Do you realize it has been another month?! Where has time gone! How can any work get accomplished when the time clock moves so fast? Debbie here, Appalachia Cares/AmeriCorps member, in rainy Greene County, TN! Did you see that RAINY! We have been dry for such a long spell, that we cannot!! Surely we have done other work besides waiting on sweet potatoes, right???

I am so break the ground to dig out our sweet potatoes. We have had rain practically all week, so if we do not get flooded, digging sweat potatoes seems like a high potential for this weekend. To me that spells Y-U-M-M-Y!  Surely we did not wait around all month just for sweet potatoes?  I am glad you asked! This month has had two major events for the teen program, a teen leadership/teamwork retreat and our 3rd Annual Teen Chopped Cook-Off. Between continuing regular programming and preparing for these two activities, this might explain why time flew by so fast this month. What to talk about first…how about the teen retreat!

Our teen retreat was held at our farm this year over Labor Day Weekend. I was joined by 25 of my teens for an over-night camp out that was filled with lots of programming activities, teamwork exercises, leadership roles, and smores! The teens had mini workshops on spinning our angora rabbit fiber, keeping bees, and farm fresh milk products. Coralynn McKelvy, a grandmother of a teen family, has been a crafter for years. She makes soap, lotions, lip balm, laundry soap, perfumes, spins, weaves, and so much more! She is someone I could spend the rest of my life learning from and wonder if I learned about all these lost arts of our ancestors that used to be a way of survival. She came out with her spinning wheel, sat down in a chair with an angora rabbit in lap, and began spinning the fur away. The teens came out with an admiration for this “new” concept. Joel Houser, a beekeeper, led a discussion on housing bees, care, feeding, and benefits of the bees. He manages our two bee hives at the farm and encouraged the teens to plant wild flowers next spring to help feed the bees and attract them to our garden.  We are hoping to do more education this upcoming year on bees, and encourage the teens to plant flower mixes that will attract the bees into their garden spaces. We also made ice cream and butter for use with our meals during the retreat. The ice cream, which is not a surprise, was a big hit! Many commented on how easy it was to make. The recipe is a favorite of mine that we use quite a lot during our school field trips and farm day camp programs. I also like another recipe that is more like a custard and takes longer to make. For those that are in a hurry, here is a simple quick ice cream recipe that is bound to be a hit:

  • 8 cups of milk – I do half milk and half cream
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • Freeze according to your freezer directions

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The other leadership/teamwork exercises had the teens rolling all over, tied up in knots, and blind as bats! Two activities we played were hungry hungry teens and the knot. Hungry hungry teens was a new activity we added this year with the teens, and it was so much fun! The teens were split into teams and had to collect balls (like in the hungry hippos game) of their team colors and then small balls. Only so much time was allotted to collect as many balls as possible. The colored balls had names of vegetables and fruits attached to each one. The small balls had challenges attached that dealt with fruits and vegetables. Those challenges were to classify what was a fruit or vegetable, what part is edible, the season they grow, and splitting them into vegetable families. The teams earned points for getting their challenges right. The team with the most points when time was called were the winners. Our human knot is always a success, and a standard must at every retreat. The teens stand in a circle, reach across and grab someone’s hand. Then the other hand goes out and grabs someone else’s hand. Now, as a team, they have to untie the knot without breaking hands apart. Teens begin figuring out who has to go over or under arms, twist around, etc. until the knot is untied and we have one unbroken circle. Lots of teamwork and communication take place to accomplish this task. Depending on the size and teamwork involved, it can take 10 minutes or over an hour to do. Other activities were led as well. The teens left with a better understanding of how it is difficult to communicate and have someone understand you; it’s hard to listen; and it takes a team working, listening, and communicating together to accomplish the task at hand. We had a wonderful time, and I could go on telling you more and more but on we must go!

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Our 3rd Annual Chopped Cook-Off was held Saturday, September 26th. The teens have been working throughout the month planning a plated dish that would showcase local chicken. We had three teams of three teens who competed for the grand prize of a chef knife and electric roaster. They were able to research recipes, talk with two trained chefs, try recipes, and make tweaks before the game day. When the competition day came, and moments before the time was called to start, the secret ingredients were revealed to the teams – locally grown cabbage from Lucy Sanchez and local peach jam from Grandview Acres. The teens had 1.5 hours to prepare a plated dish using the secret ingredients served with a vegetable and starch, and no help was allowed from chefs, myself, or anyone who was not on the team. The teens were solely responsible for executing their planned dishes and putting into play the key ingredients. The teens showed skills, teamwork, leadership, and nerves throughout the event. Each team presented their dishes to the judges, explaining the use of the secret ingredients, local produce, and execution techniques. The judges were looking for 6 things: teamwork, food handling, quality/taste, use of secret ingredients, use of local ingredients, and presentation. After careful deliberation, the results were revealed. In first place we had a group of three young ladies, who referred to themselves as the Anti-Climatics during the competition, serving a chicken alfredo with a cabbage/lettuce salad dressed with a peach balsamic vinegar dressing.

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In second place, The Pillow Cushioners, created a sautéed chicken salad served in a honeydew bowl with breadsticks. The cabbage was used in the salad, and a peach vinaigrette dressing.

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Third place were the Chicken Con-Tenders who prepared a peach preserve bbq grilled chicken, with grilled Mexican corn, on top of a leaf of cabbage.

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The decisions were very difficult as each team had a completely different dish that had a unique factor that the judges loved. This is always an exciting event for the teens that has been the highlight of their training. The teens look forward to the year they spend learning about culinary arts so they will be able to participate with older teens, creating master pieces that reflect the skills and training they have received.


Other things we have been doing is cover cropping, discussing season extension, and next month we will begin discussions on entering the market world with their excess produce. Several teens this year were very excited about growing food and seeing a farmers market. The advantage of a farmers market to sell produce was an intriguing factor that some of the teens saw as an entrepreneurial adventure. We will sit down this fall and begin making plans on how to support these teens and encourage them to take their gardens to the next step. Check back next month and see where those discussions went, what else we have been up to, and who knows, maybe there will be an exciting adventure this month that is to be had!