Art, creativity, science, and magic: This first year as a partner site

It is hard to believe that we are wrapping up our first season as a partner site to Grow Appalachia. The All Hands Gathering feels like it occurred last month, when in reality, it has already been eight. It is an understatement to say that I have learned so much in my first year as the program coordinator and garden coach. Lessons learned have been in program development & in gardening as a whole. This year, we recruited 10 families, sourced supplies, had roughly 80 garden visits, 7 group gatherings, and worked on learning and growing the infrastructure for our program. The rewards have been many this season & there is always room for improvement. Next year, I want to work more on participant retention, creating more community spaces, and increasing our overall food production from each garden. 

This year has been one of the most challenging, while simultaneously gratifying, years of my life. Growing your own garden may change the way that you approach and see food, recognizing all the effort it takes to produce even one delicious garden tomato cannot be fully realized without this experience. Gardening gives people a chance to slow down, focus, and refocus – cementing mental connections with physical activities. It is a chance to connect with the land & everything that lives on it. It is art and creativity, and it is also science and magic. There is something truly special when a seed sprouts.  

I was just in conversation with one of our families about how variable and complex gardening can be. No garden will look the same & even two of the same type of tomato plants on the same plot may grow differently than one another & encounter completely different successes and challenges. We laughed about how one garden can be so bewildering. 

My favorite garden memories from this season were during the garden visits that I brought the T-Post driver & getting to witness the feeling of accomplishment that people experienced when they stepped back to see the infrastructure they established. They have also been the memories of the joy that people experienced while welcoming their first ever harvest. 

I was incredibly fortunate in my first year to work with a welcoming, energetic, and kind group of gardeners. I really appreciated their grace as I learned through this process. I feel as if I learned just as much from them as they learned from me. In our garden visits, I constantly found myself encouraged by their effort & creativity in the way they approached challenges in their gardens. It was amazing to watch our community grow, hearing people share stories, advice, & techniques and listening to them making agreements to trade seeds and produce (some gardeners especially rich in squash seeking a trade for tomatoes). Those were some of the connections that I could not have expected in the beginning. 

I am continuing to learn about the power of gardening and food growing. I am currently reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Camille Kingsolver, Barbara Kingsolver, & Steven L. Hopp. On my reading list are also Growing, Older by Joan Dye Gussow and How to Grow More Vegetables* *than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine by John Jeavons, which was recommended to me by my manager on the Berea Horticulture farm. I am continuing to learn and be inspired.

Thank you for this opportunity & for following along with us during this first year. While we are wrapping up this season, I am excited and optimistic about the seasons to come.