Hello Grow Appalachia!  I cannot believe December is here already.  I feel like it was yesterday I wrote my last blog for last year.  Debbie here from Rural Resources in Greeneville, TN.  I have been reflecting these last few days over what we have done this past year, and it’s amazing in everything we have done.  We are preparing for our Annual Teen Dinner where we invite all our teens and families, supporters, volunteers, staff, and community members.  I always fear in preparation that we have not done enough, yet I am always amazed at what the numbers tell me.  We have held 141 classes, over half of those classes (93), were on gardening, healthy cooking, and preservation classes.  Those classes totaled 355 hours of training with 39 teens in our program and 24 teen guests throughout the year.  When we think about how many times each individual came out for their hours of training, we gave 1946 individual hours of training.  We also worked with 4 interns that were placed at the farm and at food-related local businesses for the summer.  They received 37 individual hours of mentoring to help develop their resumes, fill in job applications, and training in interview etiquette.  They worked for 197.5 hours this summer over 7 weeks, gaining more knowledge about food by working along someone in the industry of their choosing.  We also produced 3,432 pounds of food.  We placed 14 new garden sites, for a total of 18 home gardens this year, with a total of 3,978 square feet of growing space.  We managed a 25 member CSA from our farm for 20 weeks during the growing season from our approximate 1/3 acre garden.  This is a lot of work, but does it mean anything?  Classes can be had, but if training and indepth knowledge did not take place, then the hours invested were useless.

So, WHAT did we do?  The teens received impacting classes each time.  In our gardening classes, we discussed composting; vermi-composting; greenhouse maintenance; seeding; potting mix; transplanting; weeding; pest management; watering; fertilizing; soil fertility and amendments; mulching; harvesting techniques; gardening tools; cover crops; season extension; container gardening; and we also had some livestock classes as well.  During each of these class times, the teens were involved with hands-on activities.  For all the teens that wanted one, they were able to take home a compost bin with red wigglers to begin their own vermi-composting system at home for their gardens.  They also shared what they learned with others.  This was done in a few ways, some brought friends to the farm to see what they do; they put together a presentation on container gardening for our local farmers market;  they gave a demonstration at our local farmers market on composting and the footprints we save on the earth by utilizing this concept; and the teens shared the information they learned with their families at home as they cared for their gardens. Here are those pictures of the teens gardens I promised last month.  The teens brought me their cameras from the summer of growing veggies.

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Our healthy cooking and preservation classes catered 4 locally sourced meals with number 5 happening for our Teen Dinner Thursday night.  During their classes they worked with local chefs and UT Extension Agents to learn how to cook and use kitchen equipment.  During their classes they learned to read a recipe; measure dry and liquid ingredients; the use of various equipment in a kitchen; make butter, cheese, and yogurt; dried meat for jerky; preserved with a hot water bath jams and tomatoes; pressure canned green beans; proper knife skills; working with industrial kitchen equipment; local vs. shipped produce; benefits of supporting local; use of fresh herbs for seasoning and flavor; fresh vs. prepared foods; how to read food labels; natural sugars; baking techniques; and food safety.  During their programming they made many dishes, and several of those they demonstrated to others.  They led 6 food demonstrations at our local farmers market (Greeneville Farmers Market), at neighboring Jonesborough Farmers Market, at our health department, and our county fair.  They led 2 demonstrations on grilling vegetable skewers; a demonstration on squash dishes – including squash fritters, squash quasadillas,  and squash stir fry; all about pumpkins demonstration that included chili, baked stuffed pumpkin, pumpkin spice cake, and pumpkin dip for fruits/vegetables; canning tomatoes; and pesto making and uses.  Many of these teens have commented how much they have used their cooking skills at home to cook for their families.  Of all the catered meals, the most recent I believe was their favorite.  For the past two years, we have prepared a locally sourced Thanksgiving meal to serve at a retirement home.  The teens that started this move, wanted to give something back to the generation that helped shape their lives and to ones that are living in low-income housing.  The teens showed up at a local church at 9:30 a.m. to start cooking turkeys and hams.  They spent the day preparing all the fixings – dressing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, rolls, and a pumpkin spiced cake.  At 4 p.m. we left the church and headed over to meet our hungry seniors!  The teens worked very hard to set everything up and to begin serving meals to the residents.  We served 80 residents that came downstairs to meet us.  For those who were not able to get downstairs, the teens took an additional 40 meals upstairs to those who were homebound.  The teens were enriched by the love and thankfulness from these seniors.  So many were happy to see young smiling faces and to have someone spend a little time with them for the holiday.  Many never have anyone visit them let alone bring them a meal and spend time with them.  The teens made new friends and mentors.  They felt very fulfilled from their gift of giving.

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Our remaining classes were dedicated to business planning and implementation.  The teens spent time learning the parts of a business plan; setting goals as individuals and for the business; exploring food or farm related business options; learning about teamwork and leadership skills; developing a teen retreat; developing a business plan for their chosen business; making a marketing plan; developing the marketing points; preparing a budget; and a group of teens spent many hours implementing their business plan and overseeing their operation.  These two groups of teens have had 58 classes and many extra hours of working their businesses.

We have had a very busy year!  As Thursday approaches, I am excited to share this information.  Some of the teens will be speaking and I am anxious to hear about their experiences as individuals and as a group.  Thank you Grow Appalachia, for the opportunity of “cultivating” these young lives for our hopeful future of tomorrow!