Well met, fellow Grow Appalachians!  My name is Holly Korb and I am the new AmeriCorps VISTA here at Grow Appalachia HQ in Berea.  I graduated from Berea College in 2012 with my Bachelor’s degree in Biology, with a small Agriculture background.  I am really excited to be based at my alma mater.  The college community is very near and dear to my heart, and Berea is such a lovely town; to be a part of this network has been a longtime vision of mine.  I am also a lifelong resident of Appalachia, having grown up in southeastern Ohio.  I spent my whole life there until I came to Berea for my continuing education, but decided to make it my new home after I graduated.  Prior to joining Grow Appalachia, I spent the last two years working in Lexington in various capacities, so it’s a much-needed breath of fresh air to be a little closer to home.  I hope to meet everyone personally, but if  our paths are unable to cross, then we will definitely be communicating on this blogosphere as my year of service gets underway.

Switching gears a little: As I’m sure you are aware, the overarching goal of AmeriCorps VISTA is to build capacity for the organization in which he/she is serving.  My particular capacity-building area is focusing on the technical aspects of Grow Appalachia.  This is broken down into three focus areas: instructional manual design, hands-on implementation, and farmer advocacy support.  How I am to target these areas is by incorporating them into potential workshops that I will design curriculum and materials for.  One of my first projects is developing and sending out a survey to our partner sites, with potential capacity-building opportunities that Mark (our technical director) and I have come up with.  The survey will be sent out early next week, so please be on the lookout for that.

On to the rest of my story: On Thursday I had the opportunity to travel with Mark, along with David Cooke, the Grow Appalachia director, to Chad’s Hope Teen Challenge in Manchester (Clay County), Kentucky.  Chad’s Hope is a faith-based alcohol and drug rehabilitation center for men.  The average stay for each resident is about six months, but some remain in the program for up to a year.  Going full disclosure on my behalf, I had two initial impressions upon arriving at Chad’s Hope: first, it was located in an area that you would definitely consider “out there”.  Then again, given my stomping grounds and the fact that we serve the Appalachian region, that first impression was quickly dismissed.  The facility itself has a very homey feel; I immediately noticed a few of the residents sitting out on the porch and chatting happily with each other, as if they were with their own family members.  My second impression, upon walking in, was that I was the only female in the room!  Honestly, I may have been the only female in the entire facility!  Fortunately, everyone was unbelievably kind and receptive.  It’s evident that Mark has fostered some really incredible relationships there.

Mark, David and I met with several key players in the program, including a Clay County extension agent and two of the facility’s directors (both graduates of the Chad’s Hope program) and had an hour-long discussion about their future plans and current successes.  Our gardening partnership began with them just this year, and suffice to say the program is off to a very promising start!  This year, they have harvested 39 pecks of potatoes, 6 pecks of tomatoes,  more than 17 dozen ears of corn, and have canned 321 quarts (and counting!!) of goods including green beans, salsa, tomatoes, and banana peppers.  What’s more, John (the work coordinator for the residents) said that the educational benefits are almost outshining the success of the garden: the residents learn how to work the garden, plant, harvest, can vegetables, take care of the crops, and they are enabled to take these skills with them when they graduate the program.  After our meeting, we were taken to the kitchen where the canned goods are stored.  They were not exaggerating about the amount of canned goods!  To be honest, there were some concerns about the state of the shelves, being able to hold all those cans!  Green beans, tomatoes, peppers, salsa (so much salsa!!)…I believe at one point one of the directors said they were serving the residents tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!  My curiosity getting the best of me, I went out back and found Mark and Brad, the kitchen manager, over a meat smoker.  I missed the ingredients of Brad’s dry rub, unfortunately, but he went on to explain that as the ribs continue smoking, he “mists” them with apple juice!  Let me tell you, that piece of rib was probably the best-tasting rib I’ve ever eaten!  Our camaraderie was suddenly cut short, as a semi-nasty thunderstorm rolled in.    Gotta love Kentucky weather!

On our way out we stopped to look at the gardens.  The tomatoes were just beautiful, as was the corn (minus the parts that were trampled by a horse pest)!  In short, it was a wonderful visit, especially since this was my very first partner site visit.  I am really inspired by the work going on at Chad’s Hope, and I’m looking forward to our continued partnership.  I’m also really looking forward to the salsa that’s now sitting in my pantry! (Side note: my sister sampled some of it.  It gets a two thumbs-up from her.  Good job Chad’s Hope!!).

I do believe this is the beginning of a very, very good year…

Just a few of the many, many beautiful tomatoes growing!

Chad’s Hope garden- just a few of the many, many beautiful tomatoes growing!

Tomatoes ready for their close-up.

Tomatoes ready for their close-up.

Chad's Hope garden- rows and rows of peas! Some are blossoming already.

Rows and rows of peas! Some are blossoming already.