One of the most rewarding components of working for Grow Appalachia headquarters in Berea is the time we take out of our schedules to make arrangements to visit our partner sites. We spend an entire day with our site coordinators, listen to rewards and challenges of their individual programs, and we visit some of their gardeners. We drive through some of the most rugged, rural, and beautiful terrain in Appalachia. And we take pictures. A lot of pictures!
We decided that, for this week’s newsletter, we would share a few stories and pictures from some of our travels that have taken place this summer so far! We still have quite a few sites to get to…but the summer is young! Right?
Grapes growing in eastern Kentucky? Yes, it is possible! Just ask our site coordinator in Wolfe County, Laura! Her site was paid a visit by HQ staff earlier this week and one of the stops on the “tour” of gardens in Wolfe County was her own. She and her partner have many crops in production right now, including these concord grapes. Laura works with 17 families in the Wolfe County Grow Appalachia program, including 3 families that live in the popular Red River Gorge area in neighboring Powell County. Many of the families visited were first-year families and their gardens were beautiful- surrounded by the “naturally gorgeous” sites of the county, bursting with staked tomatoes, big cabbages, and beautiful yellow summer squash! Wolfe County, one of two sites in Grow Appalachia directly affiliated with an extension office, is in their second year of the program.
A little farther east into Floyd County is where you’ll find the David School. This site has been featured frequently in previous Grow Appalachia publications, but they are a unique site, a small alternative high school nestled in the mountains of a former coal town, David. Also in their second year with Grow Appalachia, the David School Grow Appalachia site is gradually moving forward into a “student run” business. The students itself are a marvel: The David School is an alternative high school, accepting an average of 30 students per year that are at risk for dropping out, or have otherwise struggled or fallen behind in traditional public schools. Each student receives personalized, individualized education, along with training in vocational programs such as woodshop. In addition, the site coordinator, Jann Knappage, has incorporated the school’s garden into an all-encompassing educational tool, aptly named the Inch by Inch program. On school grounds are two high tunnels that were in part constructed by students, and a greenhouse that was entirely constructed by students. Students have also received entrepreneurial and small-business training in hot sauce manufacturing and resale. Two students are currently managing all aspects of the garden, including weekly selling at the farmers market, as a summer job.
Not too far from Grow Appalachia HQ in Berea is our Menifee County partner site, Project Worth. Project Worth has been a Grow Appalachia site since 2012, serving many families out of an office that began more than 25 years ago as an adult literacy program in the county. The director, Gail Mills, has faithfully and lovingly served the county in countless ways for most of her life, a true shining light in a region that’s notorious for high need. We visited Project Worth about a week ago and visited the home garden of one of their participants, a hard-working gentleman and his wife who are eager to learn as much about gardening and raising as much of their own food as possible. They wish to transition to farming full time and are full of clever and unique growing practices in their garden, including raised beds built from old chest freezers. The Project Worth Grow Appalachia site includes 20 home-gardening families and a produce market (pictured above), the Means Organic Produce Mart; it often sells out quickly! The site also has a commercial kitchen that’s in the works, so keep your eyes and ears open for value-added products out of Menifee County!
We try to visit our partner sites every year, so we’ve added in a few pictures from over the years.
Visiting partner sites is a thoroughly fulfilling component of the complex work that is Grow Appalachia. There are many moving parts, there are many stories to be told, and yes, there is a lot of data to be collected. At the end of the day, however, our mission remains the same: to help as many Appalachian families grow as much of their own food as possible. Visiting our partner sites is how we are able to see that mission lived out. We’re able to put faces to names, faces to hard numbers we spend many hours crunching, and we’re able to hear, first hand from the folks we serve, the impact that this program is making. Whether it be a single mom who has found a community in other Grow Appalachia participants and workshops, a family of six who simply wishes to provide better options for their children, or a couple new to the area who has gardened before but just wants to keep trying, every story is unique, just as is each family and garden that we have the opportunity to visit. We’re able to see their bountiful harvests and the pure joy and appreciation on their faces. We’re able to hear how they’re realizing how hard of work gardening is, but that they’re going to stick with it, and that they’re willing to learn. When we hear stories and affirmations from our families, it instills a sense of pride in us that’s indescribable; not necessarily in us, but in this program that works!
If you have any Grow Appalachia-related stories, we would love to hear them! Share them on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages, or send us an email! Until next time, have a safe and happy 4th of July!