Michael Tierney, Big Ugly Grow Appalachia

A dreaded email—a community program has an opportunity to take kids to the movies for free….and is there $7.50 a head to cover a soft drink and popcorn.  I take out my Ebenezer Scrooge outfit and remind folks that we will not pay for or serve sugar added drinks (nor support stopping at McDonald’s).

Walking the healthy food talk can be challenging in community settings.  We are thrilled to have people bring sweet potato casserole to a Grow Appalachia pot luck.  But who is going to tell Aunt Sally to leave the marshmallows behind?  A couple of years ago on a garden visit a middle school student proudly showed off the garden and even offered a sampling of their greens…and disclosed that their favorite way to fix them was soaked in bacon grease.

The obesity epidemic in West Virginia is apparent in us having among the worst scores not only for obesity but heart disease and diabetes.  But that still doesn’t mean that it is easy to change generations of comfort foods, nor get people out of the recent habits of stopping for fast foods.  One of our healthy foods instructors, the treasured folk and protest singer Elaine Purkey shared her methods for finding the least unhealthy alternatives for eating on the road. (and most fast foods, for those times when there are not any alternatives, now have apps and web sites you can locate on your phone that will go over nutrition facts.)  For example, most fruit smoothies, while high in “natural” sugars do not have corn fructose additives.

One group that is helping work through the delicate task of screening community pot luck traditions for unhealthy food is Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits a group dedicated to working with faith based congregations to bring down the sugar and sodium at church, synagogue and mosque community meals as well as promote more physical activity.


In our Grow App pot lucks we lead with healthy foods, have infused water and are trying to encourage different spice and herb blends (home grown and dried at our food preservation workshops) to decrease sodium.

And, along the way we can at least sing about it. I recently wrote a “zipper” song (which is Pete Seeger’s phrase for organizing songs that you can zip verses in and out depending on the cause you are highlighting.  I will close with the chorus (and three verses including our healthy foods one).  If you’d like an Mp3 with the melody and a scanning sheet to add your own verse, email familyworkerfarm@yahoo.com


I come from West Virginia

Where our troubles are well told

Many young folks leave the mountains

Some of us are getting old

There’s even a bumper sticker

About all those taking flight

Will the last to leave West Virginia

Kindly turn out all the lights?


We won’t turn off the lights

For those of us who are staying

We won’t turn off the lights

On our daughters and our sons

We won’t turn off the lights

Cause there’s prices worth the paying

There’s a light that shines within us

And our battles just begun

When it came to health disasters

West Virginia topped the charts

Too much sugar, way too idle

Diabetes, failing hearts

From the playground

To church socials

Our health warriors never quit

All we have to do is Try This

We’ll be healthy, we’ll be fit


And for those of you who’re leaving

Here’s a simple heartfelt truth

You can move from West Virginia

but the hills will not leave you

When you’re captured by the mountains

You’ll always have a home

So follow your dreams and when you return

We’ll leave a solar porch light on.