Recently a work group from Lexington came to the Mission. One of them wanted to meet with me about the Grow Appalachia program but our schedules got crossed and that didn’t happen. Charlie sent a note with a donation to the program anyway. In his note he said, “I was a little disappointed to see that the emphasis seemed to be on people already gardening instead of mentoring those on government subsidies who are not gardening.” Here is my response:

Dear Charlie,

I am sorry that we missed each other too. I enjoy talking about Grow Appalachia and all the ways that the program helps people.  It does help people with existing growing experience but also introduces people who have never put shovel to dirt before.

 The basic goal of Grow Appalachia is to grow food yes, but I have found that what happens also is that Grow Appalachia seems to grow the human being in other ways too. Not one meeting goes by without someone being lifted up for their abilities or challenged to learn new things. A woman with no high school diploma who cans hundreds of quarts of food a year for her family can do something that a huge percentage of our population today cannot. Grow Appalachia honors her for that.

 Middle income families grow their own food and their children learn that potatoes grow under the ground and bees are important to life. Minimum wage earners grow food and supplement their income with the excess. College employees working together in the garden build relationships while feeding the hungry at the food pantry. Grow Appalachia encourages growing food for a lot more reasons than eating it.

 As to your disappointment that more folks on government subsidies aren’t gardening, I have one community garden in a local housing project. There are fifty or so apartments in the complex and at our initial meeting twenty people showed up to grow a garden. When ground was broken, five people started a plot. Of those five, three are still at it. Only one of the three has a job. The other two are on disability. They are canning food and giving food to their neighbors. I feel like this garden is a success.

 Gardening is hard work with no sure reward. One local merchant put it this way, “why should they go out in the heat and haul water and weed gardens when you (the food pantry) give them food they don’t have to do anything for?” Yet some of them do go out and do the hard work because they need to get some of themselves back. Grow Appalachia does that too.

 I appreciate that in spite of your disappointment you still give to the program. Your gift is seed. It takes about 90 days to grow sweet corn. And after fighting off crows, deer and raccoons to pick it, you aren’t guaranteed it will taste any good. But when it does, well then it’s all worth it. And that’s why I love Grow Appalachia. The harvest is worth it.


Sr. Kathy Curtis, OSB

Grow Appalachia Program Director