Valerie Horn of Whitesburg is latest Healthy Ky. Policy Champion, for increasing access to healthy foods in Letcher County

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has named Valerie Horn, a retired school counselor from Whitesburg who helps low-income residents in Letcher County gain access to healthier foods, as the latest Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion.

Horn chairs the Whitesburg/Letcher County Farmers Market and directs the local Grow Appalachia program for the Cowan Community Action Group.

She has also served as county director for Appal-TREE (Appalachians Together Restoring the Eating Environment), a Community Farm Alliance program that includes a summer food service for area children, classes in healthy cooking, and a campaign that encourages middle- and high-school students to choose water over sugary drinks.

Horn was nominated by Mike Caudill, the CEO of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corp. in Whitesburg. He said Horn was the inspiration for the clinic’s “Farmacy” program, which allows doctors to prescribe fresh fruits and vegetables to the clinic’s patients so that they can get them at the farmers’ market for free.

“The Farmacy program has directly benefited several thousand people in our area and has contributed over $500,000 to the local economy,” Caudill said in a news release. “Thanks to Mrs. Horn’s hard work and passion, this program has continued to be a success and has even been replicated in other communities and is a best practice.”

Jared Arnett, executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, which promotes economic development in Appalachian Kentucky, also praised Horn’s efforts.

“Mrs. Horn understands the impact food has on the culture of a community, and strives to bring healthy food into people’s homes,” Arnett said in the release. “She is not afraid of a challenge and works hard to meet people where they are, so that she can help meet the needs of her community.”

The award was presented by foundation CEO Ben Chandler at a regional community health forum at Community Agricultural and Nutritional Enterprises in Whitesburg.

“The policy changes that Valerie Horn has championed and helped implement are giving the people of her home community the opportunity to eat and live healthier,” Chandler said. “She is also working to bring together people representing various sectors: farmers, community health-care and cultural organizations and schools, to ensure that Letcher County residents can bring home and use fresh produce and other healthy foods. These cross-sector coalitions are key to improving health in a community.”

Horn is now eligible for the Gil Friedell Policy Champion Award, which comes with a $5,000 grant from the foundation to a Kentucky-based nonprofit of the winner’s choice. The winner will be announced at the foundation’s annual health policy forum Sept. 23 in Lexington.