I would like to take this month’s blog to really focus on the things that we have found great success with this and past seasons. I spend a significant amount of time thinking about our opportunities for improvement (a MUCH nicer way of saying failures!), and as I say goodbye to our summer gardens and Grow Appalachia I thought this would be a much better send off.

My experience with Grow has been immeasurably educational. I am sad to leave but look forward to applying what I’ve learned in the future. Apparently, my next place of residence is also a food desert, though it’s about as far away from West Virginia as you can get, literally and figuratively. Still, I think that with the background I have gained I can help do some good here, and I’m looking forward to joining forces with the Truckee (Tahoe) Food Hub in California with a different perspective and fresh set of ideas.

So, first (no pun intended): Our First Fridays at the Linwood Farmers Market have brought both an increased customer base and a cohesion in the community that was not there previously. We asked local businesses and clubs to sponsor some kind of food and interesting event the first Friday of each month, and the response from both community groups and businesses was just astounding. Our gracious donors provided food, drinks, music and entertainment, drawing both customers and curious community members as well as guests of the resort to our little pavilion/grill/community center. After the first event, we had businesses lining up to sponsor each month. As word spread, we have had more and more people show up to each gathering. We have had little kid bike races, a zucchini toss, kid yoga, hand cranked ice cream and coming up we have “take a kid mountain biking day” which is on the last Friday of the farmers market…which is really extra cool because it’s not a First Friday and it wasn’t even our idea! Talk about a snowball effect!

Our classes this year were wildly successful as well. The heart healthy cooking class stood out in particular. We asked the Executive Chef for Snowshoe Mountain to teach it and he made some really delicious food using produce from the garden. Our theme was “if you’re eating out of your garden you are eating heart healthy food”. We had an excellent turnout and everyone had a great time. I would bet that next year we’ll need a bigger space because the rumor is that we’ll have tons of people showing up.

Lastly, this was our 3rd Farm to Table Dinner. We donated massive amounts of produce from the garden, local businesses and community members gave items for a silent auction, Tolly Peuleche (our local garden expert and head of the farmers market) donated flowers and all of the Linwood Community Daycare parents pitched in to decorate and cook for the event, which raised well over $3000 for the Daycare.

These wins for us are wonderful, but the biggest outcome has been the increase in the sense of community. I am deeply thankful to have been a part of this, and I hope that everyone reading this blog can take some of these ideas and run with them.