With the threat of frost waning, our gardeners have eagerly picked up their plants this past month—thousands of plants to families across three counties. Cabbage, broccoli remain favorite cold weather plants with Brussels Sprouts on the rise. Beefsteak and Big Rainbow won the tomato competition with an increased interest in yellow and orange varieties. And with the profusion of plants, a variety of conversations arise while we fill the gardeners orders.
We hope to interest gardeners in printing a late crop of cherries to sell to ten after school programs Step by Step runs during the school year as well. With an anticipated long growing season, the possibility of “farm to after school” seems more possible this year. Summer programs often wrap up well before crops come in with school years starting earlier and earlier in anticipation of snow days. But remembering the late harvests well into October we plan on filling after school snacks with fresh veggies.
Our other marketing expansion this year is in celery. At the Charleston farmers market where we go to compare stock and prices we have not seen celery plants in four years: they are notoriously hard to start. But our greenhouse mainstay this year, Brittany Dalton has over 1000 healthy looking starts so, in addition to our own gardeners, we look forward to selling plants and raising a substantial crop for our after school programs. We’ve distributed celery plants the past two years and gardeners talk about covering them and finding them growing again the next year and bringing them inside to cut stalks well into the holidays.
As our greenhouse empties and we have enough room for fresh starts we are also talking about herbs. One of our healthy cooking goals this year is to emphasize spice mixtures as an alternative to heavy salt. We also have a grant from the Try This conference last year to create a natural playground at Big Ugly and to refurbish our walking track that has been washed out by floods the past two years. With space at a premium, one gardener had the idea of having a series of herb beds along the track itself and to invite people to harvest a few herbs as they do their exercise. The surplus will be dried and put in mixtures for people to sample at our family nights and community celebrations.
Finally, we are looking for help in designing a standard logo for spice mixtures, kitchen herb gardens, and other crafts and value added foods. With the help of our latest partner, Coalfield Development Corporation, whose crew helps open the greenhouse each morning, our dreams of branding crafts and value added foods from the Center are becoming a reality. Look for the Big Ugly and Corridor Grow stand this summer and fall at fairs along Corridor G (Route 119) that threads through our communities in Logan, Lincoln and now Boone counties.