Happy end of the week Grow Appalachians and all! And just like that…we’re halfway through May! Here in Berea, campus activity has slowed to a quiet lull, students having disappeared for the summer or forever off to bigger and better things. School’s about to let out for the summer…which makes our Summer Feeding staff equally excited and anxious! And while we’re on the subject of schools, let’s take a look at a few of our school gardens!

We only have a few in our program this year, and while we definitely do not discourage the implementation of school gardens in a Grow Appalachia program, often times they are difficult to manage because schools do not run year-round. The few we do have, however, are, in every sense of the word, making it work! Employing local students, pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors, teaching children about seeding and starting plants, building confidence…and the list goes on!

Abingdon High School/Tennessee High School

Abingdon High in Abingdon, VA, and Bristol, VA, respectively, the high schools have been an integral partner with Appalachian Sustainable Development, essentially, since ASD became a partner site with us in 2012.  AHS does have a garden on site, but the most successful component of the partnership between ASD and the schools is the special needs students that volunteer in the garden, often during their class time. When we built tunnels for them back in September of 2014, we had teams of Tennessee High School students throughout the two days we were there, all during their class time, heavily involved in the building process. I had just started working at Grow not even a month prior to that, and it was a heartwarming and enjoyable first field experience for me. You can read more about that build from this blog. (ok, that was a nice trip down memory lane) 🙂

The Abingdon High students today continue to be actively involved in ASD’s Grow Your Own program. They seed most of the flats that grow as transplants in a local greenhouse, where they are then transplanted into one of several community gardens ASD oversees. Not only that, the students learn the basics of starting and maintaining a garden, as well as business skills when they sell their harvest at the farmers market. It’s “beyond a traditional classroom” as garden assistant Michelle writes in this beautiful blog post. 


Owsley County Farm-to-School

The Owsley County Farm-to-School program has been a partner site with Grow Appalachia since 2013. The 10 acre high school farm serves as the community garden site for their Grow Appalachia program. Their 2016 plans are to have 30 families in the program all sharing the garden space. When Candace and I visited Owsley County High School earlier this year, Candrea, the site coordinator there,  spoke very favorably of their garden assistant, a young man who was a graduate of the high school and had helped with the farm his last year of school. Candrea was so impressed with him that she gave him the job after he unsuccessfully obtained employment after graduation. What’s most notable of this school site is its resilience: Many of you may remember the devastating flooding in eastern Kentucky last summer. Owsley County was one of the impacted areas, and the school garden was completely washed away, leaving its participants with no choice but to start over. Grow Appalachia provided market vouchers for the affected participants, so they were still able to provide fresh produce for their families. Fall crops were planted and protected with row cover to extend the growing season as much as possible. Through all of it, their spirits were not shaken by the flood waters, and the Owsley County program still pulled in more than 3300 pounds of harvest by the end of 2015! This year there are plans to continue the farmers market, which currently has about a dozen very dedicated and committed growers. I’ll be returning later in the summer for a visit so stay tuned!


The David School

Quite literally in the mountains of Floyd County sits a school that is unlike any other. The David School is an alternative high school, accepting students who, for many reasons, have not been successful in a traditional school system. Many who enter The David School read at only a 4th or 5th grade level. With a current enrollment of about 30 students, The David School provides individualized, specialized education so students are able to not just succeed, but thrive! What’s more, they’re a family; students and staff work together and eat together. Everyone is equal. Everyone looks out for one another. It’s an atmosphere that you certainly don’t witness in high schools nowadays.

The David School became a partner site with Grow Appalachia just last year, although they had some involvement with another Grow Appalachia program in 2014. Since becoming a partner site, their school gardening program, aptly named Inch by Inch, has taken off! Site coordinator Jann has integrated garden-themed education into the school’s overall curriculum, teaching students about the basics of gardening, irrigation, and garden maintenance, as well as greenhouse technology and production. Additionally, she has built an entrepreneurial component into the program by getting students involved in producing and selling hot sauce at the farmers market and other retailers. During the first market last year, they sold out very quickly! We’ve also built two high tunnels for them on school grounds- our first high tunnels to ever be located directly on a Kentucky high school’s property! You can read more about that build here. This year, they plan to include chickens into their program, hopefully by the end of the month!  They also held a very successful Mother’s Day Plant sale last weekend, bringing in several hundred dollars for the school! We’re looking forward to what they’ll be up to next!


Pocahontas County Schools

Affiliated with one of our West Virginia partner sites, High Rocks is located in the mountains of Marlinton and Hillsboro, West Virginia. This year they have a 4000 square foot garden at Marlinton Middle School. Their first Grow Appalachia workshop, on garden planning, was held at the middle school, where 70 students will play an active role in the operation of the garden on site there. Much like ASD and their work with their local high schools, the students at Marlinton Middle School will be responsible for planting many of the vegetables that will be harvested later this year. What better way to teach children about where their food comes from than teaching them that beginning moment, right when the seed goes into the ground? In addition to the Marlinton Middle School garden, High Rocks actively recruits and hires young adults and youth to help carry out the multi-faceted educational and leadership programs offered by the corporation. It is always uplifting to us to see the many West Virginia youth coming away from these programs inspired, empowered, and equipped with valuable life skills that they will carry with them for years to come. You can read about their activities on their blog page. 


Knox County Public Schools

Our site in Knox County, Kentucky, the Lend-A-Hand Center, is currently overseeing two school gardens in their area. Knox Central High School has already begun planting their raised beds, which were constructed last summer by four different classes of KCHS students. They were able to plant their favorite vegetables and enjoy them all summer. Dewitt Elementary School has been a partner with the Lend-A-Hand Center Grow Appalachia program since the beginning. With the help of many local volunteers, the Dewitt Elementary students were, and continue to be, involved in planting and witnessing the entirety of the gardening process. Last year the kids harvested pumpkins from the pumpkin patch they planted that previous spring! The Dewitt Elementary school garden is one of a few community gardens operated by the LAHC Grow Appalachia program. For more about their school/community gardens, and updates on the program’s additional Grow Appalachia activities this year, check out their blog and Facebook page. 


For more information about our sites with school gardens, or school gardens in general:

High Rocks blog page
The David School’s blog page
Lend-A-Hand Center’s blog page
Appalachian Sustainable Development’s blog page
Owsley County Farm-to-School’s blog page
“Small Fingers Growing into Strong Hands”– Youth development from Big Ugly Community Center
“Cultivating Communities through School Gardens”– from Mother Earth News
Research shows farm to school works! From the USDA
October is National Farm to School Month!