One of the things I love about being a Grow Appalachia coordinator is that I get to help figure out the larger picture of our local food system plus I get to do very specific grass-roots work—like pulling up grass, by the roots, in participants’ gardens.
On Monday I represented some of our participants at a meeting with the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation’s Local Foods Initiative team. We discussed the upcoming feasibility study to build a PAD facility. (I just learned that this stands for Processing, Aggregation, and Distribution. If it were in procedural order it would be Aggregation, Processing, Distribution, but that acronym isn’t as catchy.) This facility, should it prove feasible, would help complete the chain between local growers and buyers across a wider, yet still local, region.
For example, it could facilitate local produce being served in the public schools because people growing small volumes of food could aggregate them with other growers’ produce to meet institutional demand. Vegetables could be washed and made kitchen-ready more efficiently than growers doing these things on their own. Finally, distributing from a central location will make it easier for schools, restaurants, stores, etc. to order locally.
On Wednesday, I met with the education committee of the Blueprint Initiative for Marlinton, WV a consortium of business owners, local government officials, and educators who have come together to develop the local food economy. Here, we began the planning process to help inform our community about the value of sourcing our food locally and eating a healthy, minimally processed diet of fresh food. We can grow it here, but will people eat it here?
We think the answer is yes, but not without some smart strategies for our schools, media outlets, and retail establishments. In the room was the director of nutrition for the schools, a hospital administrator, a retired baker, the Blueprints coach, and me—an educator turned local food zealot. We talked about engineering this cultural shift on several levels: giving school kids delicious examples of local food, empowering old timers to share their knowledge of growing and preparing real food, and informing the public at large how our community wins by investing in local food. I say “engineering this cultural shift,” because I want you to picture the lot of us in a darkened room, rubbing our hands together with sinister grins, because that’s exactly what it was like.
On Thursday, I informed one of our participants that she had mummies in her front yard according to the WVU extension service. She took it well and will be trying the recommended sprays next spring on her plum tree. Trees are such an import food source in our mountains. Plums, apples, pears, peaches, cherries, walnuts, and chestnuts provide shade, nectar for bees, habitat, and supplement many meals. How fortunate we are to have the knowledge and support of the extension system.
On Friday I helped our youngest gardener go into fierce battle with jimson weed. He told me on the phone that I should be prepared for a weedy garden, but I was not prepared at all for what I saw. Did you know that jimson weed can grow at least 8 feet tall in dense thickets that feel like a bamboo forest when you are inside?
He attacked the stand with a gas powered weed-whacker and I swung at it with my scythe. It is with no small degree of smugness that I report that my tool was far superior. It was kind of like the John Henry legend played out in the garden. Surprisingly, we found lots of pole beans and cucumbers climbing up the weeds. Good soil grows all kinds. He also has some beets and nice cabbages and Brussels sprouts coming along.
Having this time in the garden with a young gardener is a small pixel in the local foods picture, but such an important one. He wants to grow vegetables for the farmers market and he would love to be able to sell produce to the schools. How wonderful a program is Grow Appalachia that I can help him move past his discouragement over weeds and work on opening up future markets for him in the same week!