This week’s blog is easier to write than most in some ways, I don’t have to rack my brain for a new and interesting topic, and I have no research to carry out, but it’s also harder than any blog that I have written in the past two plus years, because it will be my last. This Saturday I will be packing up the last of my belongings and heading north, back to my home state of Minnesota. It’s hard to express what a great impact my time here at Pine Mountain has had, and will continue to have, on my life. So much of my experience over the past two years has revolved around my involvement with Grow Appalachia and I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to work with this amazing program.

A little over 2 years ago I graduated from college without the slightest idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of life, much less the next month of my life. Through AmeriCorps I soon found myself at Pine Mountain Settlement School, in Harlan County Kentucky, working with Grow Appalachia. The learning curve was steep as I immediately began the daily work of helping participants in their gardens. As I learned how to grow, and preserve food, to inoculate mushroom logs, tend bee hives, till a garden, and plant cover crops, I began to realize how much I love working outside, working to sustain our everyday lives with healthy food, and working with people who are eager to learn and implement new (and old!) practices. While I don’t know exactly where my life will take me next, I leave here knowing that I want to work outside, with food, with people, with organization who care as much as I do about feeding our people and tending our land in the best way possible.

I have learned vast amounts during every day spent working with Grow Appalachia, for which I have Maggie Ashmore to thank, and I walk away from this experience with so much practical knowledge and experience that I never would have believed I would acquire. I will forever know that I can feed myself and my family, in an organic fashion no less, and hopefully I will be able to continue to feed and educate others throughout the rest of my life. Grow Appalachia is such an amazing program, and one that is truly beneficial to the people that it serves. In my short time here in Eastern Kentucky I have watched Grow Appalachia develop from a program that no one knew about, into the standard of community gardening in the Appalachian region. Everyone involved from JP’s Peace Love and Happiness Foundation, to those working at Berea, to those working in the 25 communities throughout Appalachia are doing such great work, and the success of Grow Appalachia wouldn’t be possible without each and every one of these people. I owe a great debt to those who have provided knowledge, assistance, friendship, and advice to Maggie and I these past few years.

The participants in Grow Appalachia have also taught me many lessons about the meaning of hard work, generosity, community, and resilience. In the past two years I felt at home and welcomed by the participants in our program and in the last three weeks I have felt more love from these people than I ever would have known possible. With each goodbye I try to express the fact that they have all given me so much more than I could ever give them, but I am usually silenced by a chorus of voices telling me how much I will be missed and that I will always have a home at Pine Mountain.

A big thank you to everyone involved in Grow Appalachia, I know it changed my life and I hope it will continue to change many thousands more in the years to come!