Wow, what a wonderful week we had!  As I, yes I, Debbie Strickland, loaded 9 teens in a van Monday and headed to Berea, KY, from Greeneville, TN.  We had a 3 and a half hour drive with teenagers!  The drive went very well as we headed west through the Cumberland Gap on Hwy 25E.  The teens were excited, and anxious to view this beautiful college campus I had told them so much about, Berea!  We arrived at 4:00 p.m., and were greeted by such wonderful staff!  They had a cottage waiting for us to get comfortable and feel like we were at home.  We settled in, deciding which room girls would get and which room the boys would get, sat and laid down the expectations of each other, reviewed our tour for Tuesday, and decided where we would go for dinner.  The teens were eager to explore Berea and see what was around them.  Our first night was a late one.  All teens were in their rooms by 11:30 p.m., but the boys did not go off to sleep until 3:00 a.m.  I was in the next room listening to the laughs at 1 a.m., the music at 2 a.m., and then the parade of boys,one at a time, to the bathroom at 3:00 a.m., then silence.  Finally, I could sleep for 3 hours before everyone was due up to eat breakfast and gather for our tour!

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Our tour began with looking at the farm.  We were driven around the garden area, where hoop houses await for fall crops to be planted, bees a buzzing, compost piles (rows) waiting to be turned into usable garden nutrients, onions and garlic drying in the greenhouse, and garden spaces in use.  The idea of this food going into the cafeteria at the school, I believe, fascinated some of the teens – Farm to School!  We then drove down to the animal side, where cows were grazing, chickens ranged, and pigs came to greet us.  The teens also saw some goats and a chicken tractor that houses layers.  Their was excitement amongst the teens as they actually saw students working in the fields.  One young man is extremely interested in an Agriculture Management degree.  It was exciting that every question the professor asked, he was able to answer.  The professor seemed very interested in him coming and working on the farm and exploring his interests even further.

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Two things that were of unusual sites for our teens were the grain silos and the big big John Deere Combine.  In East Tennessee, we have very  few of either.  In the whole time I have lived in Greeneville, I think I have seen one or two silos, and only one combine, but it was much smaller than this one.  One young man noticed the big green and had to ask what it was.  This allowed me to share about my time on my family farm as a youth, growing up in the bean and corn fields of Indiana.  I said these were seen on every farm and we had at least two.  I shared how they harvested the corn and the arm on the back would pull out and empty the corn into a farm truck that hauled the corn to the elevator.  These two items were ordinary sites for me, and was a refreshing sight that made me feel like I was closer to my home ground.

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After touring the Berea farm, we headed over to the Grow Appalachia office and met up with Mark Walden.  Mark took us on a tour of the Grow Appalachia garden, and in case you do not know, they have their own garden as well!  We hopped into our van and followed Mark a few miles from the campus.  The teens were able to get out and walk through the garden with Mark.  Mark was very happy to show us some pests in the garden and explained how to take care of those pests.  The teens enjoyed the tastings of peppers and cherry tomatoes Mark offered them to pick and try.  After he showed the garden and spoke about the Florida weave with the tomatoes, we saw the grillo tiller.  I have determined, and so did the young man in the above bottom left photo, we must have one of those tillers for our farm!  That tiller was amazing!  It turned in all different directions to make it easier to push through the fields, and you can buy attachments for it to do things like bale hay!  The young man is also wanting his FFA chapter to get one.  HMMM, I think this needs to be a budgeted item for next year!  Before leaving, Mark handed bags out to the teens and allowed them to pick some fresh vegetables to eat with our meals for the day, and to take home.  Peppers and tomatoes were hot on their list!  Some also picked zucchini and some squash.  The tomatoes and peppers were amazing in our scrambled eggs the next morning!


After lunch, the teens met with an admissions counselor to learn that what I said about a working college, and no tuition, was true!  Some teens who were sitting on the fence and not quite sure that this, or college, was right for them, were excited to tour the campus, and meet with our own Berea graduate, Eva Griffin at dinner.  Eva came along and joined us for the farm tour and met us for dinner, where she was able to give more insights into the campus and dig deeper into career choices.  Eva has been working since we returned to Greeneville, to connect these teens with the professors in charge of the programs they are interested in.  One teen, who is wanting to get a biology major, was very excited about the opportunity to intern in other countries and study marine life.  The guidance counselor who presented the enrollment information shared a story of his marine trip.  He was overseas interning for the summer, and was maybe 15 feet from a shark whale!  Ok, that sent her up on cloud 9!  Maybe this college will be a contender for her now.  She has asked for more information of the biology degrees available, and the aquaponics facility.

We later took a climb to the pinnacle, and toured the aquaponics farm, but I think I will save both of those experiences for a separate blog.  We had such a wonderful time, and this was definitely an eye opener for these youth from East Tennessee.  I cannot wait to share about the climb, which I think that everyone was trying to kill me, and the aquaponics.