Michael Tierney, Step by Step, Big Ugly

As we bring in the last of our potatoes (over 4000 pounds) and crates of winter squash, sew rye to nourish the soil and cut down next spring’s weeds, and clear out the old so bugs, mold and other challenges won’t carry over into the spring, we also dream of the growth that will come from this years new partnerships and projects.

Through our participation in the Try This movement (still the best conference in the region for hands on learning, which next year will take place on June 15-16, again at WV Wesleyan College in Buchanon, WV { http://trythiswv.com/] we were able to make progress on three Grow Appalachia related projects.

We did introductory workshops for over 30 families with young children through our partnership with the Harts Head Start, learning that while none of their parents’ generation had gardens, most of them had fond memories of helping their grandparents.  They receive food processing equipment after these introductions to gardening, receiving plants and workshops on healthy foods through our support from Try This.

Next year we will build on this success to have gardening, healthy food and physical activity the centerpiece of our  outreach to drug endangered families.  There is ample scientific research that nutrition and physical activity can play key roles in sustaining the recovery from addiction, serving as an outlet for the energy that would go toward satisfying the craving for drugs, as well as altering the brain chemistry to help addicts resist relapse.  And of course, gardening, cooking and playing together are examples of healthy whole family activity that can help get a family back on strong footing after the trauma of overdose or incarceration.   We are seeking support to provide opportunities for these healthy activities through family nights at after school, Pre K, Head Start and in collaboration with home visiting programs along with instruction on how these

Strengthening Family Factors can help heal trauma.

Partners in Prevention (PIP) is the group that promotes family strength factors. Those factors include:

  • Improve Social Connections    (Positive relationships that provide emotional, informational, instrumental and spiritual support)
  • Parental Resilience:    (Managing stress and functioning well when faced with challenges, adversity and trauma.)
  • Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development:    (Understanding child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need:    (Access to concrete support and services that address a family’s needs and help minimize stress caused by challenges.
  • Social and Emotional Competence of Children:    (Family and child interactions that help children develop)

Marcelle, Kathy Smith and Michael presented to the statewide gathering of PIP groups from over 35 counties about Grow Appalachia. It was easy to make the connection between gardening and healthy foods and all five factors and encourage PIP groups to integrate Grow Appalachia best practices in their outreach.

Gardening has also become integral to plans for a natural playground at Big Ugly supported by Try This mini-grant. Our walking track will weave through raised beds of snackable veggies (cherry tomatoes, celery, carrots); herbs and spices, and clusters of blueberry bushes (that we found a great source for at $6/bush.) (see plan above)

And finally the downs and up of helping promote Grow Appalachia in other parts of the state have been humbling and inspiring. Our first effort to encourage gardeners in the ARC distressed counties of central West Virginia (Calhoun, Clay, Gilmer, Roane, Webster, and Wirt) flopped when a key partner pulled out without warning at the crucial launch stage for the 2017 growing season. Nearly a year of effort to pull together resources to pilot the GA model came to an abrupt halt.

But by summer we had found a new partner, the PATCH program based in Roane County whom we will support as their rapidly expanding garden efforts became a regional inspiration in 2017-2018.  They’ve plunged headlong into high tunnels, bees, and raising chickens for both eggs and meat.  PATCH threads internships for teens and young adults throughout their work and have become the largest employers of that age group in the area. We learned a lot about helicoptering in (with however strong an invitation) versus being a fellow traveler with a well established partner for spreading the good news of this model.  We look forward to sharing what’s worked for us through the years and learning from Patch’s great success in engaging families of school age youth in their programs.

Every year we sew many seeds besides plants. Winter is for dreaming (and networking) what may sprout and flourish in the year to come.