Hit the Ground Tilling

It’s been almost 5 months since I started as the Grow Appalachia Coordinator here at Red Bird Mission and when I did, I was thrust into it full force. On the first day, I began tilling garden spots. I had only used small garden tillers in the past and here I was set loose with a MONSTER. After basic instruction, I began churning up the earth with the big Grillo G85D, and I loved it. I tilled over 26 gardens in May. Sometimes they were easy and other times they were not. I tilled on hillsides, in weed patches, I found Hot Wheels, dolls, metal, lots of glass, and Darth Vader’s head. Seriously. I should have taken a picture of that.

Classes, Where Strangers Became Friends

My first Grow Appalachia class was on my second day on the job. I was nervous. That almost goes without saying. Not only was it a class but it was also a plant distribution day. I had over 54 members and their families in attendance. Thank goodness the team here at Red Bird took time out of their schedules to help me. Things have changed quite a bit since then. Today standing in front of a packed class, my nerves are not quite as bad. I’m no longer talking to strangers, I’m talking to friends and I love my job more each day.

Heart-Healthy Cooking and Fun

It’s hard to believe my last meeting for the year is quickly approaching. We have the chance to hold this meeting in the Red Bird Valley Kitchen and I’m so excited about that. We always have a great time when we gather in the kitchen and I expect this time will be no different. It usually starts out quiet but as time goes on we’re laughing and having a great time and in the end, no one is ready to go home.

7 Thousand Pounds So Far

Grow Appalachia, is such a wonderful program. It has been what I had been looking for, for so long. I have the chance to help people, to change lives and nothing is better than that. We serve Clay, Leslie, and Bell Counties and the poverty level here is among the worst in the state. So far Red Bird Mission’s Grow Appalachia site has collected harvest reports from participants, showing 7,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables for local families and I haven’t received the harvest reports for August yet, so I expect that number to go way up.

August harvest

Farmers Market

Here on campus, we have a beautiful area for our farmers market, a lovely wooden pavilion on the edge of the Red Bird River. Our gardeners have the chance to sell their extra produce and their value-added products like apple butter, pickles, eggs, fresh baked goods, etc..  Each Saturday morning it is buzzing with people. Whether they are stopping by to look for fresh green beans or just stopping in to visit with their neighbor, it’s always bustling with energy. Along with the farmers market we have a water kiosk where local people can come and get clean, fresh drinking water.

Red Bird Mission Water Kiosk


Value Added Products

Not only can gardeners sell their extra produce at the farmers market, but they can also make Value-Added Products in our community kitchen which adds to their income. Anyone in the community can become a Homebased Microprocessor or a Homebased Processor and are encouraged to use our state of the art kitchen to create their products. Currently, we have several individuals doing just that. Grow Appalachia members, Bernd Gruner, and Charlene Helton both use the kitchen on a regular basis. Bernd’s delicious salsa and Charlene’s amazing bread and butter pickles are a must-have when you visit. Here at the Red Bird Mission, we have a constant flow of volunteers coming to help families in need. They love to take home local products as mementos of their visit to share with their families. The value-added products are for sale at the farmers market and in the craft store on campus.





As a community, we have been blessed with the generosity of our contributors. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have the mission here. So much good flows from this place and without the help of volunteers, donations, and generosity it would be a different world here in the mountains. The partnership with Berea College through the Grow Appalachia program is a catalyst for economic development, capacity building, and investment in people and the land. I want to thank the founder, John Paul DeJoria, for having a vision and investing in the Appalachian community!