Howdy Grow Appalachians here, there, and everywhere! Here at HQ, it’s full steam ahead going into the fall season. The 3rd Annual Appalachian Food Summit kicks off this evening, and last weekend we dined and celebrated with some of the biggest and best hard-working, Berea-loving people devoting their lives to making the food scene in Berea more sustainable and enjoyable for all. And when we’re not busy aiding in the planning of those events, we’re also making plans for 2017. A lot of our Grow Appalachia sites have already submitted draft proposals to us (something new we tried this year), which means they’re already planning ahead too. If you’re there, or if the prospect of a new year brings about more anxiety and questions than excitement and joy…fear not. I write a post like this every year and this year is no exception. Read on:

Every growing season, whether you’ve been gardening for 20 years or two months, comes with its share of unexpected challenges, surprises, frustrations, each set of them completely different from the last. Gardening is truly a work of art, in my opinion, and I genuinely applaud the sheer perseverance that our folks exhibit. Not giving up is SO important! Thank you all!

In my workspace I have a picture of a Ghanaian symbol, a sankofa, which translates to “reach back and take it”, a reminder to move forward but also to not forget to look back and remember where you came from. Given that mindset, here’s a few points to consider as we look ahead to 2017- and please also adapt to personal use if you would like 🙂

  1. What were the significant challenges or obstacles from the year? –> By addressing what exactly didn’t go right this year, you are aware of those challenges and you’re then able to discuss with your team how you can work to reduce or eliminate those challenges for next year. However, it’s also helpful to keep in mind that there are some challenges that, try as you must, you just can’t control them. The weather is one of these. Remember: You are one site, one individual. You can’t do it all.
  2. What were some successes from the year? –> I’m going to use the performance review example again: At work, you go in for your annual or mid-year performance review, and your supervisor lets you know that you are kicking butt at 100 things and gives you some feedback on 1 thing that you’re not kicking butt in…what do you end up focusing on, dwelling on? That ONE thing. Especially with the work we do, it’s important to celebrate our successes. An atmosphere of positive reinforcement and celebration boosts morale, which makes you want to be better. Think positive, no matter how grand or small: Did you have a good number of returning families? Did you have a great harvest of one crop this year that you maybe struggled with last year? Did some of your participants lend a hand to help another participant with their garden? Were you able to experience, with a new family, that “a-ha” moment they experienced when something finally clicked, something they had never tried before? Was your site able to share a portion of your harvest with local businesses? Did one, or some, of your participants approach you and thank you? Anything is fair game! And if you’re a site coordinator, remember to encourage your participants also; they probably need it as much as you do.
  3. Are you thinking about site-generated revenue? –> Or, in a simpler manner, are you thinking of ways to put additional income back into your Grow Appalachia site? Although we definitely want gardeners to continue selling at market, we at HQ have been encouraging our sites to diversify revenue sources for the past few years. One of the most successful endeavors to accomplish this is adding a value-added component. Value-added products can include jam, salsa, hot sauce, sauerkraut, eggs, honey…oh, you get the idea! If you need some inspiration brainstorming some value-added products that you can try, a few of our value-added rockstar sites include Scott Christian Care Center, The David School, and Greenhouse 17. If you don’t have the processing space or facilities to create food-related value-added products, consider non-food items, such as calendars, compost, or having a plant sale. Be creative! Any way you can put revenue back into your program is a worthwhile investment. Just make sure it’s legal!
  4. Taking site-generated revenue one step further, are you thinking about site sustainability? –> No, I’m not talking about “going green”. In this case, sustainability is asking yourself how you will keep your Grow Appalachia program going once Grow Appalachia funding is no longer available (It’s sad and unfortunate to think about, but it’s true– we won’t be around forever!). The most ideal approach is again, thinking about site-generated revenue (see above). It’s also beneficial to spend some time researching and applying for additional grants from private or public sources.  Look for those that support general operating costs, children’s programs, food-related programs, etc. Lastly, it’s important to create a solid leadership succession plan for your site; that is, identifying a strong successor to continue your work in the event of your stepping down, and assuring he or she has all of the proper documentation and training necessary to carry out the program effectively and responsibly.

For those of you that are Grow Appalachia site coordinators, we are still accepting final proposals until October 1. And if you have any questions about ANYTHING I’ve just covered, or about anything else, please let one of us at HQ know. We are more than happy to help you think through this process.

On an ending note, Grow Appalachia’s friendly neighborhood technical director Mark Walden would like to remind you that now is the time to order your garlic seed! High Mowing and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange are reputable sources. The ideal planting time is soon (end of October- early November), so don’t wait! Until next time, happy planning…and planting! (I love garlic).


That’s what I’m talkin’ about!