Whitesburg KY

Coal camp community to launch brick oven bakery

This cake celebrates the Brick Oven Bakery, which will open soon at Hemphill Community Center.

This cake celebrates the Brick Oven Bakery, which will open soon at Hemphill Community Center.

The launch of the Black Sheep Brick Oven Bakery, a community-owned business that will offer work, ownership, and training opportunities to local residents, as well as fresh-baked bread, was held January 19. The event included bluegrass music, shape note singing, homecooked food, and stories from the Hemphill community and beyond. PBS News Hour was on site covering the event. Photographs of the event were taken by Tanya Turner, Yvonne Potter, Bradley Johnson and Melissa Yates.

“There is nothing like hearth-baked bread,” said Gwen Johnson, the community center’s secretary and treasurer. “It feeds the body and seems familiar even if you have never before tasted it.” Johnson, who grew up in a family of Hemphill coal miners, works in early childhood education at the University of Kentucky.

Startup costs, including construction of the brick oven, is being funded through a partnership with Appalshop, the Whitesburgbased arts and education center. Hemphill Community Center has been a core member of the Letcher County Culture Hub, a network of about 20 community organizations administered by Appalshop. Culture Hub partners collaborate on projects ranging from cross-cultural exchanges to leading efforts toward community-owned broadband Internet, as well as supporting several new locally-owned businesses.

Once a thriving coal camp in central Appalachia, Hemphill is now “a community struggling with unemployment, addiction, and poor health outcomes,” Johnson explains. “Many of its citizens, in the throes of addiction, have been incarcerated. When they emerge from their cells they find it almost impossible to find a job.” The Black Sheep Bakery, she said, “will be a place willing to forgive and willing to train folks who are searching for acceptance and work. Hemphill Community Center believes these folks are a latent asset of the community.”

Founded in 1968, Hemphill Community Center is a gathering place for families, friends, and neighbors. Hemphill hosts regular lowand no-cost events, including traditional music, dance, craft, and cooking. It is also home of the Letcher County Coal Miner’s Monument and the Hemphill Catering Company. The Center is located at 2514 Highway 317, Neon, KY 41840.

For more information, contact Gwen Johnson, 606- 671-7023, gjthom2@uky.edu.

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