It might be difficult to believe, but spring is right around the corner and Grow Appalachia is already working to help people grow great gardens. The program has a limited number of slots available for beginner or veteran gardeners to participate in this year’s growing season.
Grow Appalachia is an outreach education and service program of Berea College in Kentucky. The local Grow Appalachia program is hosted at High Rocks in Hillsboro.
Every year, the program accepts a limited number of participants, who receive up to $300 worth of seeds and equipment to start a new garden or improve an existing garden. Participants attend workshops, where they learn to plant and maintain gardens, cook and preserve homegrown food, save seeds and prepare gardens during the off-season. Grow Appalachia provides technical assistance, such as advice on amending soil at a participant’s site. The program also provides seeds, organic soil amendments, pesticides and hand tools.
Grow Appalachia participants are required to give back to the program in a variety of optional ways, including hosting a garden party to share ideas, volunteering at a community garden, writing and taking pictures for the project blog, planning and presenting a workshop, or other activities to help local gardeners or the Grow Appalachia project.
Local Grow Appalachia Coordinator Pete Spang described the project goals.
“It’s providing gardeners, who might not necessarily have the means to do it, the resources and the know-how and things like that,” he said. “It’s providing them with a way to become part of this agriculture movement.”
Spang explained the process that participants go through when starting out in Grow Appalachia.
“You’ll plan out your garden and think about what you want to put into it,” he said. “After we get your garden plan, we come up with what seeds you need. We get a group order of seeds. Then you start to think about the type of tools that you have. If you already have some of the basic tools, then we think about what kind of tools you could use. Do you need a fence? Do you need raised beds? After you get all that figured out, we order your seeds, we start getting you set up, we assist with the tilling. Once you get set up, it’s pretty much trouble shooting from that point forward.”
Grow Appalachia provides guidance and worksheets for planning a garden. Enrollees submit a soil sample for testing through the West Virginia University Extension Service. Using the test results, Grow Appalachia provides advice on how to amend the soil at each participant’s garden site.
What about people high on the mountains with more rocks and clay than soil? Spang said the project is working to get growing medium for raised beds.
“That’s one of the things my boss is looking into, so I don’t have the perfect answer right now,” he said. “But, we do have the means to get endless amounts of composted manure. Clay soil is actually one of the richest in nutrients, but it’s extremely hard for the plants to access the nutrients. It’s just a matter of breaking it down and amending the soil. That’s why we have the people do the soil samples. Even though your soil has a lot of clay, we can amend it and make it into good soil.”
Billionaire businessman and philanthropist John Paul Dejoria learned about pervasive food insecurity in Appalachia from his friend, Tommy Callahan, who grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky. Dejoria, who overcame an impoverished childhood himself, was inspired to help Appalachian families overcome food insecurity by helping themselves. Dejoria worked with Berea College to develop the Grow Appalachia program and made a generous donation to get the project started.
A fact sheet from Grow Appalachia describes the structural challenges faced by Appalachian families in putting healthy food on their tables:
“The food system in America has created an environment in which the average family has become increasingly unaware of where their food comes from. Large factory farms, while capable of providing vast amounts of affordably priced food, have isolated families from their food sources. Despite the rural environment of Appalachia, gardening and farming have become less popular and less profitable in the region. There is a terrible irony in the lack of locally grown food in the midst of one of the world’s most diverse and productive ecosystems. The type of food available in grocery stores, particularly in ‘food deserts’ common in rural Appalachia, is overwhelmingly high-calorie and low-nutrition. In this environment, healthy eating simply isn’t an option, leading to obesity and nutrition-related diseases.”
Spang reported on Tuesday that there are still a few slots available in the local Grow Appalachia project for this growing season. Interested persons can call Spang at 304-653-4891.