Since the beginning, the heartbeat- for lack of a better word- of Grow Appalachia is that of its participants. To date, Grow Appalachia has reached more than 4,000 unduplicated families. These families and participants are as unique and diverse as the central Appalachian region itself. We collect a lot of numerical data in the form of robust Excel reports from our partner sites. It was not too long, though, that we decided to investigate the qualitative data side of the program as well: Who, exactly, are the people being impacted by Grow Appalachia? What are their stories?
We are sharing one of those stories for this week’s newsletter. A special thanks goes to our AmeriCorps VISTA, Alix Burke, who is spending part of her VISTA year visiting partner sites and obtaining these stories. If you would like to share your Grow Appalachia story, please email Alix at Naomi_Burke@berea.edu
For the past few years of Grow Appalachia, some participants have been encouraged to sell their excess produce at Farmers Markets across the region. We aptly call these folks “Market Gardeners”. Some have even started growing specifically for market production, making supporting their local foods economy a feature of their overall gardening plan. Because of this, many Grow Appalachia farmers markets are thriving, and some growers are even pursuing gardening and farming as a full-time endeavor!
One such grower in Harlan County, Kentucky, Woody, has found his calling in the local foods economy. For Woody, learning to grow organic and plan his garden from Grow Appalachia workshops at Pine Mountain Settlement School has influenced his future work. “Within five years, I want to have chickens, rabbits, cows, goats, and bees. Between Grow Appalachia and our extension office workshops, it’s getting me all right on track. With the influence of the Grow Appalachia program and all the marketing stuff, that got me thinking: ‘I love doing this. I need a job. I can go full production; might as well make some money at it, too.'”
Another tenet of Woody’s 5-year plan is to be able to sell everything that he grows and processes. To ensure that, he’ll be getting his Homebased Processing and Microprocessing certifications. Woody is also looking forward to working with the commercial kitchen project at Pine Mountain. Funding for the commercial kitchen, as well as equipment and market-based training and workshops, was written into Grow Appalachia’s USDA Community Foods Project grant.
Woody’s work isn’t just centered on improving his own economic situation; he’s working with other leaders in the community to start a farmers market in Harlan County. “It’s something we need around here. A lot of folks are wanting a farmers market…Our grand opening is June 10th.”
Woody’s story is one of many across Central Appalachia, and each year more Grow Appalachia partner sites add on market gardening families. Because where food grows, communities grow too.
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