HUNTINGTON — For the past few weeks, Lacy Davidson Ferguson and Grow Wayne have been teaching 50 families across Cabell and Wayne counties all about growing and preserving their own crops.
A registered dietitian and resource coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, Ferguson has spent her life working with and understanding natural foods. It was this same understanding that inspired her and her organization to start their latest six-week program.
“Food is one of the most necessary things in life,” Ferguson said. “With the current pandemic, the shelves of a lot of stores are limited or empty, and it’s got a lot of people concerned. We want to show them they’re more than capable of providing for themselves and their families.”
The organization responsible for the program, Grow Wayne, is one of a half-dozen similar installations across the state of Grow Appalachia, an agriculture-focused program created by the Berea College of Kentucky in 2009. Grow Appalachia’s interest in spreading to Wayne County comes from a desire to promote sustainable food systems and preserve culture in southern West Virginia.
The program itself, like its predecessors, was originally intended to take place in the town of Wayne’s Methodist Church, who had provided Grow Wayne with access to their kitchens. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced Grow Wayne to change their methods.
“We’ve had to adapt, but it hasn’t stopped us,” Ferguson said. “It’s prevented us from meeting in person, but it couldn’t stop us from educating others. We can proudly say that not a single family has dropped out despite the issues.”
Grow Wayne had transitioned to a strictly online format during the duration of the program, primarily using video-call programs such as Zoom to make their gatherings possible. For those living in areas with poor internet service, Grow Wayne provided extensive text chats and other alternative methods to stay in the loop.
The 50 families currently taking part in the program surprised Grow Wayne, which originally expected to barely reach its original goal of 20 families. They cited their initial expectations due to a belief that it would be difficult to find many families with the same interests. However, when more than double the expected number applied, they were able to accept all of them without any issues.
The families themselves are a mixture of close friends and associates of Grow Wayne staff, and complete newcomers and strangers. Ferguson attributed the collected interest to Grow Wayne’s vast network of partner-organizations across the state.
The program itself consisted of a monthly workshop where a certain aspect or topic of personal farming was discussed and learned in-depth. Workshop one focused on garden and production planning, while workshop two focused on garden planting and information about seeds. Workshop three focused on garden maintenance, and workshop four focused on home and seasonal cooking with the grown products.
The upcoming fifth workshop, which was teased in a Facebook announcement on Tuesday, May 26, will focus on the proper methods of preserving and storing crops, through ways such as canning and freezing. The sixth and final workshop is said to focus on how to extend one’s ability to grow and harvest into different seasons.
Additionally, in June, Grow Wayne intends to begin a weekly Friday Farmers Market, where the families who participated in the workshops can gather and sell their produce as a means of extra revenue. This will feature a list of available produce and a method of pre-ordering and picking up pre-paid crops.
“Folks are starting to realize that our current food services are actually quite fragile,” Ferguson said. “By engaging in gardening with their families, and potentially their friends and neighbors, it can be a way to support themselves and keep them busy during the quarantine. More importantly, it can give them a sense of security and hope through their own effort.”
More information on Grow Wayne and its parent organization, Grow Appalachia, can be found at www.growappalachia.berea.edu.