2016 was an intense, busy, exciting, and challenging year for Grow Appalachia!
We started the year by attending the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Lexington, spending two days hearing from and learning from a wide breadth of agricultural producers, farmers, and administrators from the entire southern region of the US. Right before that, we kicked off our workshop series on Organic Production Techniques. (There was lunch. And it was good). The region also experienced another snowstorm that dumped about a foot in some areas. Some may have called it “Snowmageddon 2016”.
February was our 2016 All-Hands Gathering, where more than 60 of our site coordinators and field assistants filled Berea with great ideas, lively conversation, and a contagious atmosphere of excitement and big plans for the growing season ahead!
In March, we journeyed to Hindman Settlement School for our second Organic Production Techniques workshop. We also celebrated our own Wayne Riley as he received the Berea College Service Award.
One of the biggest successes of 2016 for Grow Appalachia, April saw the first partners meeting for the Summer Food Service Program in Berea. The lunch served emulated what a typical SFSP lunch would look like, and it was well-received. The room was just buzzing! This SFSP program was the first of its kind in the state! Grow Appalachia and Berea College also hosted approximately 100 NRCS agents for their annual Cultural Diversity Day. And finally, on Earth Day 2016, we presented the second edition of Pollen, our online literary journal.
In May, after more than six months of battling inclement weather and busy schedules, we wrapped filming on our high tunnel instructional video. May 23 was also the official start date for meal service of the Summer Food Service Program! It was a great success! What made this SFSP program so unique and groundbreaking is that this program was the first of its kind in the state because it was the first open, mobile, college or university sponsored program in the state!
June saw a flurry of activity in the city of Berea as SFSP gained momentum and provided fun, educational activities to children, in addition to high-quality meals. We made connections at the SOAR Summit and began our summer partner site visits.
All through the month of July, SFSP continued meal service until the very last week of the month. A total of 13,880 meals were served during the first year of the program, which equates to just over $46,000 saved in meal costs for Berea families during the summer! And, at long last, after many tedious hours of editing and polishing, our high tunnel instructional video was released!
In August, Grow Appalachia opened their draft proposal period, and we celebrated with the SFSP partners and staff for a Random Acts of Barbecue Lunch sponsored by Sonny’s Barbecue!
September was probably the busiest month for Grow Appalachia: We gathered with other area businesses and producers for a day of “Celebrate the Harvest”, during which the rainwater catchment system that we manufactured for the Berea Urban Farm was open to the public for tours. The week after, Berea College played host to the highly acclaimed 3rd Annual Appalachian Food Summit. The concluding supper was, not surprisingly, one for the record books! And right at the tail end of the month, we got word that Grow Appalachia had received a USDA NIFA Community Foods Project Grant for $375,000! This grant will establish five commercial kitchens in southeastern Kentucky. Yeah…we’re still a little excited about that one!
October saw “The Boys” build the first of several tunnels in just a two-month period; this build was at Moore Traditional High School. Grow Appalachia was recommended by an NRCS agent to help lead this build. Several teams of students grades 6-8 were very active in the building process. The school even held a ribbon-cutting ceremony after the completion of the tunnels.
We welcomed our newest team member, Kayla, on board in November. She and Chris went on to build 10 high tunnels from September until early November. Power duo at its finest!
Throughout this year, we also welcomed Elly Engle to the Grow Appalachia family. Elly came to Grow Appalachia, first introducing herself at the 2016 All-Hands Gathering, from Pennsylvania State University. She is a doctoral student in Rural Sociology and spent the majority of the summer visiting three of our sites, interviewing participants, and developing case studies on these sites, all as part of her dissertation research. She is studying the impact of community garden programs in rural Appalachian communities. Currently, all of Grow Appalachia’s partner sites have received surveys that will be sent to past and current participants. We’ve already received quite a few, and it is our goal to have them all sent back to us by mid-January.
And now, here we are in December, just two weeks until a new year. Here are a few sneak peeks at 2017:
- 32 partner sites, including three new and three returning from previous years, will comprise the Grow Appalachia family for the 2017 growing season.
- The 2017 Grow Appalachia All-Hands Gathering is set for February 9th and 10th, 2017
- The Eastern Kentucky Farmer Conference (the first event of this type…ever!) is set to kick off in late February. More details will be announced at a later date.
- Our Technical Director, Mark Walden, will be spearheading two NRCS-funded projects during the 2017 growing season: The Regional Conservation Partnership Program project from Grow Appalachia will deliver 40 high tunnel contracts through the end of the project period, 2019 (10 contracts in year 1 and 15 the following two years). Additionally, Mark will be developing and implementing Conservation Plans of Operation (CPO) to existing high tunnel producers in the area. This project is part of NRCS’ Seasonal High Tunnel initiative. Lastly, Mark is also working on obtaining his Technical Service Provider (TSP) Certification, also from the NRCS.
From all of us here at Grow Appalachia Headquarters, we wish you and your family Happy Holidays!
See you in 2017!