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Greetings from Abingdon and Appalachian Sustainable Development!  Deni here, reporting on three of our community gardens that have a concentration of children and young adults at the helm.

Girls Inc. is an afterschool program located in Bristol VA that has been working to build a garden program for several years. Thanks to an anonymous funder who saw the benefit in gardening, ASD staff were able to offer Girls Inc. regular program support (every other week thru the growing season). We required that a Girls Inc. staff person be with us at every visit; to learn from our example in hope of taking on the project themselves. AND IT WORKED! We began working with staff member Deeanna, last fall, to reinvent the garden layout; making it smaller; fencing it for groundhogs and rabbits and building raised beds to get kids hands out of the glass and ceramic shards that littered the soil. Yes, we take and use land that is available, in this case an imploded house site that tested NEGATIVE for lead.

This summer, the Girls worked together to bring in more produce than ever before. More on less land; imagine! But the greatest achievement has been helping a young adult learn about gardening and garden leadership. Deeanna now hustles the girls up the hill on a weekly basis, harvesting and maintaining the garden like a novice. She’s lost weight by eating better food and feels great! She’s passing her enthusiasm for good food onto the girls and plans to take on the garden again next year. She’s been surprised at the number of girls who are addicted to junk food but are willing to try new foods because they helped grow and cook them. They’re finding out the kids are enthusiastically going home and ASKING their parents to cook veggies for them. They’re thrilled to take produce home and parents have begun asking for recipes. We’re excited to have Deanna be part of our Grow Your Own team and look forward to having her attend workshops next year.

The Childcare Network is another of our Community Garden sites, also located in downtown Bristol VA. Director Allison learned about the Grow Your Own program from another early childcare center that works with us and began coming to workshops. “Our children at CNI have LOVED having the help from Grow Your Own this spring and summer. Our school age kids took this opportunity and ran with it. The older kids have all gained more responsibility and shown an enormous interest and have so much fun leading and teaching the younger kids about the different plants and how they grow. They have even taken it upon themselves to start looking for ways to raise money for a hoop house. We are all excited to continue with Grow Your Own and see what our kids can do!” Visiting the garden site has been great because the kids are so proud of their garden and do a great job keeping their garden growing, recording harvest amounts, packaging and distributing foods to be taken home and succession planting. Not bad for a first time attempt!

Emory and Henry College has been a community garden since the beginning of our Grow Your Own project. We’ve seen the garden struggle over the years due to size and animal pest pressure. This year, we teamed up with a local middle school class with special needs thru a Whole Kids Foundation Grant to get Emory some extra help and give our kids with special needs some experience in a garden on a college campus. This spring, students worked to erect a new fence and layout potato rows. This fall, they assisted in harvesting over 660 pounds of butternut squash from a 20 x 40 foot garden space. The kids were excited, happy and willing workers and all of them look forward to sampling butternut squash soup and cake along with taking squash home with them with recipes.