From the beginning, Grow Appalachia’s basic mission has been simple: helping as many families grow as much of their own food as possible. We work with families to, first and foremost, install gardens in their backyards, to radically increase access to freshly grown fruits and vegetables. But sometimes, we recognize that not every family has suitable land for gardening at their home. That’s where our community gardens play a significant role in the life of our program. Bringing together families from all walks of life, our community gardens instill the same sense of self food production and self-sustainability and empowerment that we see in our home gardening families. What wasn’t quite expected when Grow Appalachia first began is the almost unintentional community development that has arisen from these gardens. We’ll be looking at a few for this week’s newsletter, and how they’re impacting the individuals and families that come to work these soils and reap the harvests.

  1. Sprouting Hope: Located on the grounds of the Hungry Mother Lutheran Retreat Center, Sprouting Hope formed its community garden in 2012 with 10,000 square feet of vegetable growing space. The garden program was well received, so it expanded in 2013 by hiring a program coordinator to promote youth education, mental health support, and distributing all of the produce grown at the garden to community businesses such as soup kitchens, free clinics, senior centers, and more. Everything they grow is donated! The final garden expansion occurred in 2015 with two high tunnels. The garden today is serving eight home gardening families and 13 families who share the community garden space. Volunteers meet once or twice a week and engage in garden clean-up, harvesting, and a spirit of enthusiasm for the great outdoors (The Lutheran Retreat Center is located within Hungry Mother State Park). Sprouting Hope became a partner site with Grow Appalachia in 2015.
  2. Greenhouse 17: 40 acres of farm land surround this domestic violence shelter in rural Lexington, KY. Greenhouse 17 underwent a name change after the success of the farm became apparent in the recovery process of the women who came to the shelter. The garden produces fruits and vegetables that make their way into meals served at the shelter, often prepared by survivors at the shelter. Furthermore, their agricultural component of recovery has expanded into an Apprenticeship program, in which selected clients receive a stipend in exchange for receiving small business training. This program has launched a “Handmade By Survivors” body care products line. The exposure of gardening and small business training equip these women with tools and skills that will impact them positively when they leave the shelter and continue their healing and recovery.
  3. Lincoln Memorial University:  Located right on the campus of the university in Harrogate, Tennessee, just across the border from Bell County KY, the LMU Organic Garden promotes community fellowship, learning, and food production with more than 50 families for 2016. The on-campus garden consists of 2 high tunnels, 70 raised beds, fruit trees, an apiary, and a kitchen/classroom where a series of cooking and preservation workshops are held later in the growing season. Participants also meet each Monday evening for garden work days.
  4. Owsley County Farm to School program:  The 2 acre garden on the property of the high school serves a two-fold approach: The community garden has provided a garden plot to 15-30 families since OCHS became a Grow Appalachia partner site in 2011. Each participant is responsible for their plot and is often in the spirit of giving a portion of their produce to friends and neighbors. The school farm produces fruits and vegetables that go directly into the school’s cafeteria for school breakfasts and lunches. Both garden spaces are co-managed partially by OCHS students. Recently, a farmers market has formed in the county, giving gardeners at the school farm an outlet to provide fresh produce to the community. In the past two years, OCHS FFA students have organized a plant sale at the farm’s greenhouse, generating substantial income for the Grow Appalachia program.
  5. Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden: Revitalizing a prominent neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati, the Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden partnered with the Cincinnati Civic Garden Center, beginning in 1980, to turn a section of town into a community garden. In 2013 two remaining lots were purchased, which composes the garden today. OTR became a partner site with Grow Appalachia in 2014, bringing in Paul Mitchell the School employees to encourage community service and environmental stewardship. The OTR People’s Garden is bringing beauty, color, and a renewed love of the earth (and vegetables) to this thriving area.
  6. Williamson Health and Wellness Center: Working to strengthen the local food system in Mingo County, West Virginia, the Williamson Health and Wellness Center first instituted a community garden in a low-income neighborhood in downtown Williamson. Many of the participants at the time were elderly or disabled and were able to actively participate in the garden. The following year, Williamson partnered with Amizade, a global nonprofit promoting volunteerism, to install 30 garden beds for vegetables and flowers to attract pollinators. The following year, arbors were constructed for growing grapes and other vining plants. Raised beds have been built to accommodate wheelchairs, and high tunnels have been utilized by veteran gardeners, in conjunction with Growing Warriors, in order to grow produce sold at the Farmers Market.

Together, these gardens are working to do more than just grow food. They are bringing families together, they are bringing community members together. They are creating opportunities to have increased access to healthy food for all who desire it. They are instilling a sense of place, appreciation for the natural world, health, and a positive, encouraging atmosphere where people can live and work together to produce food for their families, friends, and neighbors. They are building relationships, celebrating entrepreneurship, and teaching a younger generation that it is possible to have a productive- and rewarding- lifestyle in the field of agriculture. They’re working to help meet our mission of helping as many Appalachian families grow as much of their own food as possible.

If you have ever participated in a community garden, or are now, we would love to hear from you! Share your story through our social media pages, or send us an email! Until next time, happy gardening!

*Featured image courtesy of OTR People’s Garden*