When I joined the Grow Appalachia team, I felt very passionate about a program that allowed me to learn, support and connect with fellow community members about all things garden related.  Once the growing season started, I couldn’t wait to visits our participants and explore the ways in which our program could help them on their garden-growing journey. At High Rocks we have beginner and intermediate participants, market gardeners, as well as several community gardens throughout Greenbrier and Pocahontas County. This year, not only does our Grow Appalachia team get to visit participants, we also asked our participants to “give back” to the program by volunteering in community gardens throughout the season.

The Greenbrier Birthing Center(GBC) is one of our community gardens. This is a center that gives the opportunity to pregnant federal inmates to have their babies outside of prison and spend up to 12 months bonding with their child.  In the beginning of the season, several of our participants were very interested in volunteering at the GBC.  Earlier this month, they took the initiative to meet with the mothers and sketch out a garden plan.  The mothers were really excited to take part in selecting the vegetables and were inspired to make baby food with their garden’s future harvest.

When we arrived on Friday morning, the sun was already blazing and there were just a few clouds in the sky.  Our Grow Appalachia team, along with a couple Grow Appalachia participants arrived with seeds, seedlings, and garden tools in hand. We gathered on the patio and began with introductions and then presented the mothers with all the plants and seeds they had choose for their garden. We brought some herbs, like basil, rosemary, and thyme as well as flowers, sweet potatoes, and a large strawberry plant. We also brought a variety of seedlings that High Rocks had started like tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers, and cucumbers.

Next we grabbed the mothers’ garden plan and headed to their plot, which had luckily already been tilled. We immediately started to carve out the beds and paths with rakes and forks.  Several mothers brought out their babies and placed them in the nearby shade as they helped us till and rake the beds. One mother brought out her mp3 player, which helped keep spirits high in the terribly hot weather. Soon we had finished the beds and we began my favorite part of gardening, transplanting.  We carefully transplanted the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and sweet peppers in their designated beds.  By 3:30pm the sun had had its toll and everyone was getting tired, we pushed onward and planted some lettuce and flowers before calling it a day.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to finish the garden and with thunderstorms in next week’s forecast, we made a plan to return on the next clear day to finish.  I really appreciated the opportunity to get to know the mothers and their children.  It’s always inspiring to connect with new people through gardening and food. I am really looking forward to taking part in the GBC community garden and the mothers’ garden-growing journey.