What do rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries and Grow Appalachia at the Cowan Community Center have in common? Give up? They each thrive in their third year! Grow Appalachia was planted at the center three years ago and we have established a strong root system. We have been harvesting lightly, weeding out what doesn’t work and we are looking forward to our best year yet.

What will the third year look like with the Grow Appalachia program at Cowan Community Center? Growth and collaboration will be the theme. We will be working with 70 individuals, families and organizations to support them with Grow Appalachia resources as they garden. Although, GA is based on Cowan and initially most of our participants were there, our gardens spread last year and we will have a growth spurt again this year. We are reaching out to the Eolia community across Pine Mountain in 2014. Eolia has a small school with less than 100 students in grades K-8, which is somewhat isolated from the county by Pine Mountain. A partner organization, Mountain Gardens is working with the school to establish a school garden complete with chickens. Grow Appalachia will partner with families and organizations in this community to help support 15-20 new gardens. We are excited to be working with new gardeners, and pleased to bring the experience we have gained in meeting this challenge.

Our Cowan Community garden will be available for twelve 20×20 garden spots, with the majority being beginning gardeners. We plan to use some of our established gardeners to be available at designated work sessions to serve as “garden gurus” for new gardeners. One garden spot will also be designated for children in the community. In this our third year, we are hopeful to have our high tunnel which Grow Appalachia will use as a teaching and demonstration garden with crops being available for Farmer’s Market and supplying fresh produce for special events, such as Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. Grow Appalachia will have a stronger presence at the Music School this year and provide food for music school students as well as workshops for visiting students.

Community Farm Alliance’s Farmer’s Market Support Program continues to be a tremendous support for Letcher County Farmer’s Market. The addition of a market manager looks possible in the near future. A goal will be to have Snap benefits in place by summer, with double benefits possible for low income families. Growers are being recruited and a Home Microprocessing workshop will be held at the Letcher County Extension office.

A partnership with UK and the Appal-TREE project is creating a county wide awareness and openness to addressing health and dieting issues. A film series will begin in February to screen a film each month dealing with food/farming issues with a panel discussion afterwards.

We hope to finalize partnerships w/other organizations shortly and have more involved. Our jail garden is growing from one acre to ten.

Amid all the new growth and increased partners, we will work to maintain the core of the project with Cowan Community Center which is growing communities one garden at a time. We will continue to have our comfortable canning sessions, where neighbors learn from each other and take turns holding the babies, our water barrel projects where we get to try our artistic skills in a safe environment, and there is something non threatening about painting on a water-barrel that allows for freedom. We will manage a field trip as it’s good for adults to learn/see new things. We are hoping for a garden tour when gardens are in there prime, allowing locals to see the best of the best or just meet and have conversations some Saturday morning in each other’s garden.

May special blessings come upon those who have made and continue to make Grow Appalachia a possibility.