Our garden planting took off once the warm weather of late April and early May came our way. Over 60 growers participated in our Garden Planting workshop on April 22nd, which was followed by a distribution of Hortanova trellis, t-posts, woven ground cover, insect netting, and spring hoops. Insect netting is quickly becoming a favorite tool among our growers as warmer weather and its pests arrive more quickly to their early brassicas and lettuces. For our high tunnel growers, who can get their cabbages, cauliflowers, and broccolis in much earlier before those brassica-loving pests wake up, this season has been high in production.
There seems to be an increasing demand for certain items this year as many of our growers who were flooded last summer lost most if not all of their t-posts, trellising, and ground cover that had to be thrown away because of potential contamination. Silver lining of this is that it means growers are still eager to grow, despite what they lost in those flood waters last year.
Boy howdy are we eager! I’ve been seeing our Grow Appalachia and grower based events increase in attendance just these past two month. As Cowan’s Director, Valerie Horn, says, “We’re not just growing gardens, we’re growing community.”
An essential part of our local growing community is Plant Place – a Letcher County greenhouse and nursery that began, and continues to this day, with community at its core.
When David Tyler decided he wanted to enter the nursery business, he had no idea that he would create a destination for home-based growers, community organizations, and farmers from beyond Letcher County lines. Beginning in 2007, when local nursery owners George and Vera Hale retired and sold David two of their greenhouses, David entered the greenhouse and nursery business looking for a part time job that would have his hands busy, and better yet, in the dirt.
David’s Plant Place is the only plant place of its kind for many local growers, drawing folks from as far as Pike County who are looking for a variety of vegetables, both heirloom and hybrid. When it came to choosing varieties, David went with what he knew–the tomatoes, peppers, melons, herbs, and cole crops that folks in the area knew and loved. Sometimes he’ll try introducing a new crop, like the kohlrabi that has become a small seller after a couple years of gentle introduction. He stays in touch with what folks are growing and what they think about certain varieties. Thanks to local farmer Timothy Breeding of Rocket Farm, David switched over to the Jade Cross brussel sprout because the success Rocket Farm had with it, and now it’s the single brussel sprout variety he grows.
Well known at Plant Place is the variety of tomatoes available each year– this year a whopping 27, and a good mix of heirlooms and hybrids. The heirlooms are particularly special, a few of them from local farmers in the area, and whose seed David has to be sure to save each year for future seeding. The Old Yellow and Old Purple Tomatoes he sells both came from Linda Dicks, who lived at the mouth of Kingdom Come. The Big Red Cherry Tomato from Kale Hogg. Turkey Creek is another one, gifted to David from Noble Dixon who lived at Line Fork. Noble was a grower himself, and sold these red, determinate tomatoes that were loved for their delicious flavor. When he heard about David’s new venture with Plant Place, he gave him some seed, telling him that this would become his best selling tomato. Sure enough, Turkey Creek became David’s top seller for years, well known as not just a variety from right over there in Turkey Creek, but a flavorful one at that. It was only last year that Turkey Creek’s sales were topped by another, the hybrid Big Beef, whose continual production of big, juicy slicers has caught growers’ attention.
Still, David grows old time varieties that mean something to folks around here. His is the only place I know to sell old musk (around here called “mush”) melons and plum grannies. When I included the plum grannies among plants distributed in the past, folks’ eyes would light up with a laugh as they recalled the days when bowls of plum grannies sat on a table in the hallway, filling up a home’s entryway with their sweet smell, or an older man they knew who used to keep a couple of them in his jacket pocket when he went out and about. It’s these types of plants that have a place in the heart of the people here, and part of what keeps gardeners coming to get their flats from Plant Place.
Each year, Cowan Grow Appalachia participants pick up their flats of cool and warm season plant starts from Plant Place. What David and his family have created is now one of the most important signifiers for us that springtime is coming! This year, the impact of the plants that David and his family grow, is growing itself as they take their place in the new gardens built by Cowan’s Young Food Leaders.
I’m not sure what our local food and ag system would look like without Plant Place. A lot of folks simply don’t have the space, equipment, or the time to start their own seeds. What Plant Place grows goes on to feed our community– through the numerous home-based gardeners who get their starts here and the market growers who take these starts to help them produce the food made accessible at the farmers market. Within David’s own family, Plant Place’s creation was the catalyst for learning what David sees as lost within one generation here locally. “Who’d have thought you’d ever have to teach gardening here,” he says. “All it took was one generation, and that knowledge began to disappear.” He sees the value in programs like Grow Appalachia, and is happy his Plant Place is a part of that work. After he got into the business, his daughters started to grow their own gardens, even canning what they grew for their own homegrown pantries. Plant Place became the classroom and the teacher for his family, and thanks to their work, is an essential part of that learning and growing for folks all over this area.
An enormous thank you to David Tyler, his family, and Plant Place for all the work they do, their support of Cowan’s Grow Appalachia program and all its growers. And for welcoming me and other growers like me from the minute I set foot into the nursery! I hope you know how much your Plant Place means to all of us gardeners, farmers, and homes you feed and help make beautiful.
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