This past Monday, several of us got together at the Knott County Sportsplex to hear Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture, James Comer and Kentucky’s US Senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, announce the newest Kentucky Proud brand–Appalachia Proud: Mountains of Potential, a regional brand showcasing the best of Eastern Kentucky. Appalachia Proud is part of Commissioner Comer’s action plan for economic development through agriculture in Eastern Kentucky. There are several points and recommendations for the region that were highlighted that day but the one that made me sit up and take notice was the recommendations that “KDA’s Division of Agriculture Education work in conjunction with state FFA officials to reach out to every Eastern Kentucky high school and activate or further develop a Future Farmers of America (FFA) Chapter.” I love it, agriculture education back in the schools. Imagine kids actually learning where their food comes from.

The Grow Appalachia program at St Vincent Mission has been doing that on a small scale for three years now. For the last two years, selected students worked with Todd Howard at his greenhouse and in the fields in the Greenhouse Mentoring Program. Todd is changing his greenhouse over to aquaponics this spring but the students are still working in Grow Appalachia, this time as an actual credit class. Their science teacher, Anna Spittler, is working with four teenage boys in the school’s kitchen garden and growing starts for our Grow Appalachia families in their classroom.  So far this semester the boys have studied different techniques of composting including composting with worms. They hope to have the worms up and eating this week. They are learning about the chemistry of growing food and how you don’t just dig a hole, put a seed in and come back a little while later to pick tomatoes. You’d be surprised how many adults think that’s how it works.

One of the boys in the class has been gardening with his mamaw since he was five. I wondered how much I was going to be able to teach him and then it dawned on me, why not let him teach me. Too often we think that because we are leaders, we have to know all the answers. It is a very special moment when a young person, or an under-educated adult, is given the opportunity to share their knowledge with someone else. It is empowering.

Our work with the David School students is empowering-for all of us. Students who have spent a large portion of their educational career falling through the cracks, suddenly are given the responsibility of feeding their peers lunch. Recently graduated fledgling teachers are given the opportunity to teach in a setting that allows creativity. And families are celebrating first-time high school graduates.

I look at the motto for the newest KY Department of Agriculture’s brand-Appalachia Proud: Mountains of Potential and realize that Commissioner Comer is only echoing something the David School and Grow Appalachia have known for a while. Given a hand up, most mountain families have potential.

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Anna Spittler and the boys starting cabbage seeds


The David School Students-Mark Parson, Austin Salyer and Austin Hayden.


The David School has the first tomato of the year!!



Anna rescued a volunteer tomato plant while cleaning out the beds last fall and brought it inside the cafeteria.