Hello Grow Appalachia family!  Well, its a bit of a foggy morning but it will warm up to 60 degrees today!  A lot more welcoming than the blizzard we all felt a little over a week ago.  We are moving forward and beginning to plan for this upcoming growing season.  We have hired a new Garden and Grazing Manager for the season, and he begins today.  His name is Matthew Coyle and he brings many organic gardening practices to the table.  He has a B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, which means he not only can grow the food, he can educate the teens about the nutrients in food and our bodies need for fresh organic produce.  He has had many experiences on other organic farms with growing produce.  He has an understanding of soil fertility, composting uses, greenhouse operations, working a CSA, aquaponics, and quite a bit of degree working with youth of all abilities.  He also has an understanding of rotational grazing of multi-species, has worked with several different livestock we have on the farm, and has carpentry and plumbing skills!  We are looking to a great year with all these skills being thrown our way.

With fresh blood on board, I have begun to throw all the information to him about our Grow Appalachia project.  He is extremely excited to help with home gardens with at-risk teens.  We have our first meeting with them this Saturday, where they will meet the farm and Matt.  Matt will begin planning with the teens Saturday and talking about what they may want to grow.  Matt has begun a seed order of necessary garden must haves.  He will be getting the greenhouse going toward the first of March and will be getting the teens in and growing starter plants for their gardens.  During this month, I will get Matt acclamated to the farm and go over all the projects we have going on.  He will be learning some new things, like vermi-composting and rabbit care, and there will be other things he is all too familar with and will just run with it.  I will also be working with him on developing our leave mold this winter so we can get it moving for our garden sites, potentially this fall.

We are planning to welcome 15 new teens into our multi-level teen training program.  Those 15 teens will begin their work this year on our 15 acre farm, learning all about where their food comes from.  They will grow vegetables in a teen led and designed 1/4 acre garden at our farm, then put into practice the skills they learned here, in maintaining their home gardens that we will put in this spring.  We will cover all aspects of planning, planting, maintaining, season extension, preservation, and cover crops.  The teens will have extensive training as they meet two times a month during the school year, and weekly during the summer.  They will also give a garden demonstration this summer at our local farmers market on a technique they learned and would like to share with others.  Now, the two groups of teens who have been through the gardening program the past two years, and involved with Grow Appalachia, will continue their gardens this year.  We will supply seeds, starter plants, and soil amendments to them.  Last years teens will attend three extra garden maintenance classes this summer that will give them refreshers on what they need to do.  These same teens from last year, will spend this year learning about healthy cooking and in depth preservation classes.  We will be using trained chefs and extension agents to help teach this curriculum with the group.  These teens will meet two times a month during the school year, and two times a week during the summer.

This is just two of our four groups of teens, and I already see a busy year ahead for our Grow Appalachia project!  Our other two teen groups will be doing business development and implementation of a farm or food related business.  These groups meet two times a month throughout the year, with potentially more meetings/activity times during the summer depending on their business planning or implementing needs.

With all this ahead, I am off to work as hard as a rabbit!  Enjoy your winter planning!