Written by: Shannon Donnelly
When I was in high school, volunteering was the thing to do. We had SERV, which was a national organization promoting students to do volunteer service work and receive an award for doing so at the end of the year. I won’t say there were brawls, but there were definitely mental wars for the person with the most SERV hours in my school. Everyone was doing it, trying to qualify for the 100 hour award, but only so they would have a nationally recognized award on their college transcript. It was all for the wrong reasons but I also fell prey to this way of thinking, though it’s hard not to when everyone is telling you you should be stressed about college applications starting in the 6th grade.
It was very stressful thinking about all the possible things you can do to get into the college you wanted to and volunteer work was always something I thought I could do that would help others, but more importantly something that would help me get into college. I was doing it for myself and not the community or the people that needed my help, which is hard to say but it’s true and I am able to recognize that now.
It wasn’t until I moved here about 2 years ago that I realized just how much I really missed volunteering in a community that I truly wanted to see thrive. So, I looked into organizations and services around Boone where I thought I could really learn something and leave a mark. I joined BRWIA’s summer internship and in just my short amount of time here, I have learned just how much work it takes day-to-day to run a non-profit. It’s an extremely arduous task to create and actually go through with an event when budgeting is always an issue. I’m sure I had some idea about this before volunteering here, but it was something I never gave much thought to. BRWIA, to me, is a wonderful and needed organization that almost everyone in Boone has heard of because of their great impact.
Previously, my volunteer experience has always been fun and I’ve learned about various things throughout all of them, but my internship with BRWIA will be the most impactful simply because I get to experience and see where my efforts, and the efforts of those who work everyday at the office here, really pay off. I’ve called Boone home for two years now and I love it just as much as where I grew up. I wanted a place I could volunteer my time and efforts, but not just for me this time, I wanted to do something for a place I had fallen in love with. I wanted to devote time to something that I really believed in and wanted to be a part of. I had heard of BRWIA on campus, around town, and on Facebook Events, and in the back of my head I had always thought about how great they were for Boone. Ever since I moved here I have wanted to make a positive impact that will hopefully last for a while and I think my involvement with BRWIA can do just that and more. I regret not doing as much as I could have and volunteering for the wrong reasons previously where I grew up, but I’m not looking to make that same mistake here too.
On Wednesday the Creative Peace Makers summer camp spent the day planting their very own container gardens with BRWIA’s Shannon Carroll and a group of amazing volunteers.
Shannon taught the campers how to create self-watering devices to keep the containers from drying out.
Campers enjoyed exploring the worm bin and learning about vermiculture. They learned about using worm castings and other organic sources of nutrients in their gardens.
The end result was a beautiful container garden for each child to bring home and care for.
Students also tried massaged kale that they seasoned with various ingredients including salt, lemon pepper, parmesan cheese, and even ginger. The verdict……delicious!
ReeAnna Bledsoe just recently finisher her internship for our Community of Gardens. This is her reflection after helping to set up a garden for pre-K class at the Children’s Council.
Digging in Life’s Garden with ReeAnna:
As an Appalachian Studies graduate, I spent the past four years studying cultural and sustainable agricultural practices within the High Country. One thing I learned is that it is of the utmost importance to take advantage of the natural resources we are given in this region; in this case, the soil! The Appalachian region is known for its high biodiversity and rich soil. My nana, an Appalachian and Ashe County native, used to jokingly say to me, “Up here, you could put a tire in the ground and grow a car”. I don’t know how much truth there is to that, but I would be willing to try!
I am extremely passionate about growing my own food and sourcing the rest from local farms, shopping at places like at the Watauga and King Street Markets. So I was more than pleased to get the opportunity to help the Children's Council of Watauga County with starting up their first garden!
We were able to plant purple pole beans, cucumbers, sweet corn, parsnips, parsley, as well as lettuce and mustard greens. It was so heartwarming to see these young kids so excited and passionate about gardening and having the ability to grow their own food! One little boy was planting purple pole beans when he looked up in pure excitement and exclaimed, “I can’t WAIT to tell my Pappy about this!”. The entire group was attentive and helpful the entire experience, working gently with small seeds and meticulously sowing each seed with love and care.
During my time at Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, I’ve noticed a growing trend-- children are passionate about growing their own food. From working the Kid’s Corner at events and gatherings, to the local farmer’s market, kids have an unbiased love for plants. It is inspiring to say the least. Non-profit programs like Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture play a major role in connecting children and their families to fresh, local food, while allowing family farmers to have an outlet to easily sell their harvest.
But more than that, it’s an organization that inspires children to love and cherish the work of farmers. By connecting elementary schools with gardens of their own or in this case, the Children’s Council, little by little seeds of knowledge are sprouting in the minds of these kids. The passion these young people display for growing food will only expand, producing the next generation of local, sustainable agriculture.
As my time at Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture comes to an end, I know that just as influential as these small gardens are for our community’s children, they are equally as inspiring to adults like myself who can always use a little inspiration. Because let’s face it, growing food is no easy task... but it’s worth the work.
Digging in life's Garden with ReeAnna
If you’re anything like myself, you never really thought about the difference between a seed bank and a seed library, it seems obvious but it really isn't something that crosses my mind often but since the Seed Libraries just reopened and warm weather creeps into the forecast, I figured why not? So let’s dig!
Seed banks are somewhat a gene bank-- their universal purpose being to preserve certain genetic traits in a certain species of plant. In times of drought, disease, and nutritional inequality, these specific, genetically diverse seeds can be quite literally the pivot point in life and death. Seed banks are extremely important as they also preserve certain genetics with historic and cultural value. As of 2006, there were about 6 million accessions, or samples of a particular population, stored as seeds in about 1,300 gene-banks throughout the world.
Seed Libraries are a community specific effort to increase accessibility of seeds to individuals within that community. Libraries allow residents to check-out seeds just as they would do with books, it is not required to return seeds but it is certainly encouraged. Give back to the same program that gave to you!
While both of these ‘seed saving' programs are important, it is even more important to understand just what these banks and libraries provide, as well as the pivotal role they play in our survival as a the human species! Our quality of life as everyday citizens within a community can only be improved by these seed programs.
Digging in Life's garden with ReeAnna:
Lasagna Gardening also known as Sheet Composting is a set it and forget it method of preparing your garden bed for beautiful, healthy plants. Lasagna gardening is relatively easy and inexpensive, as well as appropriate for all ages to allow for great family project, so grab your kids! Grab your friends!
~Let’s talk Lasagna Gardening!
There are a few tips for starting your garden that will guarantee success in this method of no-till no-dig gardening. The idea is to build up layers of organic material that over time will break down, allowing for a beautiful, nutrient rich soil that your plants are going to love. Much like building a lasagna in the kitchen, your garden will have alternate layers of browns and greens. You can start your garden any time of year but fall is a good time due to all of the good browns you can find all around your yard. If you do plan to start in spring or summer, just plan to add some topsoil at the end so you can begin planting sooner!
To begin your masterpiece, there is no need to even break the ground, just add three layers of newspaper or a layer of corrugated cardboard to the ground where you wish to start your garden!
Give the layer a good soaking of water to help the newspaper (or cardboard) begin breaking down and start the decomposition process-- weeds and grass will be smothered and the damp, dark place is perfect to attract worms
Begin layering! You’ll simply alternate bown layers (leaves, shredded newspaper, pine needles) with green layers (kitchen scraps, grass clippings, plant trimmings) there is no perfect way to do this, just layer your browns about twice as deep and your green layers. In total you are making around a two-foot tall “lasagna”
And that’s all folks! Just let your garden decompose for a few weeks and when your ready to plant-- go ahead with your regular method!
Digging into life’s garden with ReeAnna:
There is something about growing your own garden from start to finish… germinating, sowing, that little plant first popping up out of the soil… it’s therapeutic if anything. Maybe it’s personal gratification or maybe it’s just because YOU can! Let’s talk seed starting tips~
Seed Scarification, Stratification, and Soaking are just another step to ensure seeds that can be difficult to germinate grow happy and healthy. Though these terms may seem “harsh”, trust me when I say you are helping-- not hurting your precious babies!
Let’s break it down:
“Remember: seeds that are large or have hard coatings are usually the ones that need to be scarred to allow them to absorb moisture. Seeds that need to be stratified are usually perennials, tiny seeds like those of poppies or seeds for trees and shrubs. Seeds that need to be soaked before planting are usually seeds that are wrinkly, or seeds that you have scarified.”
For a full list of Germination instruction and method on specific seeds click here!
Digging into life's garden with Katie:
Digging into life's garden with Olivia:
Integrated Pest Management is an approach to controlling pests that is environmentally sensitive, yet effective. There is not one particular method for IPM, rather it is using current common-sense approaches that evaluate the natural life cycle and behavior of certain pests and then applying the most ecological, economical and least-hazardous solution.
The idea behind IPM is to find alternative methods other than traditional/routine application of harmful pesticides. Although some IPM methods may result in limited and controlled use of pesticides, those methods are not common or harsh as regularly spraying pesticides on crops. IPM methods turn to non-chemical practices and find
natural solutions that are equally as effective.
Integrated Pest Management takes more intentionality. IPM requires correct identification of the pest, continual monitoring, troubleshooting prevention methods to reduce the attractiveness to pests, evaluating when to take control actions, and documenting the results. IPM requires knowledge of specific pests so that pest control solutions can be tailored to the one specific pest problem without affecting other species that provide benefits to the garden.
IPM can also be used in more places than just the garden. According to the EPA, IPM is highly recommended in schools because it is a “smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control.” There are numerous benefits to IPM such as health (human and environmental) and economic. IPM reduces allergens associated with pests, pesticides and asthma. Using IPM practices in schools where allergens and asthma are particularly high can be very beneficial. Economically, since IPM is focused on prevention it can be very cost-effective in the long term.
With IPM, you are finding the root of the pest problem which can help you have longer lasting prevention reducing the need to spend money continually on pesticides and other control efforts.
Although IPM may take extra attention in the process, it results in longer lasting pest control rather than covering up the pest problem with pesticides which may or may not have long term results.
This weekend, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture hosted a CRAFT Workshop at Waxwing’s FIG Farm that was dedicated to talking about IPM. Two Agricultural Extension agents came out to the farm to talk about IPM and help the participants get hands-on experience with some of the local pests that were present at this particular farm. One big thing the agents talked about was the knowledge that comes with IPM. It is very important to take the time to learn about the signs of disease and pests, what they look like, and how to resolve the issue. They reiterated that it takes a good bit of time and research but can be very cost-efficient and long lasting.
Digging into life's garden with Katie:
Native plants are those who have adapted to a set climate over a number of years, forming a number of symbiotic relationships with their surrounding environment. These plants tend to have little trouble growing, since they are already suited to the environmental conditions around them. Insects and wildlife depend on native plants to maintain stable living conditions. These native plants stand in contrast to non-native invasive species, some of which propagate enormously due to the non-balanced traits they bring to the new environment.
Not only are native plants easy to grow in their native environments, but they’re an enormous part of indigenous culture around the world. As food systems become more commercialized, the connections formed between cultural groups and their land can easily be understood as less authentic and important, as one Lakota man laments in this article (http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/10/20/native-american-seeds).
Place-based knowledge has been shown to be of more importance in many American Indian groups in contrast to modern US culture, and plant-based life is a huge part of how people connect with the land. So, not only can the modern seed industry undermine cultural knowledge within America, but native sovereignty can be affected due to American Indians’ inability to grow essential food without relying on outside parties for help.
Native plant preservation and heirloom seeds can overlap in discussion, although they don’t refer to the exact same process. Heirloom varieties refer to plants grown from saved seeds of older plants--the children and parent plant are essentially the same crop due to open pollination. Heirloom varieties stand in contrast to hybridized commercial varieties of plants designed to have a high yield as well as to be resistant to disease and pesticides. Native plants are merely those that are and have been staples within the geologic time environment they find themselves.
Digging into life's garden with Christina:
At the heart of every sustainable food system, lie the seeds that grow the myriad of produce that people consume daily. These seeds are so much more than meets the eye, beyond their ability to grow food, they tell stories of culture, subsistence, and even resistance. Without the maintenance and cultivation of open pollinated, heirloom seeds, communities around the world will lose the biodiversity of the flowers, vegetables, and fruits they have cherished for generations. This reduction of biodiversity can and will greatly affect communities’ cultural foodways.
Some of the bean varieties donated to the Ashe and Watauga Seed Libraries from community members in Western North Carolina.
In today’s growing global economic system, corporations worldwide have been mass producing seeds to be disease resistant, yield more, have specific coloring / growth patterns, etc. According to the Ashe County Seed Saving Workshop I attended on May 18th, 2017, Agricultural Extension Agent Travis Birdsell, explained that there are
“roughly ten seed companies that account for 67% percent of the global proprietary seed market.” These commercial seeds will decrease the selection of crops we have available to grow and it will also consequently increase the risk of getting wiped out by future disease / insect infestation, and climatic changes. Commercial seeds often are unable to change with their environment decreasing their viability for the following season causing growers to have to buy new seeds each year. With this reduction of genetic diversity, comes the risk of widespread food insecurity.
Organic and open pollinated seeds have the ability to better adapt to local conditions, and can be improved over generations. These seeds will be able to be saved year after year, through proper cultivation and storage. This seed saving process also gives people the opportunity to connect with the community of farmers, gardeners, seed savers, growers, etc. that play a role in their local food system. It is so important to create these networks, in order to create a base of individuals that work to fight food insecurity in their community.
The time is now to fight these corporations, in order to take back our local food system. With the work that Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture is doing to promote the seed libraries, through events such as the Ashe and Watauga County Seed Saving Workshops, the High Country community will have an opportunity to take part in the global movement to save the genetic diversity of plants. Seed saving can not only, help build strong communities in a number of way but also it can help to protect the natural environment.
By saving local heirloom varietals, pollinators such as plants and animals, will have a chance to thrive in their natural environment while also helping to play a part in maintaining local biodiversity. According to Birdsell, “seed saving provides an opportunity to engage in the cycle of life, which then turns the consumer into the provider.” Through seed saving we can work to ensure that future generations will have access to viable produce that will provide nutrition to their friends and family. There are a number of resources available to teach individuals how to properly save seeds. Through education and discussion, we can create a global movement to protect our local food system and prevent food insecurity worldwide.