The Year 2020 will go down in history as a lot of things, ‘unprecedented’, ‘tumultuous’, but here in Wayne, we will remember the year 2020 as a rebirth of the family garden.

When we applied to be a Grow Appalachia partner site in 2019 for the 2020 gardening year, we had no idea what to expect. We hoped to gain the interest of 20 families, and were astounded when more than 50 rallied in our support. We anticipated meeting, growing, and learning with said 20 families in their gardens, in our shared kitchen, and in community spaces, and were concerned about impact when we had to stay at home, log on Zoom, and wear masks as we handed out supplies.

Like everyone else on our planet, we had a slightly different vision for how 2020 would roll out, and although it was not what we expected, it has been every bit as fruitful as we could have imagined!

Perhaps it was because we were a first year Grow Appalachia site, none of our growers had the expectations that we did, they simply trusted us to guide them and remained flexible as we all learned to adapt.

The 50+ families who participated in our Grow Wayne site had various levels of participation. Some were further away from our ‘hub’ and simply enjoyed tuning in via our monthly Zoom calls, while others showed up every month to pick up supplies, posted pictures regularly in our Facebook group chat, and even sold product at our farmers market each week during peak season.

A few highlights from our year in review, beyond the fact that we wildly exceeded our anticipated reach, were The Who that we reached. We had several first time gardeners in our program this year. At least 5 of our families had never really intentionally grown food to feed their families. Every month, they were also typically the most engaging in our conversations and Facebook group chat. Another highlight was the ‘handing down’ of knowledge we witnessed as grandmothers, grandfathers, and their grandchild took to the garden together to teach and learn from one another. And, as the various effects of COVID rippled across the country, we found ourselves without an ample supply of canning jars in August when it was time to teach our food preservation course. We were in awe as we observed our community step up and donate over 1,000 Ball and Mason jars to our program participants!

While there were plenty of heartwarming moments and feel good stories from our first year, as a Grow App site, we were also astounded when the reports started rolling in and the numbers also started speaking for themselves. Of the growers who turned in their harvest logs (lessons learned – we will certainly be more diligent about insisting these are turned in monthly next year) over 23 thousand pounds of food was raised, much of it preserved or eaten by the families in our program, quite a bit of it shared with friends and family, and over $30,000 dollars was generated though produce sold at a garden market Grow Wayne facilitated for our growers.

In summary, our first year as a Grow App site brought many challenges, but if anything, having the program in our arsenal as a community, made life during COVID more meaningful as we were forced to slow down, less unpredictable as our food supply grew weary, and more beautiful as family gardens popped up, dotting the landscape along our hills and hollows, where barren land and weeds had settled in years past. We were so grateful to have been selected as a Grow Appalachia partner site here in Wayne County. We look forward to learning from our missteps, tightening up our curriculum and communication, and broadening our reach to more families and community gardens in the years to come.