Hazard Spotlight: Jennifer Weeber

Last week, we started our Hazard Community Spotlight Series by introducing you to Morgan Kirk. Today, learn about Jennifer Weeber’s vision for Hazard, who she admires and what she’s got cooking at the Perry County Farmers Market. 

Who are you, and what roles do you fill in your community?
I’m still figuring this one out, but in the meantime… I am a social worker by training. I spent about twenty years working in Hazard with people experiencing homelessness, who are recipients of K-TAP, and who are a part of other vulnerable groups. I am now in the Masters of Social Work program on the Hazard campus of UK. I do not yet know what I would like to do when I finish school, but am very interested in local food, health, food security issues.

I’ve been baking for as long as I can remember (yes, I was a 4-H kid taking items to the county fair) and in the last few years have found my way onto the local food scene in Hazard. I volunteered during the 2015 season at the Perry County Farmers Market and loved it! I then became a home-based processor and began selling baked goods at the end of the season. Last season, I sold bread, scones, and muffins made with fruits and herbs I grew. It was a lot of fun to see people enjoying the food I made. I also joined the Northfork Local Food Board of Directors and am working with others to build the local food economy.

I am a transplant to Hazard. I grew up on a farm in Iowa, but moved here almost 25 years ago. The mountains have become home to me. I live in near Couchtown, just outside of Hazard, with my husband, daughter, and two cats. I have several small garden spaces, some old whiskey barrels with herbs, and some fruit patches.

What do you most appreciate about your community?
I love that Hazard keeps going. The coal industry has been in decline for a while and it has taken a toll on our community. Despite being knocked down, the community keeps standing up and finding ways to survive and work towards thriving – turning to local food, creating a community foundation, figuring out other endeavors.

I love that people work together to take care of one another. For example, our local homeless shelter closed recently and before long a church and its network stepped in to re-open it. My daughter’s school has embraced several students with severe health care needs by raising money for their families and making certain the students knew they were part of the East Perry family. Those are just two small examples of the generosity of this community.

What’s your vision for Hazard, and what’s a community project you’ve been a part of that makes strides towards that vision?
I just finished up a project for school where we were asking people this question. So, this made me smile. I would like to see Hazard be a vibrant community with a diverse economy, including local businesses, artisans, and a thriving local food system. (This was also what a lot of people said in our survey – there’s a real thirst for local restaurants, coffee shops, entertainment, hiking, local art.) I would also like to see it be a place where everyone has access to fresh, healthy food and no one faces food insecurity.

Our Farmers Market is part of this vision for me. It brings together local entrepreneurs, whether they be farmers, artisans, or bakers, and the community. It is one piece of creating a vibrant and diverse local economy. It can be a stepping stone for entrepreneurs. For example, one young farmer has been selling his produce at the market for several years. Through the market and local food network, he has been able to connect with a local restaurant to buy his produce. Knowing he has a place to sell his produce enables him to expand his farming and get him closer to his goal of full-time farming. A friend and I are exploring the possibility of a bread CSA. The Farmers Market also serves as a spring board for other endeavors. Some folks are figuring out how to translate the Fresh Stops CSA model from an urban area into Hazard. This model supports local farmers and gets fresh produce into the kitchens of community members, particularly ones who are low-income.

Who is a member of your community that you admire and why?
A few people came to mind when I read this question. I want to share two of them.

The first is Julius Ritchie. He’s been farming for years and selling at the Perry County Farmers Market since its inception. To me, he is the cornerstone of our market. He takes great pride in the produce he brings to market and what he has to offer is always exceptionally tasty. He also always treats people as his neighbor; he is fair in his sales and does not seem to know any strangers. Last year at this time, he was battling cancer and we were preparing, sadly, for a market without him. However, he wasn’t going to let cancer keep him from doing what he loves. He got his garden in a bit late and didn’t have as much as usual, but he was a regular at this past summer’s market with his beautiful produce and generous spirit. I admire his determination, his gardening prowess, and his generous spirit.

The second is Betty Morton. She is a strong woman with a generous spirit. She does not know a stranger and gracefully can make anyone feel right at home. She has been a part of many important endeavors in Hazard such as the Rotary Free Clinic and other services which have helped countless people get the help they need. She also raises some of the most beautiful flowers around. I admire Betty for her determination to take care of others, her welcoming spirit, and the grace with which she approaches life.