Greetings from Abingdon, VA.  October has arrived in it’s splendor, bringing our training garden bountiful harvests of carrots, kale and yes, tomatoes.  We’ve been blessed with little blight and we are still pulling in pounds of tomatoes each week.

September 30, 2015 063Would you like a carrot?

September 30, 2015 028 Fish emulsion helps kale grow big!    

September 30, 2015 359David and Lucas wash tomatoes for market

This week, our Abingdon High students helped harvest kale for a taste test for Bristol VA public schools. 850 elementary students will be having a “taste test” of kale chips to celebrate Farm to School week.  They had a great time harvesting 30# of beautiful kale leaves.  Returning to school, they baked their own chips to enjoy a “taste” of their own.

September 30, 2015 268Billy learns how to identify the perfect kale leaves; no holes; good size

We had a wonderful visit from Candace, Mark and David last week as they were in town for the Food Summit.  Brought some folks by the garden for a tour.  Nice to see their smiling faces… Mark always cracks me up… At one point, I was having a “serious” conversation with a guest about the benefits of hoop houses when he sticks his head under the roll up sides and says “hello”.

Here in Southwest VA we’re getting ready for our final fall workshops. Time to pull the row cover out of storage and instruct participants on how to extend their garden season.  We’re hoping garlic seed arrives soon so we can distribute that in time for a Halloween planting.   We’ve given out flats of beautiful lettuce and spinach this month, matching the incredible kale, broccoli and cabbage plants that went out last month.  The recent rains have sprouted the many pounds of cover crops we’ve shared over the past month.  Should be a fabulous fall.

September 30, 2015 031

Mix of Austrian Winter Peas, Crimson Clover, Oats and Winter Wheat

The following is a post is from Michelle; our new garden assistant:

It has been a little over three months since I first googled, “gardening non-profit near Bristol, Tennessee” and soon discovered Grow Appalachia and in particular Appalachian Sustainable Development’s Grow Your Own program headed by Deni Peterson.  I emailed Deni right away to see how I could get involved, as I was in between opportunities and needed to fill my time between interviews and job searches with community involvement at any level (to maintain some sanity).  Deni replied quickly that I could attend a workshop at the training garden in Abingdon, Virginia.  After volunteering for a few sessions, Deni shared that she was looking for a Gardening Assistant; needless to say, I jumped on the opportunity, which has led me to writing this blog today.

One of my favorite groups to work with is the Abingdon High School Special Needs Class.  I never thought about what happens when these young people with special needs graduate from high school.  A few will go on to college and get jobs, but some will simply stay home due to their limitations, essentially becoming prisoners.  Deni has crafted a program that promotes growth beyond the classroom not only mentally, but physically as well.  Gardening gives these children the opportunity to discover their own talents that would otherwise remain hidden in a traditional classroom.

Seeding flats

On the first day of school, AHS students helped to seed over 25 flats of lettuce and spinach.  A feat that amazed Michelle.  I opened up the vehicle and kids went right to work, hauling bags of soil, flats and the wheel barrow over to the work station.  In no time, they figured out their tasks and were happily busy helping each other out.  

This program also allows the students to go to the Farmer’s Market and sell the produce that they harvest on Tuesday mornings to raise money for the Special Olympics and educational support for the program;  all while learning to interact with the general public, learning to count money, and learning to make change.  However, bigger things are beginning to take form for this group of students as Mellow Mushroom has approached Deni to purchase vegetables from the training garden and give these kids another new marketing opportunity.

When these students graduate from high school, most will be able to manage a garden of their own and reap the benefits of a harvest, but all of them leave with a greater awareness of their own abilities and a greater sense of pride.  I am excited to see what good things unfold for our students and their families!

Happy October!  Deni & Michelle

Butternut 1

Butternut Squash Soup


Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes



2 large butternut squash (about 4 lbs. total)

2 medium onions

3 cloves garlic (optional)

3 Tbsp. butter or olive oil

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt plus more to taste

8 cups chicken or vegetable broth



  1. Halve, seed, peel, and cube the squash. Set aside.
  2. Halve, peel, and chop the

onion. Mince the garlic, if you like.

  1. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the butter or oil and the chopped onion. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Add the squash and the broth. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.
  4. Transfer small batches to a blender. Hold a kitchen towel over the top (to prevent burns) and whirl until completely and utterly smooth, 2 to 3 minutes per batch.
  5. Return the soup to the pot and salt to taste.

Butternut 2