Hey folks, this is Aja, the student worker at Headquarters. Not much new is happening with my projects with the exception of this beautiful new squash forming at the New Liberty Family Shelter community garden in Richmond, KY!

squash 6-25-15

Without many updates on my end, I thought I’d take some time to share why I was drawn to Grow Appalachia to begin with, and why I continue to work with the organization.

I grew up in Clark County, KY (Winchester) with my mom. She was a single parent and worked hard all throughout my childhood to provide for our family. We got by alright most of the time, but one of the things that was often overlooked was healthy food. My mom cleaned houses all day, and for a while even had to take on a night job. Because of this, she hardly ever had very much energy when she got home. I’ll admit, little-kid-me didn’t make things any easier by being incredibly picky. The result was that most of the time, we ate fast food or easy things like pasta or microwave dinners. It was fast, it was greasy and cheesy and I loved it, and it didn’t create a lot of dishes for us to have to clean.

Needless to say, this left us both very unhealthy. My mom was working off a lot of calories with her cleaning job, but I was just sitting around in school every day. I was more than a little overweight and completely out of shape. I hated gym class and the annual fitness test because I couldn’t pass a single portion of it. Heck, just going up stairs was a challenge for me. I even started to develop high cholesterol at 16 years old!

Through high school things got a little better. I got a job at a food stand at the Lexington Farmer’s Market and starting appreciating fresh veggies. I started biking and contra dancing and overall became more active. I was still pretty unhealthy though, and years of eating junk had built up an addiction to processed foods.

When I got to college, I immediately lost about 20 pounds. I was eating at the college cafeteria, which has a pretty good selection of local vegetables and a nice salad bar. Being on a college campus also increased my level of activity since I have to walk everywhere. While I was looking for a summer job through the school, my boss suggested I go talk to David Cooke from Grow Appalachia, whose office was just upstairs. I met with him and we talked through what they do and I thought, “Sure, why not. I don’t really like gardening all that much but I need somewhere to do my summer of service (a requirement for my labor position here at the college).” We decided I’d go intern at Greenhouse 17 for a couple of months over the summer since they could use another pair of hands and it was close enough to Winchester that I could commute there every day.

When I got to Greenhouse 17 I immediately recognized two things. The first was that a lot of the women at the shelter had grown up eating the same junk as I had and were trying to eat better and provide better food for their children. Another things I realized was that contrary to what I thought, I actually love gardening. Within the first couple of weeks there, I had decided that in the fall I would go and switch my major to Agriculture so I could grow healthy food and work with others who wanted to make the same transition. And so far, that’s what I’m doing!

Eating fresh, healthy food has had an amazing effect on me. I feel better, I don’t have cholesterol issues anymore, and I’m generally happier! I still struggle sometimes to pass up the fast food restaurant when I’m tired and hungry. And sometimes I lose that battle. But I’m doing a lot better and continuing to grow, and that’s the most important thing.

A lot of people are stuck with the high-calorie, low-nutrient processed foods abundant in our grocery stores today. Many of them really don’t understand why those foods aren’t good for them. Grow Appalachia’s program is both educating people about why they should eat healthy foods AND giving them the tools they need to be able to grow that food at a low enough cost for it to work. Because of this, I will always love and support this amazing program, and I hope to be able to contribute to the work as much as I can!