I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce myself as I take on my new role as Communications Director. I’m so excited to join PAN and get to work with an incredible team of talented and passionate people doing amazing work. My hope is that I can put my experience supporting local food systems and small farms to work advocating for agroecological practices.
A neurodivergent queer woman from Northeast Tennessee, I’m in my thirties and live with my husband and our cat, Dixon, in Jonesborough. I was born and raised in Fall Branch, about 10 miles from where I now live, and most of my family was also born and raised nearby.
Both sides of my family have roots that stretch deep into the hills and hollers of Northeast Tennessee going back generations. My childhood glittered with Appalachian traditions. Summers were spent learning how to save heirloom tomato seeds with my Papaw Don, and stringing half-runner green beans to be canned on my Granny Jane’s front porch. We kept our annual tradition of making apple butter in a copper kettle that was older than my dad. I still remember listening to my great aunts sing old-time folk songs along with a banjo after we’d canned up the apple butter and could hear the jars seal with a tinny ping every few minutes.
Nearly all of my most precious memories orbit around food. Like most cultures, Appalachia’s foodways are central to its traditions. My hope is that these Appalachian traditions can be passed down to my nieces and cousins. But as hundreds of acres of farm and woodland are lost year after year to development in Northeast Tennessee, I worry that there will be an irreparable loss of both natural resources and cultural knowledge.
I believe that it is through our foodways and food systems that we can curb land loss, protect our environment, and foster antifragility in our communities. (If you aren’t familiar with the term “antifragility” it is a word that was developed by Nassim Taleb and means a property of systems which are able to better thrive as a result of experiencing stressors or chaos.) Access to healthy, culturally appropriate food is a human right. Ensuring that our food is safe to consume, grown ethically, and raised sustainably should be central to the food justice conversation.
Outside of my work in the food and agriculture space, I’m quite active in the poetry community in my hometown. I enjoy writing and sharing my work at local open mics, and hope to publish a collection of my own work in the future. I’d like to share a short piece I wrote that was inspired through a conversation about antifragility that I had with colleagues of mine who also work in food and agriculture in Central Appalachia.
you are not just strong
nor merely resilient
no, you were born
from ancient mountains
rocks made of starstuff
which pushed themselves
up through the ocean
well before life grew legs
and like those old mountains
you become more
with each storm
with each fire
with each quake
you become what you withstand
I love the concept of antifragility, and I think we can work together to find a way to structure our food systems to be as antifragile as possible. It’s something I like to think about because in fighting for a healthier, more just, decentralized food system, we are also fighting for a food system that is inherently less fragile. A food system built for and by small and diverse farms and independent businesses that work with their geography, their climates, and their seasons could be made stronger when stressors like economic downturns or pandemics crop up. I know my community certainly saw an increase in demand for local poultry when it was suddenly hard to find chicken at chain grocery stores during the pandemic. It’s moments like these that showcase the fragility of our industrialized food system, and point us towards one that is built by and for communities.
Thank you for taking the time to get to know me a bit more. I look forward to learning more about PAN’s work, and to sharing it with you.
Kayla Nichols, Communications Director