Greetings Grow Appalachia family! This is VISTA Holly speaking, and the end is nigh! Well…the end of 2014, anyway. Is it just me, or has this year gone by at virtually break-neck speed? All metaphors and rhetorical questions aside, I am greatly looking forward to 2015. 2014 has been an absolutely incredible year for me, both personally and professionally, and I am eagerly anticipating whatever could possibly come next! Leaving a full-time benefited job and coming to Grow Appalachia was certainly one of the best decisions I’ve made this year, and it’s only just started! The high tunnel aspect of my VISTAness has really taken off! Since we last spoke, I reflected on a high tunnel workshop I attended in Laurel County. Now I am here to share another build that took place last week, this time with our friends over at the David School. The David School are in the works to join the Grow Appalachia family in 2015. They are located in Floyd County, about 10 miles from Prestonsburg, and practically neighbors to St. Vincent Mission. The school itself is a non-profit that offers a comprehensive education to students who have dropped out, are at risk for dropping out, or have fallen behind in typical public school. The current enrollment is 27, and many of them are local, though a few travel from Magoffin County. Many of them also do not have to pay tuition or fees of any kind. We are excited to continue our partnership with them!
Last week, Mark and I braved the gray skies and made the 2 1/2 hour trip, and upon arrival I noticed that we were entirely surrounded by mountains; some of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen! I’m a lifelong Appalachian native, so I’m not a stranger to rural or mountains, but this was something else! We arrived late morning and decided the light drizzle was not enough to deter our efforts, so we got to work right away. The students were SO excited! I must say, if it was me at their age, I don’t think I’d have even a fraction of their excitement! A few of the students learned rather quickly that hammering in ground posts is not as easy of a task as it looks, as sledgehammers are quite heavy (Just in case you aren’t aware of that!) Nevertheless, they persevered, and by lunchtime we had all ground posts in place; even the hoops were in place as well. Unfortunately, well into our lunch we noticed the rain growing steadily, and by the end of lunchtime we decided it just wasn’t going to let up, so we made an executive decision to postpone tunnel work for the rest of the day. The students were undoubtedly disappointed, but they were such good sports about it! The rain proved to be a bit of a welcomed reprieve for Mark and I, as we were able to have some very detailed and productive conversations with the David School staff about their in-the-works Grow Appalachia proposal, their future plans with us, as well as their plans with the high tunnel. We don’t often get that one-on-one conversational privilege so, as mentioned, it was greatly welcomed. They have big plans, y’all: After working out an irrigation system and getting production started, they wish to implement a at-school stipend program for the summer, recruiting students to work at the garden and create workshops on canning and food preservation, in the hops that they will pass the knowledge on to their own families. David School principal Diantha Daniels sees the high tunnel as an additional classroom, a practical and alternative educational experience that provides hands-on learning and applicable knowledge, such as math and reading skills. Word on the street is that we may even be building a second tunnel for them!! Below are a few pictures from the first day.
Mark and I were put up in the on-site cabins, owned by the school. It was so cozy…and warm! With the exception of a fly that kept me company most of the night, it was a peaceful night of sleep. Berea is so noisy compared to this mountainous oasis I found myself in in Floyd County- and Berea isn’t even that big of a city! After an early start, and more cups of coffee than I care to admit (I am definitely not a morning person), it was all systems go for the day ahead. We were still welcomed with unkindly gray skies, but the forecast called for clearer skies later in the day, so we remained cautiously optimistic. From the get-go (or, in school terms, first period), it was all hands on deck and we braved the morning on/off light rain and got quite a bit done by our next lunch break. The atmosphere had dramatically changed; you could almost FEEL the excitement and anticipation. One of the many reasons I love going on builds is that you really do get to see the work in progress, because that’s what high tunnel building is: a process. You can see what used to exist, and as the work continues, you see all the elements come together into one grand design. That pumps people up! I feel like I overuse the word “enthusiasm” in my writing about building tunnels, but I can’t help it, because that’s exactly what I see, especially from those who come to help us out.
We pressed on through the afternoon, knowing full well we weren’t going to finish, but knowing that we would get as much done as possible! The end of the school day is 3:15, and we had to pause work for an obligatory group picture (that had me sitting on a ladder), and a brief “ceremony” in which Mark and I were presented with cards and (very tasty!!!) homemade chocolate chip cookies for the journey back to Berea. It was unbelievably kind! As mentioned earlier, the tunnel is not yet finished, but it has turned into a teaching experience/ life lesson for the students: Good, and valuable, things take time, and sometimes unexpected circumstances arise, and you just have to work around them and do the best you can. In a society where it’s become “everything at your fingertips”, and go go go, it’s easy to see the value of hard work sometimes go unappreciated. Yes, there is a certain pace and rhythm to high tunnel building, but it’s not rushed, and any and all help is greatly appreciated and used.
Of course, we could not have been able to persevere through the rain and the mud without some good humor throughout the two work days; much of this was coming up with ways for us to not lose our boots in the mud! I also learned of a superstition: Apparently it is bad luck if you close a knife that somebody else has opened. Perhaps this is why I and a dozen or so of us holding on almost took to the open mountains when a gust of wind caught our plastic! Definitely not my preferred method of travel, but hey, whatever works. I became known by many different names, and was even dared into a “mud run”, which is where you run through a track of mud as fast as you can (which, by the way, I did receive an OK from Mark, but for one reason or another, it didn’t happen). I’m sure many more stories will continue to surface as the next few weeks go by, and even more so when we return…which is looking like that will be sometime after the new year.
I thought it would be a good bit of levity to wrap up this post by showing off a few of our “fun” pictures. In the sometimes monotonous ebb and flow of the workplace and work pace, we ought to remember that work shouldn’t always feel like work. I heard a quote when I was in college that says “You need to play as hard as you work to stay sane.” I happen to wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Plans are well underway for a return visit, and we look forward to many more hours of continued work and play with our friends at the David School!