set to work on both building a home to live in – a hand-built cabin from sustainably harvested timber from their land – and building their business. Today, they are growing and foraging several varieties of mushrooms, raising fruit trees to sell, hosting workshops for fellow farmers and citizens, and running an apothecary.

“I was raised on a biodynamic farm. This is my lineage,” Joana said. “There’s never been a generation in my family who did not farm.”

A certified herbalist, Joana draws on her family’s history to make medicine from their land. Holy Sleep, Botany Glow, and Focus are some of the names – and goals – of the herbal products she makes. Joana partners with fellow young farmer, Sarah Barney at Among the Oaks Farm in nearby Lee County, to run an herbal Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription box each year.

Mushrooms are foundational to many of their recipes.

Though Michael and Joana had been growing outdoor mushrooms for six years, they realized that it was not a viable enough method for commercial production. If they were going to supply restaurants and have enough supplies for Joana’s apothecary work, they needed more consistent supply. Last year, in order to take their mushroom production to the next level, they began working with consultant David Wells of HENOSIS Mushrooms, made possible through Mountain Association’s Business Support program.

David has been growing mushrooms indoors in the Nashville area for over a decade and shared his expertise with Michael and Joana, helping them gain clarity on their set-up. After doing more research on their own and talking to other area farmers about their ideas, they decided to invest in building a separate barn where they can maintain a 65-degree growing environment year-round. They’ve now teamed up with Mountain Association’s energy team to apply for grants to power the facility by solar and a back-up battery system.

Michael with a variety of apple, plum, apricot, pear, chestnut and pawpaw cultivators. Their trees are available for both shipping and regional pick-up at certain times throughout the year.

They are looking forward to how this new facility will grow their operation, and allow them to help meet the growing demand for mushrooms throughout the region.

Having taken the winter off for continued farm planning and spending time with family, Michael and Joana have recently announced their suite of workshop offerings for 2023. From tree grafting, to mushroom inoculation and medicine making, they invite you out to their forest farm to join a workshop, or to purchase something online via their e-commerce store.

Please find their website here and follow along on the fascinating Sylvatica Forest Farm journey via their social media pages: Instagram and Facebook.

Request for Proposals from Architects

Wed, 02/01/2023 - 08:15


Project Description 

In July, Mountain Association acquired the former First Federal Savings & Loan building at the intersection of Main and Lovern streets in downtown Hazard, KY. The building is approximately 11,800 square feet over three floors and is masonry construction. The building was originally three structures developed into one over time, stretching from the 1960’s to the mid 1980’s. It is located in the flood plain. Mountain Association has completed an Environmental Phase 1 and Phase 2 process, and environmental abatement has been completed. 

Mountain Association proposes to redevelop the property to mixed-use, utilizing the bottom level as multi-tenant commercial, with a preference for food & beverage service and office space for our local operations. The upper floors are envisioned as commercial meeting and office space and multiple residential units.   

While we do not anticipate seeking LEED certification, Mountain Association is very interested in clean, green materials and responsible and resilient design. Noting this building’s location, flood resilience is of interest. 

Mountain Association sees this project as a natural continuation of our commitment to revitalizing local communities and local economies.  We opened our Hazard office in 2011 and have been engaged with the local community on downtown revitalization efforts for many years.  We believe this project is an opportunity to demonstrate our values and also that the social return on investment can be as important as the financial return.   

About Mountain Association 

The Mountain Association invests in people and places in Eastern Kentucky to advance a just transition to a new economy that is more diverse, sustainable, equitable and resilient. 

We serve this mission in a number of ways. Our Lending team offers loans to existing and startup businesses and organizations. We are a Community Development Financial Institution certified by the US Treasury and we maintain a $20 million portfolio of loans to small businesses and nonprofits in Eastern Kentucky.  As a non-profit, we can offer greater flexibility and can lend to those who may not otherwise qualify.  Unlike most traditional lenders, we offer flexible payment schedules and a variety of other services. 

Our Business Support program connects business owners and nonprofit leaders to consultants who can help them succeed – from website development to professional photography, and more. 

Our Energy experts help businesses, nonprofits, public agencies and homeowners find much-needed energy savings. We do this through utility bill analysis, on-site energy efficiency and solar assessments, financing, and grant application support. 

We also engage in research, communications and advocacy for policy and narrative change, and work with partners on a variety of projects to demonstrate what’s possible in Eastern Kentucky

Budget & Timeline 

Mountain Association has approved a tentative budget of $2,750,000 for the overall project, including design and construction. 

Mountain Association recognizes the possibility of a multi-year / multi-phase process but would prefer to occupy the first floor as early as is reasonably possible.  


Mountain Association seeks qualified individual or firm to provide architectural services for the project under a scope of work to be negotiated and agreed upon between the parties, but should include: 

  1. Feasibility & Analysis
  • Document Existing Building  
  • Review proposed programmatic uses and assumptions 
  • Engage staff in a collaborative design process. 
  • Work with client and trades to determine final uses. 
  1. Project Design & Development 
  • Develop all design documents for project, by phase (as appropriate). 
  • Deliver construction budget estimates and update as needed. 
  • Coordinate with trades throughout all stages of demolition and construction for needed information. 
  • Coordinate with MA staff to ensure design meets energy efficiency requirements and appropriate specifications for renewable energy systems, primarily solar.   

Selection Process 

Mountain Association will review submitted proposals on a rolling basis and evaluate them based on criteria outlined further below beginning February 24th, 2023.   Mountain Association may select the highest qualified proposal or interview a selection of firms based on proposals. Respondents seeking additional information or to schedule a site visit may contact Special Projects Manager Les Roll by email at

Requirements for Proposals 

1. Information about the Individual / Firm 

  • Name of Firm or Company 
  • Address 
  • Location of any Branch Offices 
  • Telephone 
  • Name, Email, and Telephone Number of Primary Contact 
  • Name of Principal Architect and Architect Registration Number 
  • Evidence of Liability Insurance and License to do business in Hazard and Perry County. 

2. Overview & Experience 

  • Provide a brief history of your firm / practice and information about completed projects of a similar nature over the past 5 years.  
  • Provide information about experience with projects located in the flood plain. 
  • Provide information about projects completed in Eastern Kentucky in the past 5 years, if any. 

3. Summary Statement 

  • Provide a summary statement of not more than one page which summarizes the reasons you feel your firm is best qualified for this project. 

4. Project Organization 

  • Provide an organization chart which outlines key staff members and the roles you anticipate they will perform in the project.  

5. Ability to Complete Projects within Budget and On Time 

Choose three projects listed above that are most similar to this project and provide the following additional information: 

  • Owner’s Construction Budget 
  • Architect’s Construction Estimate 
  • Total Cost of Project 
  • Scheduled timeline for design activities 
  • Actual timeline for design activities 

6. References 

  • List not more than 5 client references of similar projects, providing a contact name, mailing address, email address, and telephone number.  If the reference project is not included in the information above, also provide a brief synopsis of the project. 

Submission Instructions 

Submissions should be received by February 24, 2023 by EOB, and are requested in the following format: 

1. PDF Copy emailed to, addressed to Les Roll  

2. One physical copy, mailed to the following address:  

Mountain Association 

Attn: Les Roll 

420 Main Street 

Hazard, KY 41701 

London, KY Farm Saves Big on Energy Bills

Fri, 01/13/2023 - 09:40

In 2005, Ford Waterstrat took a job on a local farm while on summer break from teaching. That’s when he set his heart and mind on having his own organic farm someday.

The Waterstrat family regular offers farm tours and cooking demos. Additionally, Ford often provides workshops for fellow organic farmers.

The next year, he became a farmhand at Elmwood Stock Farm, a well-known organic farm near his family’s home in Georgetown, Kentucky. For the next three years, Ford worked on the farm until he and his wife, Amanda, were able to find their own farm in London.

Both Ford and Amanda have a mutual love of the outdoors, good food and community, and care for the environment. With Amanda’s background in science, and Ford’s experience on the farm, they went all in to start Sustainable Harvest Farm.

Now, nearly 15 years later, they are farming 75 acres with organic produce, employing 18 people, running the region’s first customizable Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), distributing direct to stores and wholesalers, and giving as much back to their community as they can. And they are powering it all by solar energy!

The Waterstrat extended family.

Mountain Association’s energy team met the Waterstrats in 2020 when we went out to the farm to complete an energy audit. We’ve since worked together on three energy projects, including a major solar installation on their barn, energy efficient and upgraded employee housing, and a wood-fired boiler with a hydronic heated slab for their greenhouse.

While the 13 kilowatt hour solar system and wood-fired boiler are key to saving them money and toward their environmental goals, the improved employee housing was their top priority.

Ford explained how their crew of H2A employees, all from Mexico, return year to year to work at Sustainable Harvest Farm. For the 2023 growing season, they have worked hand-in-hand with him to strategize on how to double their acreage, and therefore, double the crew from 9 to 18 employees.

An aerial view of Sustainable Harvest Farm’s core operation area with a view of the barntop solar and their newest greenhouse. The two-story employee housing is also pictured. To help bring in additional revenue, they are also looking at offering the house via Airbnb in the off-season.

“They do so much for our family, so we wanted to make their housing as nice as possible for while they are here and away from their own families,” Ford said. “The house is an old country store and was vacant for 20-30 years, so it had to be gutted to the roof and exterior walls.”

Mountain Association’s energy team helped them ensure that it was built back to be fully insulated and utilize an efficient, state-of-the-art mini-split heating and cooling system.

So far, we’ve helped package grants that have brought in approximately $45,000 in grant funding through the USDA Rural Energy for America Program and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund with additional support from the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy. We are also currently working together to apply for another $10,000 to support the greenhouse project.

“Josh and Rachel have been unbelievable to work with. They have taken the lead and effortlessly guided me through the whole process,” Ford said of his experience with our team.

Sustainable Harvest Farm donates excess produce from the farm to God’s Food Pantry. In 2022, they donated 63,705 pounds! They also sell produce at a reduced rate to FoodChain for their Nourish Lexington initiative.

Mountain Association’s energy audits are currently free for any business, organization or local government in Appalachian Kentucky, thanks to funding from the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy. Apply here or contact us for more details.

If you are interested in learning more about Sustainable Harvest Farm, their CSA or where you can purchase their produce near you, please visit their website here.

Salyersville IGA Adds Solar

Tue, 01/10/2023 - 14:38

Three years ago, Salyersville IGA moved to an expanded storefront double the size of its previous location. Along with the expansion, Magoffin County’s only full-service grocery store completed major upgrades in order to bring in a greater diversity of products for the community, including an expanded selection of fresh produce and a variety of foods for specialty diets. The produce section is now six times bigger with 70-100 new items offered. Previously, people had to go to Paintsville, Prestonsburg, and even Lexington, for many of these items.

Expanded salad section at the Salyersville IGA

The new store was designed to be energy efficient, including modern refrigeration systems and state-of-the-art equipment. But they haven’t stopped there.

Over the past few years, they have been working with Mountain Association’s energy experts to explore adding solar panels to the store’s rooftop. They became interested after reading about Isom IGA’s success in Letcher County. Prior to the devastating floods, Isom IGA reported its lowest bills since 1970s in the months after they added solar; solar was the last step after energy efficiency upgrades throughout the store had already brought Isom IGA more than $47,000 per year in savings.

A thriving grocery store is central to having a community where residents want to live. However, with an average net profit of 2.2%, grocery stores are in the top 12 least profitable industries in the United States. Tight margins are one of the reasons why many rural places have seen full-service grocery stores struggle to keep their doors open, especially in face of declining populations, online shopping, and other challenges. As an example, one Eastern Kentucky store went from $200,000 in sales per week to $75,000 due to population loss in the face of the coal industry’s decline.

The recently installed panels at Salyersville IGA totaling approximately 130 kilowatts.

So, in August 2022, Salyersville IGA owner Jed Weinberg signed the paperwork to proceed with adding 256 solar modules, expected to save them approximately $17,000 to $23,000 per year. Solar Energy Solutions, LLC completed the installation in January 2023.

Our Energy team is proud to have supported the Salyersville IGA in their application for a grant through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program to cover approximately $50,000 of the solar installation, as well as a grant through the Solar Finance Fund for $10,000. Mountain Association’s Lending team will finance the remaining costs of the solar installation. We have also provided affordable financing for major upgrades of Salyersville IGA’s heating, cooling, and refrigeration systems, and deli equipment in the past.

“Ready access to healthy food can be a challenge in our communities.” Peter Hille, Mountain Association President, said. “We are proud to be a financial partner in Salyersville IGA. We applaud their vision in using state of the art energy efficient equipment — and now solar — that helps to keep their food fresh, costs down, and their staff and customers comfortable.”

Salyersville IGA

Over the last decade, we have worked with over a dozen groceries across Eastern Kentucky to cut utility costs through energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy systems. Our energy audits are currently free for any business, organization or local government in Appalachian Kentucky, thanks to funding from the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy.

Apply here or contact us for more details.

Our support of applications to the USDA Rural Energy for America Program

Sun, 01/01/2023 - 10:26

Several Eastern Kentucky businesses recently received money for their renewable energy and energy efficiency projects from the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Here are just a few of the recent applications we supported:

The USDA administers REAP to provide financial assistance to rural small businesses and agricultural producers to purchase, install, and construct renewable energy systems, make energy efficiency improvements to non-residential buildings and facilities, and participate in energy audits.

The amounts range from $2,500-$500,000 for renewable energy systems and from $1,500-$250,000 for energy efficiency grants.

Since 2015, the Mountain Association has worked with dozens more businesses to bring in more than $500,000 in REAP funding for both energy efficiency and solar projects. In Kentucky, nearly all projects meeting REAP eligibility criteria have been successful in being awarded their funding.

Solar photovoltaic and efficiency upgrades are the most common REAP applications we help submit, but other eligible renewable systems include solar water heat & solar space heat, geothermal electric & solar thermal electric, wind, biomass, hydroelectric, and more (for specific details on what is eligible, please contact us).

Applying to REAP can be a complex and lengthy process, but a worthwhile one for the right project. It may be important for your business or farm to start with an energy efficiency audit to determine if an application for funding would be best spent on energy efficiency upgrades or if you are ready for a renewable energy system. Note: prior to the Inflation Reduction Act being signed into law in August 2022, REAP only covered up to 25 percent of a total project cost, however, this has now shifted to 40 percent with the new provisions!

The Mountain Association can offer affordable financing options to eligible businesses and organizations which may cover any remaining portions.

The next deadline is March 31, 2023, with another deadline to follow in the fall.

Please contact our energy team well in advance of the deadline if you would like to learn more about REAP and to discuss your building’s energy efficiency or renewable project: Carrie at or (859) 671-0240, or if you’re ready to get started fill out this short informational form:

Funding for Farm Energy Projects in Kentucky

Sun, 01/01/2023 - 03:14

Eastern Kentucky farms may be eligible to receive money for energy projects from the Kentucky Office of Agricultural Policy’s Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund (KADF).

The KADF On-Farm Energy Efficiency Incentives Program provides incentives for Kentucky farm families to increase the energy efficiency of existing equipment or facilities.

For example, Lazy Eight Stock Farm in Garrard County received over $23,000 for a wood fired boiler with $10,000 from the On-Farm Energy Efficiency Program and the remainder from the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). As a result, they are saving an estimated $3,160 per year in avoided energy use. The Mountain Association worked with them to complete their required third-party energy audit, and assist them in packaging their applications.

We have also worked with numerous farms on applications for solar grant funding. We again worked with Lazy Eight, as well as Southdown Farm, a maple syrup producer in Letcher County, and Four Petal Farm in Floyd County, on successful On-Farm applications for solar. Each was granted $10,000 plus $150 to cover energy audits.

In recent years, we have also assisted HomeGrown HideAways in Madison County, Salamander Springs in Rockcastle County, and Tree of the Field in Madison County to apply for the program.

Some examples of eligible reimbursements include:

  • Energy efficient building components & renewable energy projects:
    • Lighting
    • Insulation
    • Windows, doors, skylights, roofing, or other Energy Star building components
    • Programmable thermostats and controllers
    • Fans
    • Cool Roof system
    • Tankless, solar, or water heaters
    • Biomass fired boilers, hydronic furnaces, heaters and stoves
    • Solar powered watering system, as well as equipment, structures or other supplies necessary to harness available solar to offset ag. related energy expenses
  • Energy free or low energy waterers
  • Equipment upgrades:
    • New installation of, or conversion to, energy efficient grain drying / poultry / dairy systems
  • Timers for tractor engine block heaters
  • NEMA labeled premium efficiency motors
  • Low pressure irrigation systems, conversion from sprinkler to drip irrigation, or variable frequency drives for well pumps

Applicants must receive either at least $25,000 in Gross Farm Income, or 20% of gross income from farming for the previous two years. The 2023 deadlines are April 28, August 25 and December 22.

Successful applicants may receive up to 50% reimbursement of a qualified energy saving item (up to $10,000). Farms can put in additional applications even if they have received funding in the past (one application can be submitted per calendar year). Note: Though the program funds no more than 50% of your total project cost, the Mountain Association has affordable financing options which may cover any remaining portions.

A third‐party audit is required with the application (applicants may be reimbursed an additional $150 for the audit, though the Mountain Association’s energy audits are currently free thanks to the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy and other funders). Renovations recommended by the audit and any installation expenses may also be considered.

The Mountain Association is available to conduct your energy audit, as well as help you with your grant application. If you are interested in working on your farm’s energy needs, contact Carrie at or (859) 671-0240. To find out more about the program, please visit the Kentucky Office of Agricultural Policy website here.

Wayland, KY is Working Together to Rebuild

Tue, 12/06/2022 - 19:23

This is part of our story series, EKY Flood Relief: Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

When the flood hit, the town of Wayland in Floyd County was severely damaged – the Community Center in particular. The Center is the heart of the town of about 400 people. It houses the health clinic, community meeting space, city offices, and multiple museums, and is owned and operated by the Wayland Historical Society. The town has pulled together to fundraise in order to complete the needed repairs before it can re-open to the public. And they are trying to make their funds go even further by looking into rebuilding in an energy-smart way.

Wayland Community Center

In January, energy experts from the Mountain Association will be visiting the community center to assess ways to lower energy costs and share information about new tax credits. The town hopes this partnership will lower energy bills and help community buildings become more resilient.

Since the center is already being repaired, this is a perfect time for the Mountain Association’s energy experts to complete the free energy assessment. This assessment will provide them with recommendations to help the community center become more energy efficient and will also provide an estimate on the costs and potential savings for installing solar panels. With the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act in August 2022, in 2023, nonprofits will be able to access the 30-50% federal solar tax credit in the form of a direct payment. This means that it will now make even more economic sense for nonprofits (and other organizations) to consider solar.

Some of the flood damage can be seen in this photo of the community center.

So far, the process to get a free energy assessment has been very simple, reports Uzzi Uresti, Wayland’s new full-time volunteer who is helping coordinate the energy assessment.

“It started with an online application that took about five minutes to complete. Then, the Mountain Association’s Energy Team contacted us to set up a meeting and asked the Historical Society to send 12 months of energy bills. Then a week later, we had a zoom call with the Mountain Association to discuss. Next month they will meet in person to tour buildings owned by the nonprofit and complete the energy assessment.” 

Other businesses, government entities, and nonprofits in Wayland or the surrounding area are also invited to join the list of energy assessments planned in January. (To get started, sign up for a free energy assessment here!)

Last month, Uzzi, who is an AmeriCorps VISTA, moved to Wayland from Texas to serve the town. Over 12 months, he will coordinate flood relief efforts and help local community members work together to rebuild. The AmeriCorps VISTA program is a one-year, full-time paid opportunity to help fight poverty by assisting local organizations in expanding their capacity to make change in their local communities. Uzzi hopes others will join him soon as Wayland is seeking applications to bring on two more AmeriCorps VISTAs (Applicants should apply here by December 20).

“It’s been amazing. The people here are very welcoming, loving and grateful. I would highly recommend becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA to anyone interested in helping others in need. It’s good for the soul.”

Donate: To fund rebuilding efforts in Wayland, donations are being accepted by the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky through the Higher Ground Kentucky account at: Higher Ground Kentucky ( Higher Ground Kentucky is a new nonprofit organization based in Floyd County, with a mission to help Eastern Kentucky communities overcome persistent flooding, starting with Wayland, KY. Visit their Facebook page Higher Ground Kentucky (

Helpful Tip 1: The Mountain Association offers free energy assessments to businesses, non-profits, and government organizations in Eastern Kentucky. Find more info here:  Energy | Mountain Association ( or Rebuilding with Energy Savings in Mind | Mountain Association (

Helpful Tip 2: AmeriCorps has many programs that can help with flood relief and community programs that fight poverty or provide relief during a disaster. For instance, AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps State & National, and AmeriCorps NCCC. Nonprofits and government agencies in Eastern Kentucky can apply to host AmeriCorps members in their community. Wayland is currently seeking two more AmeriCorps VISTAs to serve as paid volunteers for one-year to help with flood relief and fighting poverty. 

About this story series:

Mountain Association is partnering with What’s Next EKY?! and Vision Granted to host a series of stories showcasing the incredible flood relief efforts across the region in response to the flood on July 28, 2022. With a goal to share hope and spark new ideas about ways you can help in your own community, these stories will showcase the creativity and hard work of local people, provide helpful flood recovery tips, and feature stories of neighbors helping neighbors. If you have a story or helpful tip to share, please contact Please learn more about this series here.

A Solar Field Trip with Big Sandy Community & Technical College Students

Tue, 12/06/2022 - 11:49

On a bright November day, a group of electrical technology students from Big Sandy Community & Technical College loaded up in a van to head to East Kentucky Power Cooperative’s headquarters in Clark County, Kentucky.

Joseph Compton, professor and the electrical program coordinator at BSCTC, worked with the Mountain Association’s energy team to plan a solar farm and rooftop solar tour for students. The students are earning a Solar and Wind Energy certificate along with their electrical technology degrees. The program prepares them for entry-level electrician positions in industry and building trades and the additional certificate gives them an advantage for jobs in the clean energy sector.

In planning the tour, Compton wanted the students to see how renewables are adding to the mix of energy generation resources that power our country.

East Kentucky Power Cooperative is a nonprofit owned by 16 cooperatives that serve more than 1 million member-owners in 89 Eastern and Central Kentucky counties. Their energy generation mix includes two coal-powered plants, two natural gas plants, six landfill gas generation facilities, two hydroelectric facilities (via power purchase agreement), and, as of 2017, one solar farm.

“Around that point in time, solar was getting both more affordable and more reliable, so a major solar investment made good sense for our members,” EKPC External Affairs Manager Nick Comer said.

The students, along with Professor Compton, Nick Comer from EKPC, and Josh Bills from Mountain Association, stand in front of the inverters on the solar farm. The inverters convert the electric current from direct current to alternating current. From there, it flows into a substation to a transformer to power lines and into our homes and enterprises.

The Cooperative Solar Farm One is located on 60 acres at EKPC headquarters. It features 32,300 panels, along with 10 acres specifically landscaped for pollinator species, honey bee boxes, blue bird boxes, and a pollinator station. The farm generates enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

Comer explained that member-owners of 16 cooperatives can license one of the panels for 25-year at a one-time cost of $460. To cover the average household’s energy use, a member would need to license25 to30 panels. Before the high price spikes last year, the expected payback for each license was roughly 15 years, but if prices of traditional energy sources remain high (energy prices across Kentucky were up more than 16% in 2021), that payback is likely to come faster.

Comer highlighted how the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law in August 2022, is now incentivizing cooperatives to make transitions to clean energy. EKPC and other utilities also are focused on maintaining the reliability of the power grid as intermittent renewables provide a greater share of the nation’s energy, he said.

Earlier this year, prior to the IRA being announced, the US Secretary of Energy visited Kentucky and the Cooperative Solar Farm One to learn about Kentucky’s energy needs. Mountain Association’s president, Peter Hille, also had the chance to speak with Secretary Granholm during her visit to describe how leadership was needed to help our cooperatives retire billions of dollars of debt that rural electric co-ops have in coal assets. The IRA represents a historic investment to make this happen. EKPC has been forward-thinking in having already added solar to their energy generation mix in a significant way.

Followed by the solar farm tour, Josh Bills, Commercial Energy Specialist at the Mountain Association, took students to visit a “grid-tied” rooftop solar installation in Madison County at Peter Hille’s home. The students in Compton’s program have been completing hands-on electrical projects on a model house, including how to install solar panels that are grid-tied, meaning they are tied to the larger electric grid that bring power to our homes and buildings through electrical lines.

Comer also said they are looking forward to rapidly evolving technology that will make utility-scale batteries more affordable so that solar generated energy can be stored for use at peak demand times.

Bills has partnered with Compton for years to take classes on solar tours across Eastern Kentucky as just one small part of how we have helped to support workforce training in clean energy over the years.

More jobs in renewable energy are opening up and have potential to base in Eastern Kentucky, especially with large scale solar projects being discussed in places like Martin County and the popularity of rooftop solar growing (Solar Holler, a solar installer right across the border from BSCTC in West Virginia, just celebrated its 1000th installation for example!).

“We’re looking forward to having students from right here at home qualified for these jobs,” Compton said.

The Mountain Association is also excited to share that we are sponsoring Compton and a student to attend the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Commercial Energy conference in March 2023.

Students from the electrical technology program often go on to become licensed electricians, master electricians, and contractors. Many are replacing a wave of retiring electricians with average wages of around $51,000 per year or $24 per hour. The typical class size is about 10 to 15 students. Shadowing is available for those interested in the program. Learn more:

Letcher County Schools Receive Thousands of Books Post-Flood

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 08:17

This is part of our story series, EKY Flood Relief: Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

“Books act as a gateway for children to experience the world, expand their imaginations, and sometimes even escape from difficult realities.”

West Whitesburg Elementary flooding aftermath

Amber Crawford, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Pikeville’s Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, stated on the flyer she created asking for book donations for her former elementary and middle schools after the devastating flooding in Eastern Kentucky. Amber was in Pikeville for clinical rotations when her mom initially reached out to her about the rising flood waters near her Letcher County home.

“I didn’t realize just how bad it was until I got on social media. Over the next few days, Mom sent me photos of devastation – from my great aunt’s house being overtaken by water, to the school where she is a K-5 STEM teacher (my former elementary school) being ruined. That really hit me.” 

Just days prior to the historic flooding, with the beginning of the school year just weeks away, her mother’s friends and colleagues had been sharing photos and stories about decorating and organizing their classrooms. All of that work had been destroyed.

“At least four Letcher County grade schools were basically totaled, with three of them – West Whitesburg Elementary, Whitesburg Middle School, and Martha Jane Potter Elementary having been under four feet of water.”

Amber, naturally, wanted to help. She anticipated that many organizations would flock to the area to provide donations to meet immediate needs of food, water, and clothing.

“I remembered how I LOVED to read, starting around third grade. I was the kid checking out a new library book every other day, always choosing to read as my free time activity. Books meant so much to me at an early age.”

Amber decided to try to organize a book donation drive, to replenish the libraries at her former elementary and middle schools – West Whitesburg Elementary and Whitesburg Middle School. She created a flyer and shared it on Facebook. The response was tremendous. She noticed people from all over sharing her flyers on social media, and information about the book drive also spread through word of mouth, reaching further than she could have ever imagined.

Initially, she was meeting individuals to collect donated books at designated drop-off points and collecting monetary donations via Paypal. However, the response was so large that a Letcher County school librarian, Sharie Bailey, ended up fielding calls and arranging donation drop-off in a central location at Letcher County Central High School. This way, they were able to coordinate distribution to not just the two schools that Amber Crawford hoped to assist, but to all flood damaged Letcher County elementary and middle schools.

Combined with Sharie’s own efforts to replenish lost libraries, book donations to Letcher County Public Schools have numbered tens of thousands. 

“I had one group alone that brought five thousand books at one time,” Sharie said. “Without the donations, I wouldn’t have had anything for my elementary and middle school libraries.”

Efforts to sort, catalog, and distribute donated books to the affected schools are still ongoing.

Bailey’s Amazon Wish List for ongoing donations of books and supplies to establish temporary school and classroom libraries for flood damaged Letcher County schools is available here:

Helpful Tip #1: Utilize social media to get the word out.

Amber Crawford’s book drive flyer took off on Facebook, triggering donations from a wide geographic area – from a large donation of books from a school in Virginia, to monetary donations from students at Eastern Kentucky University.  “Facebook and Twitter were great avenues to get the word out that we needed books,” Sharie Bailey shared.

Helpful Tip #2: Be specific about needs for supply drives. 

Sharie created an Amazon Wish List with specific educational book titles and collections. She used it to purchase items for school libraries with donated funds, and donors could use the list as a reference when collecting gently used books to donate, or purchase directly from the wish list to ship to the distribution center. 

There were some donated items that could not be used in the school libraries due to their contents or conditions. “Being specific about our needs from the start is something I would do differently if there were ever a next time,” Bailey stated.

Helpful Tip #3: Explore existing resources.

The Kentucky Department of Education has a School Crisis and Emergency Response/Recovery webpage with resources to help schools and school districts recover from a crisis:

About this story series:

Mountain Association is partnering with What’s Next EKY?! and Vision Granted to host a series of stories showcasing the incredible flood relief efforts across the region in response to the flood on July 28, 2022. With a goal to share hope and spark new ideas about ways you can help in your own community, these stories will showcase the creativity and hard work of local people, provide helpful flood recovery tips, and feature stories of neighbors helping neighbors. If you have a story or helpful tip to share, please contact Please learn more about this series here.

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