Hello from snowy Boone, NC, home of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture and Hospitality House. We are excited to join the Grow Appalachia family, and look forward to meeting partners there in Berea next month. Despite being new and not yet oriented to Grow Appalachia, we are using our designated day to publish a blog post to introduce ourselves. The Grow Appalachia project is a collaborative effort between the two organizations mentioned above, and as you may be able to tell in the writing below, a non-gardening administrator hiding from the snow cobbled together this post. More interesting, on-the-ground tales and insights from our gardening and growing endeavors will come in future months!

Ask her what she craved, and she’d get a little frantic about things like books, the woods, music. Plants and the seasons. Also freedom.

― Charles Frazier, Nightwoods

Boone is situated in what was referred to as “the Lost Province” due to the challenge of escalating the Blue Ridge escarpment in the late 1800’s, starting the self-reliant agricultural heritage of the region. The strong agricultural tradition along with the cultural tendency to take care of our own remains strong in these northwestern most counties of the state, but the shift in economic drivers over the past few generations have both pulled younger generations away from self-sustaining gardening traditions and pushed land use towards high end residential development. The economic downturn of 2007-2008 has continued to strain households and families in the region, as food insecurity and poverty, including homelessness, continues to spread. The census tract in which Hospitality House lies is a food desert as designated by USDA, and there are several other census tracts in the county that meet the low-income or low access measure of food deserts. The economic conditions are affecting families disproportionately as evidenced by the steady increase in children qualifying for free and reduced lunch throughout the region. Many families are making financial choices to buy cheap food instead of paying for utilities, medical care, transportation or housing. The efforts that Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) has made to support existing and future farmers have been integral to the budding local food system, and the coalition of growers and organizations partnering on the proposed project are helping families reestablish gardening and nutritious cooking with fresh produce.

“Good, organic, local, clean food is highly valued in this area,” says the proprietor of Springhouse Farm in Vilas, NC

BRWIA began as a grassroots project in 2003 by a group of women farmers, gardeners, and agricultural supporters. The founding mothers gathered to exchange resources over a potluck of fresh produce, and quickly coalesced to obtain 501(c)3 non-profit status with the mission of strengthening the High Country’s local food system by supporting women and their families with resources, education, and skills related to sustainable food and agriculture. Since 2004, BRWIA has grown to host a number of programs and resources to help fulfill its mission, including the coordination of the High Country CSA, Lettuce Learn, the High Country Farm Tour, Blue Ridge CRAFT, and the publication of a resource book. The project with Grow Appalachia will build the framework for connecting 18 community gardens in the greater Boone community to improve efficiency and effectiveness. 

One of the gardens included in the network of community gardens is the Hospitality House Garden. The Hospitality House Garden started through the support of Heifer International USA and Nourishing NC as a way to provide diverse, fresh produce to families in crisis, while also furnishing a place for families to develop the knowledge and skills to supplement their own food and stretch their household food budget. The garden has been so successful in its first two-plus  years that it has supplemented our kitchen meals, Cooking Matters classes, and food box distribution program.

“It means the world to me. Now I have friendships and good relationships. It has helped show me honesty. No one ever trusted me until now.” R. M., resident at Hospitality House speaking about serving as resident Garden Intern.

Widening the lens a bit to realize where the garden fits, Hospitality House formed in 1984 when six churches in Boone put their resources together to address the needs of the homeless population. The mission of Hospitality House is to rebuild lives and strengthen community by providing a safe, nurturing, healthy environment in which individuals and families  experiencing homelessness and poverty-related crises are equipped to become self-sufficient and productive. The Grow Appalachia project will facilitate the Hospitality House garden development to serve as a model garden in the Boone community.