Memorial Day howdy from Yvonne Scott and Wolfe County Grow Appalachia. As our gardeners are just getting underway after the rainy spring weather, it’s been a very busy time for our program. I’m thankful for my summer assistant, Garrett Dunn, who is really helping me make a difference to our families, pitching in to do whatever they need with youthful enthusiasm and strong arms and back! Can’t have too much of those when setting up new gardens and promoting

After visiting our family sites—flat, square, long single planting rows of frequently-tilled soil–I’ve found myself constantly coming back to the same phrase: “Y’all work too hard!” I can now see why some folks either don’t get started gardening or stop, or fail to have as much success as they hope: a long tradition of certain methods that frankly demand lots of sweat but somehow fall short of improving the soil and conserving moisture (and sweat!) I realize that growing methods I take for granted are not only new to most of my families but in a few cases are downright cause for suspicion. One lady even remarked that she wasn’t sure how she would convince her spouse to mulch. Until he has seen it work for someone, he won’t believe in it. The same goes for raised rows, companion planting, and rotation cropping. (Another family proud told me they had been growing their tomatoes in the same place in their garden for five years.)

So I realize that I’ve got a few hurdles to get over with my families. In reality, in their minds, I’m asking them to consider breaking with traditions that may go back many generations. And since they have in some cases, been able to grow a garden using their labor-intensive and soil-depleting methods, the question must surely arise as to why change? I tell them that these changes may actually make gardening easier and since all of them are eager to have pesticide (and GMO-free) food, as well as less time hoeing, they do listen to my suggestions while at the same time maintaining a politely skeptical look on their faces.

The way we are beginning is to ask them if they will make just one raised row, use mulch (which we will provide) and add companion plantings in that row as an “experiment.” That way they still feel in control of the larger measure of their garden while they can observe the differences side by side. It’s gratifying that they trust me to the point of allowing me and Garrett to spend time with them, making changes, creating some of the key ingredients we believe can help them like the raised rows, mulching, composting, staking the tomatoes and teaching them the Florida weave. I’m excited to photograph the side by side and look forward to their responses as the summer goes by. And if any of you seasoned GA coordinators have other suggestions, I welcome them. Because the best outcome would be a blending of the old methods with these new ideas for a smoother transition. It’s a challenge but we’re up for it.