The notion of having a brick oven originated from an ARC Flexi Grant Hemphill Community Center was granted April 2017. The project was called”The Back to Our Appalachian Roots Project.” Cooking over the open fire was a large component of the grant along with old time music and skill demonstrations from mountain artists and crafters. The volunteers at the Center became really good at cooking with fire and began to envision a brick oven although at the time it seemed impossible.
A few months after the close of the Flexi Grant period funders came to visit to ask questions about another local non-profit. While at our facility they asked if we had a wish list. Of course the brick oven we longed for was at the top of the list.
The downturn of the mono-economy of coal that had been our bread and butter for over 100 years looked like it was a thing of the past. We had never been able to imagine very large things before. Our friends at Appalshop are big visionaries. They helped us believe we could re-envision our community and our situation. Appalshop and the Letcher County Culture Hub had already, one year before, given us a $5000.00 seed money grant to open a social enterprise called Hemphill Catering Company.
A social enterprise has a social or environmental mission as part of its core purpose and motivation. A values-driven purpose is what distinguishes a social enterprise from one that pursues profit as its only bottom line.
Part of our purpose is the creation and training of a local job force from the population of folks who have either A) lost employment from loss of service jobs when the coal production waned and caused another out-migration of miners and their families seeking employment elsewhere; B) folks emerging from the incarceration “brain drain” created by the opioid crisis.
Yet another part of the creating a community “free space” were the purpose of Hemphill Catering Company. Free space??? A gathering place on neutral ground, common ground! A place where all are welcome regardless of differences of class, religion, sexual orientation, age, occupation, gender, etc. There are so few such spaces in our region. A place where we strive to love our neighbor as our self…no exceptions.
Lo and behold, we heard a rumor wafting across the county. A brick oven was to be funded from a grant being given to the Letcher Co Culture Hub. We could hardly believe our ears. Excitement and anticipation rippled our organization. There was much to plan and see to.
By the time the news came we had begun working with Snap recipients and Letcher County Drug Court participants. Both programs have a community service component. We quickly learned some of these folks were incredible workers, creative and innovative. We have always had a volunteer labor force. When we began to produce bread products we valued these contributors and co-laborers.
One day we were brainstorming names for our new enterprise as we worked. The conversation turned and someone said “I’ve always been the Black Sheep of my family”. Thus, the name was established.
Hemphill, being a coal camp, is well aware of the class divides that have always existed in this county. Our community’s labor history has always made us proud but the differences in bosses homes and miners homes were not hard to see. It was the difference in silk stockings and cotton stockings for the women folk. We have been black sheep in more ways than one because of coal dust. Our coal camp lay alongside the railroad tracks and as kids we played in the coal dust along the tracks. We proudly own that title of Black Sheep!