Earlham College volunteer talks gardening at a GA workshop

Earlham College volunteer talks gardening at a GA workshop

Grow Appalachia has become an increasingly important focus for college spring break groups on Big Ugly. From transplanting seedlings, to building and clearing raised beds, to reclaiming flood ravaged gardens to helping capture the reflections of our veteran gardeners– our student volunteers can testify that community service is both pretty and dirty.

We have hosted spring break groups since the early 1990s—over 950 students at last count have slept on our couches and floors. They come with a desire to serve and to experience a different world than the day to day stresses of college life. Going cold turkey on cell phone reception has replaced a radical commitment to recycling and reuse as the biggest shock of their Big Ugly immersion in recent years. (Marcelle’s and my house a mile from the community center share a delicate sewer system with the Volunteer House we maintain for short and long term volunteers so we don’t flush toilet paper.)

Last week brought the seventh consecutive spring break trip of the Earlham College Bonner scholars group. For those of you who don’t know about Bonner Scholars, learn about them now (link: http://www.bonner.org/background/) They provide substantial financial aid to students who commit to ten hours of service per week throughout their school years and at least seven weeks of fulltime service for two of their three college summers. [Colleges must meet the families FAFSA need and not include any non-subsidized loans in the package.]

The kind of volunteer experiences high school students gain through helping Grow Appalachia sites is a perfect background for applying for a scholarship at one of the 22 schools endowed with the program across the country. Appalachian and nearby colleges in the Bonner fold include Berea, Concord College, Guilford, Washington and Lee, Emery & Henry, Centre College, Davidson, and Maryville College.

Earlham has a special place in our heart as Big Ugly child and youth volunteers Luke and Mary Tierney (also our own kids) have both been Bonners throughout their college careers. The spring break groups started during Luke’s freshman year. Mary as the Bonner senior intern brought things full circle by co-leading this year’s group.

As reported in our previous blog, the students’ started their service with a full day of transplanting. That day culminated with a Grow Appalachia Workshop whose theme was Healthy Heart Cooking but whose discussions ranged from the recent flash floods to family memories of gardening. The photo above and the following are of discussions at that workshop where the Bonners served as scribes to take notes on their first memories of gardening—lining up on hillsides to plant and hoe—as well as favorite family recipes from the garden (that we have taken on the challenge of coming up with healthy substitutes for frying and reliance on salt and sugar.)

BUCC GA gardeners discuss the flash flood that wiped out many gardens

BUCC GA gardeners discuss the flash flood that wiped out many gardens

That was the fun day. The students were both proud of and sobered by their work on Saturday helping reclaim flood ravaged gardens

Former garden 4-15 flood_0078

chicken wire and deer netting fencing overwhelmed by flood waters


Resetting posts_0103

Resetting fence posts



and their hike to both experience the beauty of the mountains and its devastation when they view one of largest mountain top removal sites in West Virginia from the ridge behind our houses and the Big Ugly Community Center. We’ll close with the contrast of those views,


Former mountain beyond Big Ugly Creek


from a student’s cell phone at the top of what used to be the next mountain and

sunset from the surviving mountain above Big Ugly Creek.

Sunset over Big Ugly

Sunset over Big Ugly

–Michael Tierney and Marcelle St Germain