2017’s All-Hands Gathering has come and gone. Weeks of planning and set-up here at Headquarters brought coordinators and participants from 33 Grow Appalachia Partner Sites across Central Appalachia to Berea College for a day and a half of workshops, networking, and good food.
Thursday opened with remarks from our Director David Cooke, Dean Chad Berry—the “Godfather” of Grow Appalachia— and Dr. Chris Green from the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center. Breakfast goodies were provided by local Berea shops Clementine’s Bakery and Native Bagel Company. Thursday’s lunch was catered by the Berea College Farm Store, featuring entirely local produce from the Berea College Farms. Dinner that evening and breakfast the next morning were provided by Berea College Mountaineer Dining Services, which maintains a commitment to 20% local procurement. We wanted our food choices to represent the work our Partner Sites are doing every day: supporting the local foods economy while offering healthy, tasty options.
Throughout the Gathering, folks from Headquarters walked around and sat in on regional group sessions. We all saw good work in the making. Among discussion of program requirements and resource development, Partner Site coordinators worked together in regional groups to coordinate meetings, order seeds in bulk, and share experiences. From intergenerational discussions addressing technology barriers in the mountains to conversations about keeping participants active and involved, we were truly proud of what was going on. We heard folks talking about affecting local food policy by engaging with local government and heard folks celebrating the successes of their communities as a whole. This is what happens every year when we get this group of dedicated, involved Appalachian leaders together in the same room.
Over lunch, folks were instructed to sit next to someone they didn’t travel with. Here at Grow Appalachia, we believe in stepping out of our comfort zones to make connections and learn from one another—so far, it’s a model that’s worked. Director David Cooke shared with the group that over the past 8 years, Grow Appalachia Partner Sites and participants have grown over 2.9 million pounds of organic produce; that’s the direct result of working together in each of our communities and is often the result of folks turning away from conventional gardening practices they’re familiar with. Friday’s Breakout Sessions further prepared Partner Site coordinators to go back into their communities to make real change. Topics included: managing an effective partner site, organic gardening (beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels), and site sustainability.
A surprise visit from David Mauro of Mauro Seed Company affirmed the importance of the work Grow Appalachia does: Mauro drove all the way from Nashville, Tennessee to Berea, Kentucky (that morning!) to donate in-person 500 pounds of non-GMO, non-hybrid, heirloom bean, pea, corn, cucumber, cabbage, squash, and watermelon seeds. Mauro Seed Company’s mission is to empower people to grow their own food by donating a portion of their seeds to nonprofits with similar missions. We are grateful that they chose Grow Appalachia as a partner nonprofit to help carry out their mission.
On Friday afternoon, we closed out the Gathering with an address from Berea College President, Lyle Roelofs. President Roelofs reminded us of Berea College’s historic commitment to equality and the Appalachian region. He proudly let us know that no matter where we’re from or where we go back to at the end of the day, we are all Bereans when we’re a part of Grow Appalachia.