“Without power over our food, any notion of democracy is empty.”
– Frances Moore Lappe
The Grow in Grow Appalachia is so much more than just what we do—it’s the philosophy behind why we do it. First and foremost, our emphasis on food production provides as much no-cost healthy food as possible to people living in “food deserts,” where healthy food is hard to find. Beyond individual needs, gardening also encourages communities and families to work together to flourish, stay healthy and to gain control over food sources.
When food grows, communities and families grow, too.
Grow Appalachia seeks to restore the relationship between the people and the land. Gardening and farming are generations-old traditions in Appalachia that have been lost somewhat in the past 30 years. Families are less active. To kids, food comes from the store or the drive-through—not from the ground. By using local and sustainable techniques, Grow Appalachia encourages preservation of the past and hope for the future. For example, to keep both the land and people healthy, the program advocates the use of organic materials. We also encourage the use of heirloom seeds and seed-saving practices to preserve the culture and tradition of Appalachian agriculture. A research report issued in 2011 identifies Appalachia as “the most diverse foodshed in North America, with nearly 1,500 documented folk and indigenous crop varieties of heirloom vegetables and fruits”.
It is not uncommon during Grow Appalachia meetings for participants to share seeds that have been grown in one small community or holler for decades, and in some cases, over a century. We work with each of our partner sites to encourage the use of heirloom seed varieties specific to their community and (with Grow Appalachia financial support) produce enough seeds from those varieties to share with all their gardeners. A nationally recognized seed saver, Bill Best, the director of Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center has advised Grow Appalachia from the beginning and continues to serve as an inspiration to all Appalachian seed savers and gardeners.
Science assisted craft agriculture – Grow Appalachia recognizes and nurtures the traditional gardening and knowledge of Appalachia while recognizing that much of the research in commercial agriculture conducted in the last half century can, with careful thought, be applied to the household level gardens that are the hallmark of Grow Appalachia. We continue every year to trial techniques uncommon in household scale gardens by finding ways to adapt these commercial techniques to family scale use, steadily increasing the efficiency of all our partners. We utilize shredded office paper as a highly effective mulch for tomatoes, peppers and cucurbits. In a number of tomato patches we use the stake and weave trellising system to grow dozens of different varieties of grafted tomatoes. One market gardener tried corn starch based biodegradable plastic mulch that has helped aid elderly and disabled gardeners with weed suppression without the environmental complications of petro-based plastic mulch or herbicides. After visiting a number of commercial operations and research facilities we developed a scaled down, commercial grade high tunnel designed to allow a mountain family to have fresh vegetables year round without the energy costs of traditional greenhouse production. We have completed more than 50 of these innovative production structures, with more in progress. All of these techniques and cultural practices are aimed at reducing external inputs and building the regional knowledge and capacity to produce high quality produce in genuinely sustainable ways. We will share our findings and visuals in addition to sharing those external sources of inspiration and guidance we have found most useful.