What do John Paul DeJoria and I have in common? We both just celebrated our birthdays. I celebrated my 50th this past weekend and just saw that John Paul DeJoria is celebrating his birthday today. Happy Birthday John Paul! I hope it was wonderful and you are receiving as many blessings in life as you are giving. Having my 50th birthday came with lots of reflection. This seems like the perfect opportunity to share thoughts that have been churning in my mind and beg to be expressed.
My birthday celebration began on Friday night with my mother, my daughter and my beautiful granddaughter and many friends for dinner. How blessed and plain lucky I am to get to have these women in my life. I’m proud to be working with my mother, Carol Ison who is the Director of the Cowan Community Action Group, and has been since it began, ironically, 50 years ago. I so appreciate my daughter Callie, who is the best mother a little girl could ask for and is striving to keep her little girl healthy with fresh foods, attending our canning sessions and preserving her own garden at home. Lastly, Eliza Jane who inspires us to keep trying to build a better community.
I began my birthday bright and early Saturday morning by attending an Appalachian Seed Swap in Pike County with a group of our Grow Appalachia participants. I’ve made friends across the region and state thru the work of Grow Appalachia and Community Farm Alliance all sharing the dedication of growing our individual communities and larger community one garden at a time. I debated how I would celebrate the day and decided I’m loving my life now, so why not immerse myself in the work I’m doing and love with people I have connected with in a way I haven’t to this point in life.
Joyce talked with seed searchers, Rick and Alex Brashear, his son, about Rick’s quest for the hard shell cushaw that has alluded him for years he remembers as a child. If you have this seed, please let me know, it will secure his faith in the Grow Appalachia family. Rick and Alex will be new growers at the Letcher County Farmers Market this year.
When I heard Pike County was having a Seed Swap, my first thought was, we’ve got to have a Seed Swap in Letcher County. But, times are changing. Competition is giving way to collaboration and cooperation. County lines are blurring. We are beginning to realize we have to support each other and work together. Letcher County will do something to have it’s day in the spotlight, but today, let’s celebrate and add to what Pike County is doing.
I got to ride over with Don Maggard and Andy Moore who sold their bean seeds at the event. This was our first time to attend, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. Next year we will be better prepared, but they did well with their seeds. Each year we learn and try to do better the next.
After the Seed Swap, I made my way to Lexington, KY to a fundraiser for Community Farm Alliance at West Six Brewery. Thanks to the good folks at West Six for being a conscientious business that gives back to the community. Pretty fun to have a microphone at a cool bar in Lexington on my 50th birthday to celebrate and recognize CFA. Community Farm Alliance celebrates it’s 30th Anniversary this year and makes for a wonderful partnership with Grow Appalachia.
After, the celebration of the weekend, it was business as usual this week. We made room for another family gardener, bringing our total of family gardens to near 60. I take time with each new participant to learn where they are and what their needs are and how they want to fit into the Grow Appalachia program. My favorite part is sharing the story of John Paul DeJoria and the Grow Appalachia story. I never tire of the story and feel each participant has to know it. You can visually see the surprise and appreciation on their faces, when they learn where these resources come from. They seem more respectful and appreciative of the gift, when they hear a part of the story they can relate to. I tell them what Grow Appalachia is and to be sure they understand, I tell them what Grow Appalachia is NOT.
- Grow Appalachia is NOT free seeds for poor people. Sure, people who can’t afford them get seeds and plants. But, we try hard not to look at income and put that descriptor on participants. We try to promote a sense of equality in the program. That we ALL need to eat and want to eat healthy, therefore we are all the SAME.
- Grow Appalachia doesn’t do the same thing for each person. Don’t expect this to be a distribution center, where everyone gets the same thing. Everyone doesn’t need the same thing, and we try to match people with what they need. We stress to take and ask for what you need, and leave for someone else what you don’t need. There is a minimum everyone gets, but beyond that, it’s what you put in that determines what resources are shared.
- Grow Appalachia is not just about taking, but an equal balance of giving. Find your way to contribute back. Be it time to advise the new grower, or growing the Farmers Market which we know benefits them, but just as importantly, benefits our community by providing fresh local food.
- Grow Appalachia is a movement that you are now part of. Take pride in that, although attending meetings, writing proposals, community engagement may not be your thing. You are doing good work now, not only for you and your family but the community as well.
- Grow Appalachia is about communication. You have to let us know what you need. We are not going to seek you out, to give you things, but let us know what you need to expand your garden or your marketing and we will try to find a way to help, no matter how big or small.
In closing, a sincere thanks and appreciation for all Grow Appalachia has brought to the Cowan Community Action Group, Letcher County and beyond. In addition to the financial contribution of John Paul DeJoria and his vision, this program would not be successful without the leadership of David Cooke, and the team at Headquarters at Berea College. John Paul, thank you for what you are giving to our communities and may we have another blessed trip around the sun.