Valerie here, and those are not my words, but Don Maggard, a participant and grower for the market who summed up his feelings about Grow Appalachia.

We had a great start to the Cowan Creek Grow Appalachia program this Saturday.   I hesitate to use the word meeting, because this didn’t feel like a meeting.    Folks had been stranded in their homes for a couple weeks and the grown ups here are more excited for Spring to come than children are for Santa at Christmas.   We were all happy to get out and nothing more pleasing to talk about than gardens and all that goes with that….and there is plenty.  Our meeting was to begin at 9:30 for early birds and officially start at 10:00.   People began arriving by 9:00 and enjoyed pancakes and had a social hour before we started at 10:00.   Folks were lingering in the parking lot after twelve.

We were fortunate to have been gifted a generous supply of seeds, (thanks to Hilary Neff and Mountain Garden Initiative) so we had those available for participants to choose from.  Our warm up was to choose a plant that speaks to us, tell why we chose that particular one and choose three words from the description on the seeds that describes us.   Answers included:  needs sunshine, average, tall, prefers shade, good companion, round, meaty inside, prickly, needs water, hearty, spindly, ever bearing, tasty, aromatic, fleshy, hardy, etc.   It was nice to see how similar we humans and plants are, down to our personality traits.  It was fun and a fast and easy way to get names w/faces for a large crowd.    We never want folks to leave wondering who someone was.    We’re growing our community as well as gardens.    You’ll see one of the group saying that much plainer than I can in the video.

At the risk of being too lengthy of a blog, I wanted to share some of the highlights of the meeting.   First, we covered all required material for the Grow Appalachia program in verbal and written form.   We took care of business, and then we took care of each other.    I’ll apologize right up front to any participants who were there and shared w/the group that I omit.   You’ll learn I make plenty of mistakes, but try to make up for it up down the road.  I’m trying hard to step back and let the group become more of the driving force and provide opportunities to learn from each other, as they have so much to offer.   When I forget, a little like yesterday, it’s good my Dad is there, to take over and draw folks out.

Who was in the room and a few of our stories:

Paul McIntosh, his first time at a Grow Appalachia meeting, not a new gardener, but new to collective gardening.    Paul has a young family, drives for UPS, has limited free time, but at the end of meeting offers to a group of over 60 people that if anyone has trouble with their tiller, he’s pretty good at fixing them and can be called on.   Hopefully, he’d be paid if someone calls, but the offer didn’t come out as recruiting business at all, but as a sharing of a particular skill he has.    It’s nice to be awed by the good in people.

Addison Whitaker, a senior at UK and former intern with Grow Appalachia, now serving as an intern at the Department of Agriculture.   Addison made a point to be in Whitesburg this weekend for the first meeting.   Addison and his father,  Mitch Whitake, Letcher County Extension were there early and stayed late answering questions.  Addison keeps up with us as he can and shared the upcoming  Market Ready Producers meeting which he helped make happen and will be a big boost for our growers to attend w/out leaving EKY.    This will be happening at the Knott County Extension Office on March 23rd, beginning at 9:00 a.m.

Myrell Short,  retired coal miner who had brought a sampling of the syrup he has tapped into, and how sweet it was.

Andy Moore, in his very early twenties and one of the most knowledgeable in the room and a strong grower for the market.    Before the meeting started he shared w/me that he had about 90 packs of the ‘plum granny’ seeds to share with participants.   I had been fascinated by their story when he brought them to the market last year, so we’re all going to have a chance to grow them now.   I’ll share more particulars of them in another blog for those who may be wondering.  During the meeting, Andy always has the answers about the gardens.   After the meeting, I said, “you need to be teaching.” he replied, “anytime.”    We have to find that time.

Don Maggard, retired coal miner and market grower.  So many wonderful people in the room, but Don stands out in the most unassuming way.    Don has the patience and kindness to work and teach anyone.    Connie Dennison, participant asked how to have more productive peas.    He listened to what she does, asked some questions and in the end, they decided peas could be planted closer together, as close as one inch apart and his suggestion was to cover w/horse manure.   We did get Don recorded and will share when I get some technical help.

Helen Cooper, retired school administrator.    Helen shared she had always enjoyed the garden, but never really worked with the garden and her mother had done much of the food preservation as she was out of the home working.   Now she’s completely comfortable canning her own food and cherishes every jar.    She shared she’ll be making jams from blackberries that were almost lost when power went out and the freezer had to be emptied during the snow storms.   Helen says she is the first in their garden now and not only takes a hoe, but also the camera.

Sandra Hatton, my friend Angie’s mom and 100 other hats she wears spoke of the bonds made during the canning sessions.   She says angels are sent to us when we need them and she met them at the gatherings.     She talked of being lost in the process at the beginning and a member, WAnda Stamper stepped up and shared the work with her and she made jam and a friend.   The next week she gifted her new friend w/a basket for reaching out to her.    For Sandra, she says those sessions were spiritual to her to work with the women and surprisingly MEN who were there.    Sandra had a table of interested new participants with her, including her son’s wife, Andrea who lives in Pikeville, where her husband is a doctor.    I can’t help but feel good that folks see what is happening as important enough to drive from Pikeville on the first Saturday we’ve been able to get out in three weeks.

Rick Lucas, a miner there with his family who will be joining this year.    Rick was proud to share he was one of the ‘men’ in the canning classes and proud to be there.    He’s taken his skills and canned more on his own too.   Rick and his family will bring much to the group.

Vanessa Hall, retired teacher and her mother, Lenelle Little, also from Pike County who made the 45 minute drive each week for the canning sessions.    Vanessa and her Mom are usually early and stay to help clean up.    They are the kind of people you want to be around, always positive.   Vanessa has a great picture of produce she would share w/her church.  I just wish she lived closer.   Lenelle commented on the number of young people in the room and what an inspiration they are.   Vanessa shared she has taken off and is a pioneer homesteader now, tapping her own maple tree for syrup, because she knows she can do it now.

Steve and Barbara Pratt and son, Stephen, Carpenter, nurse and heavy equipment operator there to learn more about being involved w/the farmers market and bees.   This family is also interested in learning more about meat processing and marketing, including rabbit.    They already know lots more than I do about it, but hoping we can figure it out together and expand markets.

Ruby Partin, a caregiver for aging parents.   Ruby really didn’t speak out at the meeting, but we talk and this is an outlet she needs at this time in life and she has much experience w/gardening and will bring much mountain knowledge of gardening to the group.

Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Brown, is a quiet gardener and asked about expanding to fruit and berries.    With his prodding, we will be working with the Letcher County Extension Office to choose the right berries/fruits and help support that.    My Dad, who is pretty plain spoken, says when you buy a tree on sale at wal-mart, it’s probably not good, as he’s done it and has peach trees that might bear four peaches a year.   Lessons to be learned.    When we talked about the seeds we had to give out and the fact they were expired, he was ready to share w/the group to take a couple seeds from the envelope and lay on a wet paper towel to see if they sprout, before planting.   That sounds so simple now, but if you don’t know that little bit of information, valuable time and soil can be lost.

Katie Dollarhide, who again is offering her land for community gardening at Cowan.    Katie is kind and generous and wants to see the land worked.

Hilary Neff and Abby Maggard, Market Managers were there to promote the Farmers Market and meet potential new growers.    We’ll be having our first Market Meeting on Monday, March 9th @ 6:00 p.m.

Chris Caudill, City Water Department and grower for the market shared his experience and also offers plowing services if needed.

Shane & Kathy Lucas, they are quiet in the room, but Shane makes his presence known in the garden and Kathy is right beside him, even if in the house or work.  He was an anchor at the market and in addition to working road construction is trying to find a balance w/the garden.     Shane is also now serving as a new board member for Community Farm Alliance.

The Duty and Burkes’s, a three generational family at the table.   Kudos to the best behaved, beautiful and patient children to sit quietly through a two hour gathering.

Billy Brown, a friend and neighbor who plans to grow for the market and has just built an amazing chicken tractor and considering how to market them.

Stephen and Matt Turner, a young family with busy careers but see the value of gardening and want that food for their children.   They need/want hands on advice in their garden and we have a responsibility now to not let them down.

David Fisher, also a new board member for Community Farm Alliance and former construction and gas worker looking to expand in a big way.     David has high aspirations for our community to have agriculture and value added as an economic opportunity in our region.

Holly Boggs and her children, Brandon and Allie are always there to make sure things are taken care of.    Holly and her children work in the community garden and she has already planted seeds that will last a lifetime w/her children.

Dock Frazier, a local pastor and businessman who also is interested in gardening for the market.   Dock had lots of good questions and will be an asset to the program and market.

The Ingrams, a new family for Grow Appalachia but not new to gardening.     Hoping to foster this relationship and add a strong grower to  the market.

Madelyn Flannery, a college professor and supporter of peace, love and happiness so a natural for Grow Appalachia.   Hoping to work with Madelyn on a camp this summer.

Shirley Sexton, one of the ten participants who completed the Micro-Processing certification.     She has already completed her paperwork and is ready for 2015 and educating the rest of us on next steps.   Shirley gardens w/her granddaughter and helps promote our program through the radio show she does.

My Ison family, Kendall, Carol, Marshall, William and Jacquelyn, are always good to have in a room.    They will keep me in line and have to give credit to my brother, Marshall and dad, Kendall for carving out and insisting on the time for folks to share.     Everyone in charge of running a meeting needs a big Brother and Dad who are not afraid to tell you that you need to sit down and be quiet now.

Carol Ison and Nell Fields, I saved these ladies for last as they are the solid foundation that has held Cowan Community Action group together when there was no Grow Appalachia, no Cowan Creek Mountain Music School and they were the ones ‘who kept the lights on.’    They deserve their own blog, and will do just that one day.    They really deserve a book, but they would probably have to write it themselves.    But, was exciting when Carol said out loud that Cowan will find a way for a certified kitchen that better meets the needs of our canners.   We aren’t sure when or how, but somehow, when she says it I believe it.   Oh yes, maybe a theater too.

So, that may be TMI, but saying 28  males and 38 females just didn’t seem like it told the story of who was there, what they have accomplished and what their vision is.   In the beginning we always tell the story of Grow Appalachia, but this time I stressed this funding is not guaranteed, we have to have faith in ourselves and our community that we can continue this vision. We are so appreciative of  what this financial support allows us to accomplish together.    I felt there was much more giving in the room than taking.  We missed several participants that couldn’t make it this Saturday, and look forward to meeting back up w/them.

My suggestion to other sites that I wish I had done, is record your gatherings if possible.   These events need to be shared with your communities.   Be certain you have a structure in place that allows participants an opportunity to take the floor if they like.

So that I can go to sleep tonight w/out worrying who I forgot and for the sake of record keeping, I want to share  names of the  others I did not mention above.  If you read this, thank you and I promise my next blog will be short and sweet.

Mary Craft, Debbie Cook, Maggie Cook, Virjeana Holbrook, Ernestine Franks, Darren and Tina Atkins, Cassie Gibson, Debbie and Woody Adams, Dianne Adams, Logan Dollarhide.

Each of you contribute to this program and your community, and as Don, said so well, ‘Each of  you are my friend now.”