Hi there!  It’s been a while since I have written everyone.  I am trying to remember how to do this :).  Debbie Strickland here, reporting in from Rural Resources in Greeneville, TN.  This week we have finally seen some much much much needed rain.  It’s been over a month since we have had a rain shower, and everything has been brown and the ground as hard as can be.  I have been working in my own garden before the rain, trying to till and put cover crops down so the rain could do it’s thing.  The ground tilled, but not very deep or well.  However, the dust storm was quite impressive!  Now, I will be tilling this weekend and getting cover crops down, hoping more rain is in the near future.

This has been a hard season here with weather.  Our weather has been in an unusual pattern.  We had a dry and hotter than normal June, a monsoon the first week in July, then dry and high temps through September.  Sure, we had an occasional rain, but not enough to say our gardens were happy.  And maybe not a real monsoon but we had a hard heavy rain, the ground had a hard time soaking it up, then the waters sat in the gardens, ruining the produce.  We had over 60 days of 90+ temps this summer!  Yep, that was one hot summer!  Those temps have continued into September, with no rain till this week, hopefully the end to the heat wave.  This has made it very difficult to get our fall crops started.  We have been irrigating, but the cooler crops have been burnt up with the high heat, and the lack of water is keeping the seeds from propagating.  We have been irrigating our garden at Rural Resources, but their is a lot of irrigation and animals to water that we have even had issues trying to water our garden enough for these conditions.  Our teens have suffered!  Many are on city water and families just cannot afford the excess water bills.  For those who have wells, some have been drying their wells, and parents have been after them to stop watering so they have a constant water supply to their homes.  Today we had a class and finished up the rain barrels they started.  No, it won’t be an entire answer to the issue, but it will help!  They can now collect the rain and save it to water their garden spaces when we are without rain for a period.  Taylor Boles, our Garden and Farm Manager, did a little digging and shared with the teens that 40% of the average US citizen’s water bill is spent on water usage for gardens, flower beds, and lawns.  That is nearly half our water bills!  If we can conserve some of the water we use for this, by using rain run off or collections, we can save money in the families pockets, but also save our energy and natural resources.  I am hoping the teens today will do their part.  With cooler temperatures coming in this week from the rain, we are hoping our gardens will begin improving, and it will not be too late.  We are beginning to send season extension items home with the teens so they can be prepared when the temperatures drop too low for the plants, and they can keep them nice and happy!  Here are some pictures of our rain barrel class, and the irrigation in a field this month to try and keep the plants healthy and strong:

img_20160910_161524754 img_20161001_093221632 img_20161001_093248681 img_20161001_093701110_hdr img_20161001_103413044

Now, even though the weather has kept us gloomy around here, that did not stop us from doing other activities with our teens.  We had a major local foods cook off this month with our teens, went on our annual teen leadership retreat (IN THE HEAT!!), and planned a yummy preservation class for next month.  Last Saturday, our teens teamed up and cooked under pressure in our 4th Teen Chopped Cook-Off.  The teams have been spending this month planning a tentative menu that would incorporate pork from our farm and local seasonal produce.  They researched meal choices on the internet, thought of meals that would show the skills and techniques they have learned and are capable of, and practiced the dish to make sure everything cooks in the time allotted, 1.5 hours.  The one hitch is they receive 2 secret ingredients the day of competition, just seconds before they are told to begin.  The teams must think on the dime how to incorporate those ingredients into their dish, improvise, or completely change their selections.  This year, we had three teams of 3 teens competing for the best dish in a grill off competition at our farm.  The secret ingredients were local tomatoes and soy sauce.  Once time started, the flames began!  Teens ran to the pantry to collect their items for their dishes, and thought went into how to use the secret ingredients in the dishes and recipes they were using.  In 1.5 hours, 3 incredible dishes appeared:  pork kabobs with cheesy potatoes, Thailand scrambled eggs with grilled vegetables, and BBQ ribs with corn and a salad.  The judges had a hard time and just 2 points separated the first and third place winners.  The teens were judged on food safety handling, teamwork, use of secret ingredients, taste, presentation, and use of local ingredients.  Here are how the winners grilled up:

Third place – BBQ ribs with an amazing poppy seed dressing!

14448822_10154667618299758_344492137896144053_n 14462795_10154667612424758_1088054672162674607_n 14520523_10154667609159758_1949768899068246799_n


2nd place – pork kabobs

14494873_10154667618469758_4710672956328566747_n 14494732_10154667607859758_55109827221727482_n 14441085_10154667621044758_5916776560492987441_n

And first – Thailand scrambled eggs!

14462819_10154667618399758_623066417302662569_n 14448929_10154667614769758_855204686503681490_n 14441218_10154667610499758_7003732490274199665_n

How refreshing it is to see youth take such a delight in cooking fresh local things not from a box!  To put heart, soul, and sweat into the food they create AND LIKE IT!!  Many of these teens would not have tried half of this a year or two ago, but after learning how to cook with fresh ingredients, and in a healthy way that actually tastes and look good, they are willing to taste that new dish and try the new flavors that await their pallets.

Besides food fun, garden stresses and successes, the teens took time out to enjoy themselves in the trees with logs, ropes, helmets, and harnesses.  We loaded up over Labor Day weekend and headed for the mountains of Townsend, TN, to a quiet retreat center called Camp Wesley Woods.  Once arriving the quiet was filled with laughter, screams, encouragement, leaders, and song as the teens spent the weekend getting to know each other better by participating in a low and high ropes challenge course.  We swung in the trees, climbed and jumped logs 100′ off the ground (well maybe under 20′), climbed a web, faced and conquered some of our fears, encouraged others, and worked together as teams communicating with each other to succeed at the challenges we faced.  What leaders came out of the shadows and what shy nutshells were cracked and beautiful nuts released!  The teens became one large family that weekend!  For more details or to see more pictures, visit us on our Facebook page.  Right now, enjoy these pictures and one day I will get videos uploaded to Facebook – just not of me 100′ off the ground!

14322178_10154632553974758_4558542955593229948_n 14344931_10154632353164758_6196025445040078339_n 14355612_10154632464929758_6495378315697660840_n 14359007_10154632354484758_548665253871294796_n

In wrapping up today, I want to thank Lorelei Goff for assisting me this summer and keeping up with these blogs.  As each summer comes, it seems that there is always more to accomplish and do with the youth, and it was a blessing to have someone helping me to stay on top of everything.  Of course, some of my kids might say I am just getting older :), but I like the first reason!  I look forward to blogging again next month and updating everyone on how our fall gardens are going, sharing some of the pictures of the teens’ gardens that they are starting to send to me from this summer, and talk about the progress on our new Farm and Food Training Center – yes construction has started this month!  Our face lift has begun, and I am always pointing out to the teens that all those pipes sticking up are our water lines, drain pipes, and INDOOR TOILETS!!!  (What a way for the future!  As a co-worker says “I hear its big in the cities!”)  By the end of next month, our sides should be going up and I can’t wait to share the progress and pictures.  Until then, happy farming and enjoy life!