First let me introduce myself, I am the new Community Agriculture VISTA at Pine Mountain Settlement School. I graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and history and promptly decided to throw my 4 years of college acquired knowledge out the window, and to instead jump into the field of community agriculture. I arrived at Pine Mountain several weeks ago from my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and became immediately immersed in the life of Pine Mountain and its rural Kentucky community.
Over these first several weeks I have weeded and hoed gardens, planted fall crops, sprayed tomatoes for blight, tied up beans, and harvested numerous different vegetables, a far cry from the office work I would have been doing had I stayed in Minneapolis after graduation. I have learned to rototill a garden, build a chicken tractor, and hoe up corn. During the time spent in the car driving to different gardens, I learned how to safely pass a coal truck and how to navigate the roads based on the creeks they follow, rather than their listed names. While weeding a patch of corn I received language lessons that included the definition of a “holler”, a small valley between mountains, the proper way in which to pronounce words such as fire “far”, and tire “tar”, and the very helpful explanation of the term “I couldn’t care to”. This term is a common response when you ask someone for a favor, which really means that the person speaking wouldn’t mind doing said favor for you. Had I heard this without prior explanation I probably would have been somewhat hurt and confused at the blatant rejection of my request!
I have also seen first-hand that the people involved in Grow Appalachia are committed to the community and opportunities that the program provides them. Many families are eating the produce from their gardens on a daily basis, as well as finding different ways to preserve their harvest for the winter months. A number of families contribute to the weekly farmers market and the recent 100 Mile Pot Luck at Pine Mountain was a successful night of locally produced, home cooked food, good company, and games. At the potluck I listened to stories of families who work hard for what they have, but would never think of leaving their home here at Pine Mountain.
Though the skills I am learning everyday will be of great benefit to me, I think that the most important thing that I have learned is that the people of Pine Mountain and Grow Appalachia are friendly, accepting, eager to share their knowledge, and exceedingly selfless. Every day I look forward to meeting new families and hearing about the ways in which each person is contributing to the local foods movement in Eastern Kentucky. I can only hope that the rest of my VISTA year here will be as informative and interesting as the first few weeks have been. Hopefully by the end of this year I will know enough to teach others about the proper way to maintain tomato plants and what fall cover crops to plant, but for now I remain the eager and willing student, ready to assist in whatever way I can, and of course enjoying the bounty of fresh food that really does go directly from garden to table here at Pine Mountain.