Grow Appalachia emphasizes food production in order to introduce as much no-cost, fresh, healthy food as possible to the region. The basic goal is to help as many families grow as much of their own food as possible. Here’s how:
- We make gardening grants available to communities through our partner nonprofits (called “partner sites”). These partner sites have a high level of credibility and history of service in their communities, a demonstrated history of working in food security/food access issues and a reputation for rigid fiscal management standards. The gardens take on the unique personalities of their respective communities — whether backyard gardens, community gardens, gardens for the elderly, healing gardens, Girl Scout gardens, raised bed gardens or gardens planted directly in the soil.
- We educate and learn from every community. Each Grow Appalachia participant chooses from classes offered by their partner site throughout the year on topics such as garden planning, planting and maintenance, heart-healthy cooking and up to date food processing and preservation techniques. Grow Appalachia practices what we call “science assisted craft agriculture” (a phrase borrowed from David Kennedy at Leaf for Life). The use of open pollinated and heirloom varieties is required at every site as is the practice of seed saving to preserve and strengthen Appalachia’s horticultural heritage. Classes are shaped by the unique needs of each community and then education is then shared between partner sites.
- We provide technical and physical assistance to every gardener throughout the growing season, ensuring that they have access to solutions and help getting started. We provide plants, seeds, organic soil amendments and pesticides, and quality hand tools.
- We donate a portion of the harvest from each partner site to a local food bank or others who cannot garden for themselves.
- We encourage growers to move toward entrepreneurship by providing technical assistance, which improves garden yields, and access to efficient kitchens and markets. This way, growers can save on grocery costs and begin to make extra money on surplus produce. We also encourage growers to develop value-added goods such as jellies and salsas through community commercial kitchens.
- We respect tradition. Families throughout Appalachia have heritages of family seeds, growing techniques and recipes. Grow Appalachia participants are encouraged to learn more about the legacy of farming and gardening in their families and local cultures. We deliberately establish mentorships among generations and families as well as among partner sites.
- We leverage community assets in the form of universities, churches, volunteer workers, external grant sources, leveraged resources of all kinds, unused land and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to ensure maximum participation. Grow Appalachia has never paid for the use of land for community gardens — communities see the need for the program and lend land to support it.
- We ♥ Chickens! We now help program participants buy chickens for the great source of protein that fresh eggs provide. We also provide bees, hives and beekeeping supplies for enhanced pollination and production of honey and beeswax.
- We build high tunnels. Grow Appalachia is involved in cutting edge development of house-hold scale high tunnels. These tunnels—commonly known as hoop houses—extend the growing season for families to produce vegetables year-round and participate in markets they would otherwise miss out on.