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How Appalachian Tradition And Gardening Are Getting Some West Virginians Through The Pandemic

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Amy Knicely
Amy Knicely's seedlings she is growing this year in Parkersburg, W.Va. She grew up gardening and is tapping into the knowledge passed down to her for her garden this year.

As the number of coronavirus cases have quickly grown across the nation, including in West Virginia, leaving the house has become increasingly discouraged. In fact, the White House Coronavirus Task Force recently recommended to either not go or limit trips to the grocery store to avoid large gatherings. 

And even when people do go to the store the shelves are often sparse. Although the National Grocers Association assures there’s not a food shortage in the country, some people are preparing just in case. 

Amy Knicely is a career development specialist in Parkersburg, West Virginia. She has been working from home, homeschooling her kids and growing a garden. 

“We don't have a food shortage, but the lack of ability to go out whenever you want to get food, it kind of brought back some of my roots from my childhood,” she said.

Knicely grew up in rural West Virginia hunting, fishing and gardening. She said having fresh chicken eggs and snacking on deer jerky or cherry tomatoes are some of her favorite memories. 

After years of not having a garden Knicely decided to tap into her Appalachian roots and harvest her own food this year. So far, she is growing broccoli, onions, summer squash and tomatoes.

Knicely said it has also been a learning opportunity for her kids.

“Even if it's just a healthy habit of growing your own vegetables, being able to take care of yourself to some degree, you know, working hard and then reaping the benefits,” she said.

Growing a garden this year is trending in the Mountain State. Brady Walker is an 8-year-old who lives in Mercer County, and for the past four years he has been sending donated seeds to people who want to start a garden – it is part of his ‘Sowing Seeds of Love Project’ that began with him sending seeds to people in South Africa. Walker said this year he has seen more interest than ever. 

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Credit Debra Williby-Walker
Brady Walker reading a book written by Ursula Candasamy based on Brady's project "Sowing Seeds of Love." He has been donating seeds to people in need for four years.

Typically, he gives out around 1,000 seed packets, but this year Walker is sending over 4,000 seed packets across West Virginia and South Africa. He said giving people the opportunity to grow plants that can harvest food year after year is important to him.

Walker learned to garden from his grandpa, or pawpee, and the biggest tip he has learned: “Weed it every day.”

To read more about Walker click here.

In Hampshire County, Susan Feller, a fiber artist, is also growing a garden this year. She said it is the first time she has planted a full garden in 10 years.

“So, to me a garden, as it grows, is a teaching tool,” Feller said. “It's confidence that life is going on.”

Confidence, Feller said, that we — West Virginia and the U.S. — will make it through the pandemic. 

She is drawing on what she learned growing up, as she worked on an herb farm and her mother gardened.  

“I remember, I can plant the gardens this way, I can plant the marigolds around the edge, and theoretically the deer won't get into them,” Feller said.

And she has been foraging too, something she also learned on the herb farm. Lately Feller’s been collecting dandelions.

“My partner does all the cooking, so he cooks them down and adds some anchovies into it and it's great,” she said. “I'm on my way out today. We're going to pick some more.”

According to the WVU Extension Service, the next few weeks are a great time to begin seeding carrots, sweet corn, swiss chard and herbs. 

This story is part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Reporting Project. Subscribe to the podcast to hear more stories of Appalachian folklife, arts, and culture.  

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