The weather roller coaster is still going on in Greene County, TN.  Hi everyone, Debbie here with Rural Resources, patiently waiting the roller coaster with all the ups and downs of temperatures to finally come to a stop.  I don’t know about anybody else, but roller coasters get my stomach all flip-flopped around.  With the weather, my body fills flip-flopped, I don’t know how many times!  Well, I suppose we can only wait till mother nature is done flipping and a flopping us in all different directions.  But, that does not stop us from working.  Seed starting is underway.  I placed my seed orders for all my teen home gardens, and for the teen garden at Rural Resources.  In about a week, the garden teens will come in for their first real work in the greenhouse.  Yep, I am pulling up my lawn chair, sunglasses, flip-flops, and a tall cup of sweet tea to enjoy the warmth and basking in the greenhouse!  I cannot wait, especially since we will be dipping into single digits again at the beginning of the week.  I am SOOOO looking forward to it.  The greenhouse is one of my most favorite spots on the farm.  It is where we begin to sprout seeds for the garden, where our beginning teens start on the farm, and where seeds of change begin.

Many lives have walked through that greenhouse door, 119 at-risk teens since 2008 to be exact.  I have had the privilege and honor to watch them grow, experience life, change, and impact others.  Yet, there are a few every year that surprise us all and deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments.  This past year, two of our teens graduated high school and were excepted into Culinary Arts schools.

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On the left we have Jacqueline Everett who joined in 2010.  She came with, according to her, very little cooking skills, to developing a love for cooking.  I think she was just looking for something to do and be involved in.  Since joining, she has become one of my rock solid kitchen performers.  She had many questions in the kitchen at first, but took to cooking like a fish takes to swimming.  I can give her a task and with very little direction, off she goes!  She has acclaimed the teen program to directing her path into the culinary world.  She started attending Bob Jone’s University of Culinary Arts last fall.  I am looking forward to future culinary experiences from Jacqueline and future work together.  On the right Jordyn Suchman.  Jordyn came to the program in 2011 looking for something to do to connect her with other teens her age.  Jordyn was a home schooler who needed activities to be involved in and she had a passion to learn about where her food comes from.  Jordyn spent her first year making careful notes on how to grow food.  She put in her own garden at home, and as we did something at the farm, she would go home and do the exact same thing.  Tomatoes went out, she went home and put hers out, if we looked for pests, she went home looking for the exact same pests.  She then started her second year cooking.  She enjoyed learning ways of using fresh herbs, taking vegetables from the garden and creating beautiful dishes.  Business classes came and her group decided to make local pizzas, freeze, then sell.  She has continued selling frozen pizzas using homegrown ingredients, while attending an online culinary program with Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy.  Through dedicated chefs and program staff, the teens explored and developed a love for something that didn’t exist, that gave them direction for a better future.  I expect great things out of these two young ladies.

On a different spectrum of our program with at-risk teens, a young man, who has been involved with the teen program since 2009, received a high award in the agricultural world of Greene County.  Because of this young man, I had to dart out of our Grow Appalachia Gathering Friday, race home to have one hour to dress for a banquet.  I am sure I resembled a whirlwind as soon as David said good-bye.  I so wanted to say good-bye to many of you all and sit and talk a bit longer, but I knew I would be on a tight schedule to get home in time for the banquet.  I did make it home with one hour to get ready and turn around to leave again.  This young man has made me proud, not only as his youth leader, but mother as well.  When he began the program in 2009 he was just in 6th grade, and excited to finally get to do what the teens were able to do.  He has always had a love for animals, but agriculture wasn’t necessarily on his radar at this point.  He wanted to have fun, explore, and be a boy.  Little did he know then that he would grow, develop values, learn respect for others as well as his self, develop a relationship with livestock that makes me jealous, and become an agriculture leader.  Bobby Strickland was presented with the 2014 Young Livestock Producer Award for his dedication to livestock development at Rural Resources, at his school’s FFA farm, and his own genetic leopard gecko breeding program.  Bobby will become a farmer after high school.  He has every intention of raising pigs and I can see him growing a garden to help supply food for his critters and himself.  He has been a mentor to many teens who walk through our doors.  He leads classes at school on small animal care and at Rural Resources on livestock, soil health, and composting.  He has been speaking with his FFA advisors about implementing a farm to school project.  He is hoping to intern for a third summer at Rural Resources, but instead of working with the CSA, he is wanting to be the Farm Manager Assistant, helping with livestock development.  Yep, everyone here is proud of this honor and recognition of one of our teens in the agriculture arena.  The seed was planted, watered, and cared at Rural Resources.  His FFA Chapter, Chuckey-Doak FFA, further developed his love in a way we could not at the farm, producing a future farmer.  (wish I could have gotten a picture of him getting the award.  The aisles were so cramped I could not get out of my seat, then he was hid behind the American flag)

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Don’t forget that the seeds we sprout in our work, develop into seeds of change.  We do not always see it for many years, or hear the stories from those who we changed, but know that the work you do to help those in need is making an impact in their lives, then that impact is reaching to someone else in need.  I have been told these stories and others, many a few years after the teens have moved on from the program.  I never imagined that a tiny seed would or could create such life changing experiences.  So, be aware that you are making a difference.  You may not know it today, tomorrow, next year, or you may never know but you are.  Keep planting those seeds and sprouting change in our food system for families who need it the most.  These changes will be our future.  They will be our politicians, teachers, lawmakers, and (most important) our farmers.  They will be taking care of us.  Remember what you want the world to look like, and work to making that difference today.  For all these teens, no matter if they grow their own food or buy food, know what they want REAL food, and they know how to get it!