Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Our Grow Appalachia Dinner. Chad Brock----Red Bird Mission

      Our first Grow Appalachia Meeting was held Thursday, February 23. The meeting was a joint meeting consisting of members from both Grow Appalachia and the Red Bird Farmers Project.  The meeting began with Karen Dial, our new Coordinator introducing herself and giving the members a little of her background and some plans for the upcoming year. We then had a dinner that was prepared by Karen and the Red Bird Mission Work Camp Cooks along with a few covered dishes brought in by the group members. After dinner we had a meet and greet session which allowed the participants to introduce themselves and share some of their plans for the upcoming season.  We felt this setting would give our participants a chance to bond as a group as well as giving us valuable information on their upcoming plans and needs.  We had a total of sixty people attend the dinner and share in fellowship.




 We now have our first seeds sprouting in our greenhouse or I guess I should call it a high tunnel at this point providing that it doesn't have a heat source . This is our first try at starting seeds in these conditions so we certainly have much to learn. Our Broccoli, Cauliflower and Kohlrabi seeds have sprouted and look generally healthy and up to this point, it seems we are having success.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Grow Appalachia Site Coordinators Meeting 2012

         For all of you Grow Appalachia coordinators this blog post will be old news but we thought it would be nice for all our participants and other blog readers if we recapped the site coordinators meeting that we had in Berea this week. David Cooke was gracious enough to heed all our requests to have a get together of all the site coordinators, and this past Tuesday and Wednesday we did just that. It was really great to put faces with names and get to meet all the coordinators and hear what each site has in mind for the upcoming season. This year there will be 15 sites representing 4 states; Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee, participating in Grow Appalachia. These include Red Bird Mission, Henderson Settlement, Pine Mountain Settlement School, Laurel County African American Heritage Center, Lincoln Memorial University, St. Vincent Mission, High Rocks for Girls, Appalachia-Science in the Public Interest, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, Cowan Creek Community Center, Mujeres Unidas (KY River Foothills Development Council), Project Worth, Step by Step, and Scott Christian Care Center. Representatives from each of these sites were present at the meeting and we were all able to get to know one another and learn about what Grow Appalachia at each site looks like.
            We had the opportunity to learn all about high tunnels, what they can be used for, how they can be constructed on a budget, and some growing techniques that are necessary when growing in high tunnels. This Information may be very useful in the future for many of the Grow Appalachia sites, as we look at ways to grow more and to start our own plants for our participants. We also had the wonderful opportunity to hear from Janet Meyer, Berea College’s greenhouse and farm manager. Berea has a certified organic farm that produces much of the food that is used on campus and Janet was able to provide us with wonderful information about organic growing practices and practical tips for our gardening programs.
            Several additional topics that we discussed were budgeting, tool choices, ordering seed, various marketing and distribution plans, and the possibility of new directions for the program. We also discussed the goals of grow Appalachia which are based on the following mission statement:

o    Grow Appalachia is dedicated to helping mountain families plant a healthy future for themselves and their communities by:
·         Providing them with skills and resources to grow sustainable, nutritious food.
·         Teaching them how to prepare and preserve food in a healthy way.
·         Empowering them to share their knowledge in the community.
·         Creating programs to provide food to elderly and disabled residents in need.

Through these smaller steps, we as Grow Appalachia Coordinators hope to inspire long term independence such that gardeners and small farmers in Appalachia are able to provide food for themselves and their families and even support their families through the marketing of their produce.

  I feel that this year’s group of coordinators is highly knowledgeable and quite inspiring; I’m looking forward to a great year collaborating with all of you and figuring out just how this program is going to make an impact and hopefully change food systems and lives in Appalachia.

Planting Peas on Valentines Day by Sr. KC, St Vincent Mission

I am totally enthralled with the whole growing in the signs and by the moon mythology. Like so many myths, there has to be some truth in them but mostly just like folklore, they are fun to hear and to pass around.
I wrote on an earlier blog about how here in Floyd County the old timers plant peas on Valentines Day and how that was confusing to me since planting by the moon puts Valentines Day in the “blow ground veggie” category. I asked some of my farmer/gardener friends here in Floyd County about the discrepancy and my favorite reply came from Bev May whose family has been on Wilson Creek in Floyd County for generations (she is organically gardening on her grandmother’s garden plot). She said that her grandfather, Zigfrog May, used to say that he didn’t live on the moon, he lived on the earth so he didn’t care what the moon was doing. Bev said his best advice with peas is plant early and plant often. Sound pretty solid to me although I wonder if it wasn’t a bit too early. Here is a picture of my pea patch at the monastery this past Monday.

I am excited to be working in the soil after so many months of planning and meetings. I spent three days of the last seven in all day meetings and I am about meetinged out. They were all very information filled opportunities and I even won a door prize at the Letcher County Extension Service’s Fruit and Vegetable Seminar—a beautiful jacket.

I attended the Fruit and Vegetable Seminar with one of our Grow Appalachia growers, Crystal Shepherd and met one of our partner greenhouse owners, Todd Howard, there. We were all very pleased with the presentations and wide range of information covered by the UK Ag agents. Crystal, Todd and I all felt like it was a great use of our time.

Speaking of time, I need to get this posted and head out to the David School, a local alternative high school and Grow Appalachia participant where we are building a compost bin today as part of their school gardening program. And then I think I’ll go plant some more peas in honor of Zigfrog. Happy planting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Garden Planning-- Pine Mountain, Kathleen Powers

           On Tuesday night we had our first workshop for the 2012 Grow Appalachia year. The workshop focused on garden planning and planting and was facilitated by Jeremy Williams, the Harlan County Extension agent. Jeremy did a wonderful job presenting useful information, as always, and we were extremely pleased with turnout for the meeting. As with everything pertaining to gardening, it may still seem a bit early to be thinking about planning and planting your garden, but spring is just around the corner and the earlier you plan the easier it will be to have a successful gardening season. As I’m sure you all know, as of Tuesday, some of the more traditional gardeners have already begun their spring planting, with the traditional Valentine’s Day peas. So don’t let the early birds show you up, plan your garden now and come summer, it can be just as bountiful!
The first step in planning a successful garden is to arrange everything on paper before you start digging. If you had a garden last year but do not have a diagram of it try your best to remember what was planted where and draw a diagram of it. Then make a new blank drawing of your garden (graph paper works well for this so that you can draw your plots to scale) and write in what you plan to plant this year. If you had a garden in the same spot in the past, you will want to consider a crop rotation schedule so that your plants will continue to do well year after year. At our workshop we passed out a diagram that breaks down plant categories and suggests crop rotation based on the four group system, which classifies plants into the following 4 categories:
1.                           1.   Plants grown for leaves or flowers
2.                           2.  Plants grown for fruits
3.                           3.  Plants grown for roots
4.                            4.  Legumes that feed the soil

The rotation diagram and plants specific to each category can be found on the Grow Pine Mountain website:

So now that you have your garden on paper, the next step is to make sure that you are planting during the correct season and decide whether or not you will need to plan any succession planting. Some seeds need to be planted in early spring and will take the entire summer to germinate and mature, whereas other seed will sprout and produce within the month and then die, leaving you with a free garden bed. To plan this aspect of your garden it may be useful to make subsequent drawings with each different planting drawn in, or one drawing for each approximate planting phase (ex. Early spring = diagram 1, late spring = diagram 2, mid- summer = diagram 3, fall = diagram 4). Most importantly record your garden’s lifecycle in a way that makes sense to you and that you will be able to go back to and understand in several months or several years.
One tip for planning a successful garden, especially if it is your first, is, PLEASE DON’T PLANT MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE! I know, it is so very tempting to plant large quantities of every single vegetable that you like to eat, I for one have to reign myself in everyday as I plan my seed order and devise my garden diagram. But remember that all those seeds you stick in the ground, will be plants that need weeding, watering, pruning, harvesting, etc. throughout the entire summer. As Grow Appalachia coordinators we care about your garden and come early August we would rather see a small, well tended, and well appreciated garden, than a huge space overrun by weeds with rotting produce on the ground. Don’t get me wrong, your garden does not have to be perfect and stunning, just don’t abandon it completely. Here are some great resources that you can use to determine how much to plant based on the size of your family, how much you want to eat fresh and how much you want to preserve:

Now that you have everything planned don’t let your good intentions slide when your garden starts producing. Keep detailed records throughout the season so that each year you can improve. Specific things to record are, the planting date of each crop, the actual harvest date of each crop, what crops did well, what were specific problems that you had, etc. In addition to all these things Jeremy also mentioned that taking picture of your garden throughout the season is a great way to keep records, or just show off your great success, whichever you prefer. Lastly have fun and remember that your garden is something that you do for yourself and your family and if you take the time to plan and care for it, it will treat you well (at least that’s what we hope for)!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening----Chad Brock Red Bird Mission

       A raised bed garden is any garden area that is built up higher than the soil around it. Although many raised beds are just soil mounded up above ground level they are usually framed with wood or stone to act as barriers to hold the soil in place. Raised bed gardening can be a very beneficial way for many gardeners facing troubles ranging from poor soil, pest problems, weed problems,lack of free time and physical disabilities.
        Here at Red Bird Mission we explored the ideal of  raised bed gardening with a few of our Grow Appalachia participants last year and seen great success.

Raised Beds At Girl Scout Garden
Members of the Summer Youth Program planting their raised bed
Raised Beds At Girl Scout Garden
Raised Bed At Grow Appalachia's Community Garden
Raised Bed At Grow Appalachia's Community Garden
Grow Appalachia Participant: David Balmer's Raised Beds
Grow Appalachia Participant: David Balmer's Raised Beds
Grow Appalachia Participant: David Balmer's Raised Beds
Grow Appalachia Participant: David Balmer's Raised Beds
Grow Appalachia Participant: Robert Griffin's Raised Beds
Grow Appalachia Participant: Robert Griffin's Raised Beds

          A few of the advantages for Raised bed gardening are: 

Better Soil Conditions.

In a traditional row garden you have to start with the existing soil which might not be suitable for a variety of reasons such as poor nutrients, poor drainage or soil that is to rocky making it hard to work. Building a raised bed plot allows you to build the soil to ideal conditions for the crop you are wanting to grow . 
Increased control of weeds.
When building a raised bed you have the opportunity to place a weed barrier beneath the soil you are filling it with. This and the ability to use weed free soil makes for a nearly weedless garden making it much easier to maintain.
Predator Prevention.
In our area predators such as moles can be a problem. Before filling your raised bed you can line the bottom with rodent wire preventing them from being able to tunnel into your plants. Chicken wire and bird netting can easily be applied to the outside of your frame preventing other critters from getting to your precious produce.
Lengthen your Growing Season.
Because raised beds are higher than the surrounding soil they tend to warm quicker in the spring allowing you to plant earlier than tin traditional row gardens. A raised bed frame can also be converted into a small cold frame without spending much time or money.
Easy to maintain.
If done properly a raised bed is very easy to maintain.  There is very little weeding and since they are generally built in either 2ft or 4ft widths it is easy to reach each and every plant to water or weed when necessary.

Chad Brock

Friday, February 10, 2012

Making Dirt at St Vincent Mission by Sr. KC

As you all know by now, the Grow Appalachia program is designed to help families grow more of their own food; the goal being healthier food and the ability to stretch the family’s food budget. To that end at St Vincent Mission we are teaching not only how to grow the produce but how to save money doing it.
It seems to me that we spend an awful lot of money in our country buying new things when we have plenty of perfectly good used stuff laying around. Like dirt. Each spring we run to the big box store and plop down our hard earned cash for plastic bags of dirt, also know as potting soil. Now I know that just any old dirt isn’t the best thing for sprouting seeds and nurturing baby plants but really, do we have to go buy special dirt to do those things? I think not. And by the looks of the many hits I got online when I searched for “making your own potting soil” neither do a lot of other folks.
My favorite lesson was an article in Mother Earth News by Barbara Pleasant because it not only taught me the process but also told me why I should do it. “Potting soil self-sufficiency is good for your pocketbook, your plants and the planet…” It ends up that the components of “most commercial potting soils are based on some combination of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite—all of which contribute to land degradation and pollution as they are mined, processed, packaged and shipped.”
The good news is that there are sustainable, local alternatives to all three of these products. Peat moss, which comes from bogs in Canada and Michigan, can be replaced by leaf mold, composted sawdust or a mixture of both. Leaf mold, rotted sawdust or lots of garden waste compost can replace vermiculite, a mined mineral which has been found to contain asbestos in the deposits in Montana and Virginia. And perlite ore, a mineral mined from mountain plateaus from New Mexico to Oregon, can be replaced by clean sand.
Armed with this knowledge, a bucket of garden soil, a bucket of compost, a meat thermometer and other odds and ends from the kitchen I proceeded to make dirt. The process is fairly simple. You screen your soil and compost, moisten it and put it into an oven proof pan covered with aluminum foil. Stick the thermometer in the middle of the tin foil and put the whole thing in an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees. Watch the thermometer and when it hits 160 degrees turn the oven off but leave the pan in the oven. The temperature of your dirt should rise to 170 degrees which is the magic number for killing off the fungi, the boogy-man for seedlings.  Don’t let it go over 180 though because then you could be creating compounds that will inhibit plant growth. When the dirt cools you have potting soil. Ours was still very clay-like so I had to add some perlite because I had no sand and my sawdust is still fresh but the $4 I spent on one bag of perlite went into six pounds of homemade potting soil so I think it was a good deal even if it wasn’t 100% homemade.
Last week, several of the Grow Appalachia participants came to the mission to learn how to make dirt. It was a fun time of sharing and met the need most of us were feeling to get our hands in the dirt. Teresa, one of the women who came, pointed out that “gas is gonna get to $4 a gallon again this summer so we need to know how to save money any way we can”. Making potting soil, reusing household containers instead of buying “seed starting kits” and saving seeds from one year to the next are ways that our Grow Appalachia families are using to make their lives healthier and more stress free. Not to mention protecting our planet, one batch of potting soil at a time.
The Dirt Making class in action.

Thinking Ahead: Value Added Market Products--Pine Mountain, Kathleen Powers

All winter Maggie and I have been trying to come up with new and inventive marketing schemes that will increase the amount of product that we have to sell this summer and also the number of reliable consumers that will prioritize buying products supported by Grow Appalachia. In looking back on the previous markets that Pine Mountain has been involved in, it seems that value added products are in great demand and could potentially boost income for many Grow Appalachia participants. It may seem a bit early to be thinking about canning and marketing, but when it comes to selling homemade food items it is never too soon to start planning and make sure that you meet all the requirements for certification. Because who really wants to spend a whole weekend canning 7 dozen quart jars of salsa while dreaming of some extra cash to then find out that you aren’t properly certified and cannot sell a single bit of it.
The possibilities for jams and jellies are endless!
     Value added products produced by farmers and gardeners are defined as a raw product grown by the farmer and modified, changed, and/or enhanced in order to turn it into another product with a higher net worth. The price of value added products is higher because it takes into account the cost of any “additives” and the cost of labor necessary for production. While simple canned goods, jellies, and jams may be the first value added products that come to mind, there are also many other products that fall under the category of value added that can be made using your garden produce.

Here are some of the goods that are considered value added products:
Fruit sauces and spreads
Everyone loves a freshly baked Saturday morning pastry!
Preserved vegetables
Hot chili sauces
Olive oils
Baked goods
Cut flowers
Dried flower arrangements
Braided garlic
Painted gourds
Dried herbs
…… you get the idea

     Many of these value added specialty products are becoming hot ticket items in many farmers markets and small local groceries, and can bring in extra income for home food producing entrepreneurs; the only catch is that you do need certain certifications. The simple guidelines in Kentucky are that homebased processors may sell jams, jellies, breads, fruit pies, cakes, and cookies if they register with the Cabinet for Health Services. Registration for becoming a homebased processor is free of charge. Homebased microprocessors may sell acid, acidified, and low acid foods if they send an application form to the Cabinet for Health Services and attend a Homebased Microprocessors workshop. The total cost for this process is $100 and an additional $5 fee for every recipe that is submitted for approval (recipe approval by a representative of UK is required). To become certified as a homebased processor or microprocessor you must also have your water tested, if you have city water you will automatically be approved but some people with well water may have to use a filtration system based on the results of the water test.

Last week USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the largest allotment of grants for value-added producers in recent history: nearly 300 grants across 44 states and Puerto Rico, adding up to some 44 million dollars!!
Read this article on our favorite site, Civil Eats, to learn more:

Homebased Processing and Micro processing workshops are held throughout Kentucky, beginning in late February, here is a list of workshops, resources, and additional individuals to contact for more specific information:

If you want to sell value added products this year, don’t wait until your garden begins to produce, get started now so you have time to make your way through the certification process, and can sell wonderful products like these delicious looking pickled goods!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hit The Ground Running --- Chad Brock, Red Bird Mission

Monday, February 6 , David Cooke, Grow Appalachia Director, Berea College Appalachian Fund Director and Constance Dykhuizen, JP’s Peace Love Happiness Foundation Director, visited us here at Red Bird Mission.  We were very excited and extremely honored in welcoming Constance, and David.  Especially seeing as this was Constance’s first visit to our site.  This also allowed us the opportunity to share our plans and ideals for Grow Appalachia and show them a few things we have going on here at our site.  
While here, David and I were talking about the warming weather which brought into mention a new, more accurate climate zoning map done by the USDA . 

       David shared with me a great link to these maps . .
These new maps have a interactive option, with a map zoom feature providing information down to, and beyond, the users local zip code. Although nothing major, the zones have moved slightly north. This will not have a huge impact on our annual planting but could affect perennials, such as small fruits and fruit trees. I have read that many apple trees, for example, are often planted in the wrong zones resulting in insufficient chilling and poor ripening

     Our site has started its first round of home visits, assisting in the taking of soil samples,  offering advice on proper crop rotation and if needed, help with the clearing of their garden plots. We will also be accessing the individual needs of our participants, enabling us to compile an adequate tool list and create a detailed list of the plants and seed needs to allow them to reach their goals. We are seeing great interest in our new Grow Appalachia participants this year and are seeing increased interests in the marketing of their produce. 

     I feel the  strains of the economy have our growers looking forward to an additional source of income.  We want to assist them in acquiring all the resources possible to allow them to be successful. 

Chad Brock

Friday, February 3, 2012

Questions: Food for Thought ~Pine Mountain, Maggie Ashmore

I love the movie Groundhog Day. For those of you who have not seen it I will give you a brief synopsis. It is an early 1990s movie featuring Bill Murray as a self-obsessed weatherman named Phil Connors who is sent to cover the Groundhog Day celebrations in Punxsutawney, PA for the fourth year in a row. He gets stuck in Punxsutawney and awakes to find himself reliving February 2 over and over again. Since he is forced to relive the same day many times he finds himself asking questions about his life that had never occurred to him before.

Although I woke up this morning to find that I am not stuck in a time loop, but that it is actually February 3rd, I am wondering whether Punxsutawney Phil’s (the official groundhog) prediction of six more weeks of winter is going to hold true. Or, did we even have a winter to begin with?

As I sit at my desk feeling the urge to be in the garden because it has been 60˚ outside this week, I know that it is actually still winter and so I sit here with my mind full of questions about Grow Appalachia.

 How do I get families who have never gardened before to take an interest and commit to the program? How can we improve our marketing system from last year? How do I make the connection between the physical act of working in the garden and the way we think about preparing meals so that we are actually saving money on groceries and eating healthy food? How do I learn to speak as an advocate for local/homegrown produce and healthy cooking habits in a way that speaks to the minds and stomachs of my community? (That was one of my new year’s goals remember?) I am trying to find which terms are appropriate for my area, what images will appeal to my community, etc.

Photograph collages from
The Lexicon of  Sustainability
The above questions are ones I suspect many people who work in the food and agriculture realm across the country struggle with. Words are important and the way I speak can influence how my conversation partner perceives and becomes emotionally tied to an issue.  Before I can talk to a potential Grow Appalachia gardener, a local politician, or ask for a donation I have to know how to approach the subject. The language of sustainable agriculture is often unclear and includes words that are emotionally charged for so many people. For instance, I just used the word “sustainable” in the previous sentence which seems to be a provocative word in central Appalachia.  A new project, The Lexicon of Sustainability, has started to address the issue of language, nationwide, in the good food movement (wait, I just used some of that language didn’t I?) through photographs and interviews with farmers, advocates, and artisans. If you are interested in great food and artwork you should visit their website and look at these images. You can also read an article about the project on Civil Eats, which has become my favorite website over the last month.

I am not Phil Connors from Groundhog Day and time keeps moving for me. I do not have one day to make all of my mistakes until I figure it out. But I am actually incredibly happy that I am not Phil Connors. For one, I don’t have any desire to be a middle-aged man working as a weatherman on the east coast. I am sure that over the course of this growing season I am going to make a lot of mistakes, but I am also going to learn a lot, and maybe find the answers to some of my questions. 

If you have any answers or musings on my above questions feel free to let me know! Comment on the blog or send an email to

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

And The Season Begins---- Chad Brock Red Bird Mission

       Seeing the first signs that spring is around the corner gardeners in southeast Kentucky don't know what kind of weather to expect from day to day but that doesn't stop them from working in their garden. 
       February is when the planning process of your garden and the planting of some late winter seeds (such as peas) can be done.  You may get an early start on your gardening season by planting peas and sweet peas so try to take advantage of those sunny days by getting back in your garden.
             Steps for                           Garden Preparation
·    Get your Garden tools prepared and ready for use.
·        Plan proper crop rotation       
·        Take soil samples to make sure you place the proper amendments to your soil         
·        Compost or well-rotted manure are excellent organic amendments that can be added to your soil and are cheaper than most hardware store fertilizers

                 Helpful hints for planting peas

·        Align rows North to South allowing plants the most possible sun.
·        Dig a trench 4 inches deep, covering the seeds with only 1 inch of soil, then fill in as seedlings grow
·        Space seeds about 1 to 2 inches apart in the row
·        Thin seedlings to 2 inches apart when they are 4 inches high
·        Space rows about 24 to 30 inches apart.      
·          Pole types can be planted on both sides of the trellis support to double production.
·        Seeds usually sprout in 10 to 20 days, depending on  weather conditions
·         Plant seeds 2 to 3 week apart, until mid-spring for continual harvest.
·        Be sure to put up proper support for climbing (pole) varieties, as soon as seedlings are 2 to 4 inch tall                                                              
Pea Trellis

Chad Brock, Red Bird Mission