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Grow Appalachia gets people in touch with roots


For The Logan Banner

LOGAN, W.Va. — In years past, many residents of Appalachia depended upon home-grown produce, especially during lean times, to help feed the family even after the agrarian family farming era was over and the Industrial Revolution had transformed the nation.

Many folks would grow corn or peas or green beans and tomatoes in their yard, and some even would rent fields to farm. Now those who would like to return to small-scale farming for food production are getting some help through an interesting project.

Some community programs have also worked with Grow Appalachia, including locally, the Williamson Health and Wellness Center and others, explained Ashley Bledsoe, who had met Bea Sias at a recent training. Bea Sias of LEAD supervises Grow Appalachia in our area.

“Ashley Bledsoe and I were at an all day meeting on July 14,” explained Sias, noting that such meetings are part and parcel of networking in the Mountains.

“We go to Berea, Kentucky, every February, and we have a three day conference … everything we utilize is organic. We don’t utilize pesticides. We are at Berea College for three days each year, and they let us know what we can buy. Michael Teirney at Big Ugly has a Grow Appalachia over there. He writes grants, and we are funded by a billionaire who has a line of power products,” she said.

“We buy everything a gardner needs – almost everything. We were not able to get tillers this year. We buy fertilizer for them, a 50-pound bag of potatoes, onion sets, any kind of vegetation assistance they need. We have our own greenhouse, and we have set the seeds and we even have college kids who come and help. … All the produce they grow is theirs. If they sell it, they get to keep the profit.

“My people in Logan County do not sell; they are more into sharing their produce or giving it away to others,” Sias said, explaining the purpose of Grow Appalachia.

Grow Appalachia has the stated mission of helping families to grow as much food as possible. Grow Appalachia was created in 2009 through funding from John Paul Dejoria, co-founder and owner of John Paul Mitchell Systems (JPMS). Dejoria beleived that one of the best ways to help people was to empower them to help themselves. Toward that end he began working with Berea College, along with West Virginia native and former WVU Extension agent David Cooke, to develop the program. Grow Appalachia is an outreach type program that works with people in their own communities and provides families with what they need to grown home-grown produce.

“We don’t ask personal questions about income or so forth. We just ask them to plant the garden and work with it and grow what they can and keep us informed of what we have grown, so we can total up the produce amounts. It can come to quite a bit. Last year, we had 41,000 pounds, and that was just in Logan County.”

Gardens fill many needs

Sias noted that there is more to farming and growing your own food than just having fresh produce or saving money on the monthly grocery bill. For some people, it helps them to feel independent. For others, it gives them an interesting and useful hobby in their retirement years.

“I have one person who is 88 years old who is still gardening and he has a big garden … Gardening also takes away stress for many people,” she said. “You can be so stressed out after work, and when you find a ripe tomato you grew it can make a difference in your day. Iit can be a very relaxing hobby. … Sometimes you get people who do not follow through, but most follow through and they have a garden – big gardens. We try to make available everything they need. We have a man who has tilled for them.”

Sias quipped that many of today’s youngsters are not exposed to fresh produce in the modern 21st century online wi-fi world. While kids of earlier generations worked side by side in the family garden with their parents and even grandparents and great-grandparents, today’s youngsters sometimes think that potatoes originate french fried from McDonald’s.

“We are wanting to start introducing some things to Head Start, such as introducing young children to a different vegetable each week,” she explained, noting that by educating kids about the realities of farming and gardening, it can open up them up to something they may one day enjoy doing themselves.

“When I was younger, we canned in a number three wash tub,” she said. “We did not have a pressure cooker. ”

Canning is another way families can eat better and save money, she explained, noting that “fast food is not good food” and that many lower income families wind up eating stuff that is not as good for them as fresh produce because so-called junk food – which is often filled with preservatives and artificial substances – lasts longer than fresh, healthy produce.

“A lot of people have told me that they can and freeze their vegetables – and it helps them with their finances.”

Project continues to help

The project has been around for some time locally, she noted.

“We had community gardens at the Cora St. Phillips Church where people planted with another program,” Sias said during an interview two weeks ago.

“I was totaling up our produce today to get a report ready, and some have produced 60 pecks of some types of produce – others have 10 because their gardens were late getting started due to rain. These people work and it is hard work. If it floods, we make more plants available to them. This project has helped a lot of people.”

Sias said she got involved with Grow Appalachia through the LEAD community organization.

“I had my garden tilled up, and then I broke and shattered my rotator cuff and did not finish the garden, so some of the gardeners helped by providing me with some produce. I had been asked to help people at Big Ugly to help with their projects, so they are possibly making me site coordinator in January. ”

For more information about Grow Appalachia, contact the LEAD office at Monaville, which is located right before you go across the tracks at the church. Or call 304 896-5000 to reach Sias at LEAD.

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