I am very fortunate to have the opportunity this week to travel with the Social and Environmental Sustainability in Appalachia (UH 202-203) course to southeastern Ohio (Athens County). We are learning a ton and making lots of new friends as we complete social and environmental projects in the community. We are staying at Good Works' Hannah House for the week. Good Works is a faith-based organization that believes that relational contexts encourage transformations for those living in poverty or extreme poverty. They provide opportunities and a support system for those who find themselves in poverty. They do amazing work, and they have created wonderful partnerships for us. Throughout the week, we are working with Monday Creek Restoration Project, Rural Action, Green Edge Gardens, Athens County Public Library, Neighbors helping Neighbors (a Good Works project) and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting at the moment. Our schedule is set up such that we work each day from about 9:30-3:30. We have guest speakers in the evenings as well. We all go to different sites each day so that we have the chance to experience several different projects. We hit the ground running Friday afternoon as soon as we arrived to prepare a meal for nearly 150 community members for Good Works' weekly community meal. Good Works teaches people to value other people, first and foremost. So while Sarah Twill (one of the co-instructors of the course) and I prepared the meal, the students were out socializing and getting to know members of the community. It was a great meal, and a wonderful way to kick off the week.
Saturday, I went with two students to Green Edge Gardens. The owner, Kip Rondy, and his dog, Dance, greeted us and put us right to work. We helped him clean all day to prepare for an important visit from a Ohio Department of Agriculture representatives next week. He also showed us around all of his greenhouses and the mushroom house. We had great conversations with him throughout the day about the issues facing small farmers. He is extremely passionate about it, of course. He taught us a lot about the local food movement and the challenges involved. He advocates for a living wage for farmers since his employees are only paid between $18,000-$25,000. He believes that once deisel/gas prices rise, local farming will be more in demand. The system we use now is not sustainable. We cannot keep shipping vegetables (which are 80%+ water) across the country. As soon as I get home, I'm joining the CSA. He has converted me!
Sunday, we visited Snowville Creamery. Sarah, an employee there, showed us around and gave us a taste of the most delicious chocolate milk ever! The cows are grass-fed, and the milk is amazingly delicious. Today, Sarah Twill, two students and I helped the staff at Athens County Library shift their collection. The library director was so grateful for our help. She says that our help cut weeks off of the time it would have taken them to shift the entire adult collection. One of the important things the director shared with us is that the library Board doesn't want to ask for taxes to fund the libraries because such a small percentage of the population that could afford to pay the tax would decide to pass the levy, but then the rest of the population would have to pay for it. They are very aware that 30% of the population lives at or below the poverty level. This is why it is so important to know your community. The students came willing and ready to serve and learn and make new friends. They are treating each other with respect, having fun and learning a lot about themselves and the surrounding community. They are representing Wright State extremely well! More updates to come.