*Brief disclaimer: I pulled these photos from blogs published in 2014, and, quite frankly, I do not remember which site contributed them.  If you recognize one of your photos, please let me know so that your beautiful work can be credited.*

Greetings, Grow Appalachians!  Holly, VISTA at Grow HQ here, and I’m going a bit “Op-Ed” today.

autumn12Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about pictures.  This could be due to a little something I’m putting together for our gathering next month.  It could even be that I’m inspired by my fellow VISTA and his creative approach to a project he’s been working diligently on.  Whatever the reason, it goes without  saying that pictures are pretty impossible to miss in today’s day and age.  We have them framed in our homes, hanging on our walls and gracing our coffee tables. We have them on display on our computer desktops.  We’ve used up almost all our memory on our wireless devices, becoming a generation of freelance mobile photographers.  We flood our social media sites with snapshots of our faces, our pets, our children, and even our food.  But what I love most about pictures, especially when I consider the work I’ve been a part of for the past four months, is that behind each picture, behind each shutter of the lens, there is a story.

Last week, I spent a couple of days going through the collection of 2014 Grow Appalachia blogs.  While reading the extensive archive of posts, sometimes I laughed, but mostly I was wholeheartedly inspired by the words I read.  What further propelled my inspiration was that some of the pictures accompanying these words were simply stunning- snapshots showcasing their own stories, all woven together into a tapestry of a collective of like-minded people and places striving to make this part of the world we occupy just a little better.

OTRsignsWhen I think about the pictures from the past year, I see purpose. Potential.  Progress.  A love of the land.  The desire to do more and to be more.  Raw, unfiltered, natural beauty.  A movement enabling Appalachians to become catalysts for change in their communities.  A legacy of generations passing down the quest for homegrown food for as many as possible.


HQ Garden. Photo: Candace Mullins

I first came to Grow Appalachia with, surprisingly, very few expectations- and I don’t mean that in a negative way.  When you become a VISTA, you’re trained in many skill areas, and you may exercise one or all of them in your service year. Also, VISTA is not a “one  size fits all” experience, and what I do here in Berea in Madison County is vastly different than, say, what another VISTA in Whitesburg in Letcher County does.  I certainly didn’t imagine that I would be chronicling my experiences and disseminating information through the lens of a camera or through the blogosphere.  Not that I mind; even though I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, I’ve always channeled an inner creative itch that demands to be scratched from time to time.  But now that it’s become such an integral component of my VISTAness, it’s almost second-nature.  When Mark and I arrive on site for a tunnel build, I fall into a sort of routine, almost a mantra, in preparing the camera: Remove from case, and expose to the outside world. Assemble- twist until you hear the click. Lens cap, off.  Focus.  Capture.  And then I am a part of the camera, ready to continue the task of not only hearing stories, but, almost inadvertently, becoming a part of them.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  But sometimes, they can be worth so much more.