Greetings Grow Appalachians! Holly checking in from the Grow mothership. Here we are, almost halfway through November, and it is COLD here, y’all! Earlier this week the mercury almost hit 70F, and today we’re at 31 and holding. What?! After six years of living here, I guess I should just surrender in my failed quest to attempt to make sense of Berea’s weather. Anyway, after being buried in reports for most of the week, as well as fighting off the tail end of a cold, I thought I would engage you all (and quite possibly myself as well) in this new-found change of pace by sharing our most recent workshop adventure.
On Friday the 7th, I had the opportunity to travel to Laurel County with Mark, David, and Candace, to attend a high tunnel workshop that was sponsored by the LCAAHC, the Laurel Co Extension office, the USDA NRCS (whom many of you are probably familiar with) and Southern SAWG- the Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. Southern SAWG started over 20 years ago, and it serves 13 states in the US, working with various organizations in order to create an agricultural system that is more sustainable and economically stable. I encourage you to read more about SAWG and their mission on their website. In addition, here is more information about the high tunnel initiative from the NRCS.
After a bit of a journey in reaching our destination (delays due construction and school buses), we arrived at the extension office bright and early. I was quite pleased to see the representation of a couple of Grow Appalachia sites: Chad’s Hope Teen Challenge and Lotts Creek. At the morning session, we heard from a multitude of different speakers. The first session was to sort of “frame the day” and focus our mindsets on the information we’d take away from the day. Man, oh man, what a great speaker! Andrew Williams was his name, and he’s a retired NRCS agent based in Alabama: great language, great mental images, great energy; I could have listened to him all day! Unfortunately, the flash drive they gave us doesn’t include any of his slides (I just checked!), but the gist of his talk was simple, but very eloquent (and I’m paraphrasing): “You have been touched by a finger of love, which enables you to be in your right state of mind. The blood runs warm in your veins, so you are alive, therefore you are capable of change and essentially doing something.”
We heard from a gentleman, Mark Cain, who runs an organic gardening enterprise in Arkansas. Dripping Springs Garden is in Carroll County and is part of a very successful farmer’s market in Fayetteville that brings in about $1.5 million per year! Dripping Springs grows in raised beds, in high tunnels, and outdoor, although most of their outdoor growing consists of flowers, which have also garnered a great deal of success at market. In addition to Mr. Cain and his business partner, they employ a host of summer interns, both from the US and from countries such as Thailand, Nepal, and Peru. It was so fascinating to hear of their program; they are doing some fantastic work!
Following the morning sessions and a mostly-local-food lunch (the ribeye was AWESOME), all of us attendees piled onto a city trolley and we traveled a short while to the LCAAHC Grow Appalachia farm site. Unfortunately, the poor trolley could not make it up the very steep hill leading to the site, and after some valiant attempts, we had to continue our journey to the site by foot. For those of you who have visited the LCAAHC GA site, you should know exactly what I’m talking about! I will not complain; it was quite a pleasant day, and I didn’t mind getting to know some of my fellow workshop participants. One of the first things I noticed upon arriving on the site was the sheep! There were five or six of them, and they were rather comical to me- I was tickled every time one would bleat. Please accept my apologies, as I’ve always been amused by livestock. I heard not too soon after, in a sort of off-hand comment, that they were going to end up as part of some very lucky folks’ Thanksgiving dinner! Don’t tell the sheep that!
Mark got to talk about the high tunnels, after being put on the spot by David; LCAAHC has five of them, the most recent one constructed in July or August of this year, by Wayne and some female inmates from one of their work-release programs. The other four were constructed by Grow App, with Wayne’s help. Many of the folks attending had many questions about the tunnels, mostly in regards to the construction process and the cost. Just for your information, we at GA personally employ two different designs: a quonset model and a Gothic style model. The quonset is 12 x 48 and the Gothic is about 15 x 48. You’re looking at about $1400 for a quonset, a little more for Gothic. That’s just a sneak peek: there’s plenty more information, and some dandy pictures, on the high tunnel portion of our website. Back to Laurel County: the tunnels are looking great! Granted, many of the crops were not in production anymore, as we’ve had a few frosts, but the tunnels themselves looked practically brand new! Great job, Laurel County folks! One interesting tidbit on-site is that the tunnels’ irrigation system is powered by a solar panel, which is powered by a well on Wayne’s neighbors’ property. Sustainable ingenuity at work!
It was a very informative and pleasing day. I am always grateful for opportunities to spend time with my rockin’ awesome team outside of the office, to travel to our partner sites, to network with new folks, and to further develop my ever-growing list of knowledge and skills. Oh, and Candace and I got to partake in a short joy ride by driving Wayne’s golf cart. That was pretty exciting!
It could be after Thanksgiving when you all hear from me again, so if that is the case, then I offer you my warmest wishes for a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving holiday, full of yummy food, the love and comfort of family and friends, and memories to sustain you as you go about your work and your play.