QUICKSAND, Ky. – Ideas come in many ways, shapes, and forms. For Melissa Allen, it was about resources, and, of all things, a map – and an interactive one to boot.
She is an Environmental Education Leadership Corps AmeriCorps volunteer at Robinson Center for Appalachian Resource Sustainability (RCARS) in the remote Breathitt County community of Quicksand, Ky. RCARS is a part of the university of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment.
Allen, a native of Nebraska, has a degree in Geospatial Information Science. Her service at the Robinson Center made perfect sense.
The interactive map Allen created came after conducting some basic research on resources in Breathitt County, particularly access to locally-grown produce.
“After talking with others about the distribution – and really sometimes, the lack thereof – of produce in Eastern Kentucky, I was kind of curious to see what that distribution looked like, and where those gaps in accessibility are, too,” said Allen. She added that maps are a way to take what can be complicated data and turn them into “works of art.”
And that led into a map.
Allen’s areas of focus included research on available produce, community resources, recycling centers and extension offices in each county. She compiled the information into an Excel document, and through the help of county extension agents, who are also a part of the University of Kentucky, began to verify her findings.
Allen created the interactive map with assistance from Jerry Sandifer, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Coordinator at the Kentucky State University’s College of Agriculture, Communities, and the Environment Cooperative Extension. It can be used as an educational tool for students that are interested in the software and coding languages that Allen used during this project.
“I’m excited to say I’ve learned a lot. I’ve never made a web map like that before, so it’s my first official GIS project outside of formal education,” said Allen. “I had to spend hours on YouTube looking for web mapping tutorials and skimming through GIS forums, because there was so much I didn’t know and it was a long learning process. But now I feel so confident in my skills. I also learned a lot about Eastern Kentucky’s resources and services available in this area, since I manually had to find each one. I feel even more connected to the area now through this project.”
View the Interactive Map HERE.