Kimberly Hunter focuses on the long game. A real estate agent, broker, cooperative business developer and member of Asheville’s Downtown and Civic Center commissions, she’s committed to working with farmers, property owners and businesses that have long-term, sustainable investment mindsets.
“There are more and more people who really care, not just about their own needs and interests, but then, ‘Who am I selling to? Is it someone local or someone from outside the area? What is the succession of what’s going to happen to this property?’” she says.
As the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic shifts the landscape for cooperative development initiatives, Hunter’s primary concern has become helping community members keep their property — particularly those who slip through the cracks of current aid programs.
“I’m trying to convene people who care in a way that will help the folks who are being left out, because there’s a high percentage of our friends and neighbors who won’t make it.” says Hunter. “They were living less than paycheck to paycheck, and all of their income sources have been threatened because of their personal status — because they’re a low-wage worker, whatever the situation.”
Part of this new work has been helping to pull together some fresh cooperative efforts for Western North Carolina. One of these is the Patchwork Producer Alliance, a group of local farmers and food activists organizing to create a marketing outlet for small-scale growers and homesteaders. Developing cooperative business structures, she says, helps build food-secure, equitable, resilient communities that are better prepared to withstand threats like the current pandemic.
“Folks that have been doing solidarity work and social justice work in the form of creating business and community models that work are not as impacted by what’s going on with COVID-19,” she explains. “Because there’s already been a network — a web of cooperation — among individuals, and that creates a community in and of itself.”