Have you found Santa?

Hello everyone, I am finally home in Greeneville, TN.  Rural Resources’ teens have been busy working in the garden and making a trip to Berea this week, and just getting back into town an hour ago!  Here I am, Debbie Strickland, to tell you of our garden going ons and our trip and encounters this week!

Our garden has been producing okra, okra, okra, okra, okra, mustard, turnip greens, swiss chard, peppers, and if I haven’t mentioned it, okra!!!  We are picking okra about every two days this month.  It is beginning to slow down, but I saw some fresh new blooms on it before I left for Berea Monday.  I am expecting a load tomorrow when I get in.  Our teens have been enjoying all this okra, much to my surprise!  They have been taking every bit home that is coming off and cooking it in some way or shape at home.  Now, a few like me, do not eat it, but their families love it.  Stop booing at me!  I do like it in my soups, but I just don’t care for it in other forms.  Other of our teens have been taking it home and putting them in the freezer for use this winter.  I want to share a couple pictures we have taken of the beautiful flowers (my favorite part of the okra!), and just how tall they have gotten.  Notice the picture of our garden teens in the okra.  The head in the very back is my tallest young man towering at 6.5 feet, and the okra still goes over him!  Here I am at 5’4″ trying my hardest to pull the okra over and get those very tip tops.  I am afraid I am going to go lightheaded from looking up and working over my head!  🙂

Just before leaving Monday, the teens were out Saturday to weed their garden and see how it has been growing.  We have not received any measurable amount of rain for about 1 and 1/2 months, so I pulled the sprinklers out and have been watering for about two weeks.  The water and a drop in our temperatures really helped!  Our cabbage plants have doubled in size and our greens have grown enough to get our first tender picking!  The teens picked mustard and turnip greens, bell peppers, and OKRA.  While dividing up the greens I was amazed at how quickly hands flew up to take some home and try them out!  I am not sure if they went up soo fast because I let them taste the young tender leaves and they liked it or if they are getting okra’d out.  Not many wanted to fight over the okra.  They were willing to share with others, well lets just say, ANYONE who wanted it.  I guess taking okra home for almost two months was enough of a good thing!  Either way, I am just so EXCITED that they want to try something new and finding that it actually is good!!  They are looking forward to trying the turnip root when it is ready and who can’t wait for fresh cabbage out of the garden?!

We have pulled out the popcorn and melon patches, cover cropped it, and will be cutting it down soon to put in some garlic that will be getting delivered tomorrow!  The teens have been patiently waiting for it to arrive.  Many are wanting to take some home to plant in their home gardens for next year.  The hardest thing will be keeping them, and for some, their parents out of the patch till just the right time to harvest.  It’s like setting out presents under the Christmas trees days before Christmas and expecting no one to want to peek at it.  Who wouldn’t want to pull one here and there to see how they are progressing, especially when it is your first time growing it.

Christmas is just around the corner, if you haven’t been keeping up.  A gift that was given by some members of our community who want youth to have a hand up in life, contributed funds for us to take some of our high school teens to Berea College to tour the campus and learn about the college and it’s mission.  We left Monday with three teens who seem very set in what they want to do and be after high school, but maybe not sure on the path to get there.  On our way over the mountain, we stopped off at LMU to visit with Bill and Sue.  Bill and Sue showed us around their farm and talked about all their are doing with their Grow Appalachia project, what is growing, how they grow, and the unique things growing on their farm.  We decided to take time this year on our Berea College tour to check out some other projects, especially those who are utilizing high tunnel productions.  While at LMU, we found a unique pumpkin that we are not sure the name of and a plant I did not know, and I have farmed a long time and not see one!  We saw a cotton plant!  The plant did not look as I had imagined it to look.  One had a very pretty purple color to the leaves, and the cotton pods had not opened.  I did not even realize cotton grew in pods!  The teens found many varieties of peppers, and some with a little kick.  There were a couple of beehives and one teen was very interested in asking questions and understanding bees a bit better.

On we continued to Berea!  Monday evening we had an interesting dinner and ran into, well let’s say one teen also saw him and the others thought I was crazy!  But the big man himself, the one and only, and it’s very rare to see the real one, but Santa Claus!  He was sitting in another room eating dinner.  After he finished and passed through the others finally realized I am not as crazy as I may have appeared when I acted like a 6 year old child seeing Santa for the first time!  He was so kind, he came over to see us as he noticed that WE noticed him.  He also gave me his business card, so it is official folks, the real Santa Claus was in Berea!  He is watching!  Make sure you are being good.

Tuesday morning we headed over to Greenhouse 17 where Christina showed us their gardens and high tunnels.  What a beautiful drive through the heart of horse country.  As we began our tour, the tranquility of the gardens invited us and peace came upon us.  The setting is so perfect to help in their mission.  The teens commented afterwards just how at peace they felt, how comfortable the gardens seemed, and a sense of security from their surroundings.  There were fresh new greens and beets coming up in their high tunnels.  The garden was still producing some beautiful peppers and a variety of herbs.  They had greens growing and popcorn that had just been harvested.  The two girls we had taken were in love with the beautiful flowers and had to go into one of the tunnels and take pictures of each variety.  I wish I had some of those pictures to share, the flowers were beautiful!  My fascination was the rain barrel setup on their high tunnels!  My brain is ticking for recreating that on ours!  Our girls fell in love with Greenhouse 17 and are talking if they come back to Berea how they would love to go back and visit at their garden.

We came back to Berea, where the teens sat in on an information session at Berea College and then had a guided tour around campus.  One of our young ladies did her research and came with questions in hands to ask.  The teens we took are sophomores in high school so this was their first college tour and introduction to college life.  They were very excited to learn, visit with students and two of our past teens attending Berea to understand the college better and figure out if it is a fit for them.  All three were highly impressed with the college and excited about the offerings.  The buzz talk was about buckling down in high school, getting their GPA up, making sure their counselors have them on the right track for Berea, and if they were riding the fence about Berea, they are not now!  Zack, the young man in the picture below, states, “I found my first choice for college and I want to go to Berea for Wildlife Management.”  Gracie, the girl on the far left  said the campus was beautiful and “I really hope to be able to go to college there one day.”  Shyla, the next young lady in the picture, states,

“This trip was very eye-opening.  I got to learn about a potential college for me.  The campus is extraordinary, the students are nice, and much more.  This trip helped me get motivated to try my best in school.  Also, we got to see some greenhouse areas that was made for good causes, such as domestic violence.  Lets just say that I didn’t want to go home.  This trip was an unforgettable experience.”

On our way home today, still finding Santa Claus to be pretty exciting, we stopped over in London (not England – boy would that have been a trip!), KY, to visit with Wayne at Laurel County African American Heritage Center.  Wayne has much knowledge of history in the Appalachia’s, Berea, and his home town.  The center is filled with various memorabilia from the years, and all with it’s own story, even the buildings they use.  I don’t know if I could even spend a week there and gather all the knowledge and history that could be offered!  The girls were fascinated at the old glass doll they found in the glass case.  They had never seen a glass doll before.  Shyla even sat at the table and started looking at the different books in the library, pointing out a few books I should try to find to add to my curriculum.  After spending some time in the center and visiting, we proceeded across the street and up the hill to their growing area where we found high tunnels, and one with so many bell peppers!  Rolling through my mind was all the stuffed bell peppers I could want, and the colors!  I am not sure, but I think as we passed each high tunnel they seemed to get longer till the last one was the mother of all lengths!  He had one filled with tomatoes, another with cabbages, and a few that he was getting ready to clear out for different greens, lettuces, and beets for this winter.  At the very end of his growing area was the pleasant distraction that the teens found, animals – goats, rabbits, and sheep!  What better way for them to run off some energy before getting back in the van for another 3 hours home!

I could sit here and continue on about our experience this week and the excitement and sites at the Grow Appalachia sites, but considering I got home at 9 pm and we are pushing midnight, I think I am going off to bed.  Hopefully I have written this so it is understandable.  And go off and dream of candy canes and peppermints.  Remember Santa is out there watching us!  I wonder after putting up with three teens for a 3 day and 2 nights out on a road trip if that earns me extra bonus points with the big guy?!  🙂  Thank you to all the sites for letting us into your home!

About the Author:

I am from a farming community in Indiana where my family farmed over 200 acres. As a teen, my family moved to Florida where I became heavily involved in 4-H and developed a love for service and passing knowledge onto others. I graduated and began working at the local girls club while attending college for a Business/Administration degree. I realized that teaching youth was my passion and stayed at the girls club for 12 years before moving to East Tennessee. In East Tennessee I was able to reconnect with my farming roots and began a home garden. In growing, I tapped further into my roots and began canning and freezing food for my family. Really enjoying putting to use all the long hours working on the farm in my youth and realizing how important that was for me to learn, I wanted to get back into teaching youth again! Skimming help wanted adds, led me to Rural Resources who was looking for a coordinator to run their Farm and Food Teen Training Program. All my loves in one - youth at-risk, farming, gardening, cooking, and business planning! What a wonderful life to share my passions with others, play on the farm, enjoy local home cooked food, and advance these youth to a better future! Here I have been for 6 beautiful, happy, and productive years!

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