Valerie Ison Horn

Valerie Ison Horn, Retired as a Teacher and Counselor, now Works with Grow Appalachia and Community Farm Alliance (A Voice For Farmers) and the Appal-TREE Project...Appalachians Together Restoring the Eating Environment); Little Dry Fork, Kentucky:

“I work with local foods and food nutrition, but I also look at it as community building, helping neighbors, buying food from neighbors, sharing seeds with neighbors, the better our community grows. 

I was born up on Cowan. Was born in 1965, about the time the war on poverty began. I went away to school and that’s the only time I’ve been away from these mountains. 

Right now, my son-in-law works for a strip mining company and drives about an hour and a half to work and an hour and a half from work for ten hour shifts, six days a week. They have a daily, three-hour window to be a family. Although he makes good money so my daughter can stay home and take care of their child, it is my dream that someday they can live off the family land making a living growing fruits and vegetables. 

A lot of things have changed over the years. Our grandparents grew gardens, as did most who lived here then. My grandmother raised a big garden; she had nine children and lost her husband in a mining accident when my mom was three years old. The children never questioned working in the garden. It wasn’t a big scale agriculture garden. They had nine hoes; a few reap hooks, no tractor, and no tiller. It wasn’t easy, but they did it every day. If you were too young or, like my mom who was sick with polio, your job was to bring the others lunch. Everybody had a job. 

One of my favorite stories is about my Aunt Mary Lou. She worked on the mountain near Scuttle Hole Gap near Little Shepard Trail hoeing corn for ten cents a day. She was never rich, just a steady worker all her life. She took care of herself and helped others. She worked for Harry Caudill’s sister-in-law for many years. (Harry Caudill was an accomplished Appalachian author writing, among other things, ‘Night Comes To The Cumberland’s’). Harry’s sister-in-law left her some money when she passed away. Aunt Mary Lou took that money and bought a new cook stove, along with the land on Scuttle Hole Gap she hoed as a little girl. That’s a full circle of life.

Somehow, we lost that ability to garden here in the mountains. Things became more convenient, they became habits. We didn’t consider that processed food might not be as good for us, that it might have the health implications that we know it does now. We just got comfortable with those choices. I’m sure if my grandmother had had the opportunity to order pizza and feed all the children, she would have. Those choices just weren’t available then. 

We have to reeducate folks. It is an opportunity that has to be learned. It’s hard to get back to. What I like about Grow Appalachia is that we are trying to reconnect those folks with the skills, provide opportunities and reduce barriers so folks can learn, experiment and find out if gardening is for them. Grow Appalachia has about 60 family gardeners, 20 market gardeners and 10 community gardens. 

We are planning a Grow Appalachia camp for children in July. It will be our first year doing this, small scale. Another program we work with is ‘Mountain Garden Initiative’ who works in the schools in the area to get school gardens growing. We have been successful with that. We also help folks who want to sell eggs, getting licenses etc. to sell eggs to restaurants and other retail outlets.”