The mother of a teen involved in Rural Resources’ education and entrepreneurial courses found a pack of tomato seeds earlier this spring for 25 cents at a store.
Uncertain any of them would come up, she planted individual seeds in plastic cups and was pleasantly surprised when she had green sprouts coming through the soil in each one. The mother called Rural Resources to share the young plants with the nonprofit organization that promotes local farms, growing food locally and sustainability.
After repotting them into larger containers, Rural Resources has taken the young tomato plants to residents in the Greeneville Housing Authority units.
“It is amazing to think that this mother wanted to share her plants with us, and then we were able to share them with others,” said Rural Resources Executive Director Salley Causey. “When we took the plants to the Housing Authority, there were more people who wanted them than we had plants, so we are working on providing more there. And it all started with a 25-cent pack of seeds.”
Providing people with the ability and knowledge to grow their own food, helping them learn how to preserve it and perhaps starting their own business are what local support of Rural Resources allows the organization to do, Causey said.
“We just really appreciate all the support we get locally,” she said.
While the tomato plants were an unexpected opportunity, the incident also exemplifies how Rural Resources has been flexible in its educational, entrepreneurial and food delivery programs and adapted to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
The teen and other educational programs have gone online, delivery of materials to people’s doors has become the norm and people are growing things at home rather than going to the Rural Resources farm on Holley Creek Road.
The pandemic and a recent local increase in coronavirus cases has also resulted in changes in plans for Dinner on Main, a fundraiser for the organization, that has been postponed until Sept. 19.
This year’s Dinner on Main also finds Rural Resources in a different financial situation as one of the federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture it has successfully obtained in the past was not awarded this year.
That program’s funding was cut significantly, making the application process more competitive, Causey said. Rural Resources has submitted a proposal for the next round of grant allocations.
“Give up are not two words that are used at Rural Resources,” she said.
That spirit to not give up was in evidence as the pandemic began, and Rural Resources faced not continuing face-to-face classes and delivering food in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank to neighborhoods the same way as it had in the past.
Started in 2008, the teen program teaches participants from low income families about how food is grown and farming, and, as might be expected, those courses began to be taught in an online method.
Adapting to online using either the Zoom electronic meeting platform or conference call has not caused the cooking course for youths that was underway to miss a beat. With the pandemic, the students in the entrepreneurship class also joined the cooking class to sharpen their culinary skills,
“They have been having a blast,” Causey said. “The instructor takes them step by step through the recipe. Then they take a photo of their dish and send it to the instructor.”
Ingredients were delivered to the students’ homes, as were plants and materials needed for students in the agricultural course.
Under the tutelage of Kim Rominger, the students have learned how to create a container garden and raise crops using that method.
The food grown in the teen classes at the farm is also shared with participants to take home to their families. With the suspending of live classes, Causey said there was a concern about the teens and their families having food.
A system has been established in which Rural Resources checks in frequently with families to see who may have a need.
Rushmie Bakshi, an Appalachia CARES AmeriCorps member who serves as chef and kitchen manager at Rural Resources, has been putting together one-dish meals such as casseroles that can be reheated or frozen, and deliveries of the meals are being made three times a week to families, she said.
Some extra meals have also been frozen at Rural Resources to have on hand if there is a request for food by a family who missed a deadline for a delivery, Causey added.
Door-to-door delivery was also the answer for a program in which Rural Resources distributes produce monthly at locations such as Greeneville Terrace Apartments, the Wesley Heights neighborhood and on Cox Circle in the Greeneville Housing Authority in a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank.
For the past few years, Rural Resources has taken produce to be distributed at specific locations in those neighborhoods. To avoid groups of people forming at distribution sites, as normally occurs, Rural Resources staff puts together boxes of produce, and volunteers deliver them door-to-door, Causey said.
As the number of new COVID-19 cases in Greene County slowed in late spring, small groups of teens came to Rural Resources to do projects in which they could keep distanced.
One taught the teens to make ice cream in a bag. The teens then went to an apartment complex to do a “pop up ice cream social,” inviting children living there to come outside and enjoy making a treat, Causey said.
However, the small projects on site will be suspended for now with the recent increase in coronavirus cases locally and in the region, she said.
DINNER ON MAIN
The coronavirus pandemic has also affected a major event for Rural Resources, the Dinner on Main fundraiser. When the number of new cases locally had slowed, plans were made for the dinner to be held July 25.
However, with the increase, Causey said the organization and its board felt it would be best to postpone the event until September. Organizers hope the pandemic situation will have improved by that point and the dinner will be able to occur, she said.
Rural Resources has received positive feedback from the dinner in its past three years.
“Its location gives a perspective on a sense of place that is a little different,” Causey said. ”It presents a unique perspective to sit somewhere we normally don’t get to do and look at the buildings and architecture, giving a chance to see the potential that Main Street has.”
As in past years, the food will produced on local farms and cooked by the organization’s chefs, but there will be some changes from the previous three years.
Planning for the dinner has included making some adaptations to allow for social distancing, which may mean that the capacity for the event will be a little smaller than last year’s attendance of 150, Causey said.
With the social distancing recommendations, the Capitol Theatre will not be part of the dinner as it has in the past with its smaller interior spaces that are not conducive to spacing groups of people, she said.
However, a rain location has been selected but will not be announced unless it is needed to those attending to give another aspect of fun to the event, Causey added. The location has been chosen to provide space for social distancing and other protections recommended to limit the spread of the coronavirus, she said.
Local sponsors have already stepped forward to support the dinner, she said, including Cornerstone Wealth Management, Greeneville Federal Bank, Jesse & Jesse, Rogers Dental, Town Square Package Store, Well Stocked Bar and Andrew Johnson Bank.
The dinner is also made possible with the help of The General Morgan Inn, Catalyst Coffee, Meco, Field & Flour, and photographers Carter Wright and Will Leonard.