At Americans Helping Americans® we understand how difficult it can be for people living in distressed rural and remote regions of Appalachia to access fresh vegetables and fruits living in what is known as a “food desert” where the nearest actual grocery store is an hour, or more, away.
That’s why we support gardening programs such as the Homegrown program operated by our partner in Marion, Virginia, Sprouting Hope, which is training families on best practices in establishing a garden in their very own backyards.
Since February, these “budding” gardeners have participated in monthly training sessions in how to plan their garden, soil fertility and starting seeds indoors, fencing and pest management and transplanting and direct seeding, reported Sprouting Hope program coordinator Sarah Jo Jones.
In the early spring, Sarah Jo and staff conducted home visits, focusing on establishing beds or container gardens, tilling and delivering gardening tools and supplies. (One of this year’s participants owns their own tractor and tiller who was recruited to the till the yards for other participants.)
Later, they assisted on planting warm season crops, fertilizing and fencing to protect those precious crops from cute, but unwanted and destructive “varmints” such as rabbits who would enjoy nothing more than munching on carrots and succulent green leaves to their hearts’ content.
This year, nearly two dozen participants took part in an evaluation to self-assess their confidence and knowledge of gardening topics, with most reporting low levels in the majority of categories in the questionnaire.
“They were also asked to set three goals for themselves,” said Sarah Jo. “At the end of the season, we will share those results with participants and ask them to evaluate their new confidence levels and report their progress toward meeting those goals.”
In the meantime, the monthly classes are continuing through September on topics including harvesting (June), food preservation basics (July), fall gardening and season extension (August) and seed saving, cool season crops and overwintering, and culminating in October with an end of the season celebration.
At the same time, about 200 miles away in Beattyville, Kentucky, high school teacher Chris Williamson has been busy instructing his students how to build a hydroponic grow lab using grant funding from Americans Helping Americans®.
“My mission is to provide children and families access to healthy, organically-grown food in low-income and impoverished areas (such as Beattyville),” says Chris. “By teaching children the basics of hydroponics and building a small hydroponic system children and families will have access to fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.”
Serving as an introduction to hydroponic gardening, Chris explained that the program is teaching participants the science behind hydroponic growing and providing materials for them to build their own hydroponic system, as well as grow their own food.
“Each teen I worked with was excited to start their project,” he reported earlier this month. “The program has allowed them to provide supplemental food for their families, as well as the knowledge on how to properly grow and abundance of it.”
The program provided him the ability to provide all the tools necessary to his students to ensure a successful growing season. Each kit included everything necessary for a successful grow including fertilizers, nutrients, water meters, pumps, containers, seeds and media.
In addition, even though the grant period has been completed, Chris said he is going to continue to monitor each student’s growing progress and supply them with the nutrients and supplies needed until the end of the season.
He also informed us that 30 growing kits were given to a local Boy Scouts troop, and 10 more were provided to our partner in Beattyville, Cumberland Mountain Outreach, for use in its afterschool program.
And Chris also wanted to make sure the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who made his hydroponics program possible know how greatly it has benefited members of the community.
“The program has been extremely rewarding for me, watching the excitement it generated. One of the parents pulled me aside and was so grateful to be able to subsidize their grocery bill with fresh greens that they will be able to provide every couple of weeks.
“The adults were just as excited to learn as the kids were and eager to put what they learned into practice.
“Americans Helping Americans® has done exactly that. Through your generosity, children now have the skill and knowledge to supplement their families with organic, nutrient-dense vegetables that they grew themselves. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of something so rewarding!!”