Settling In Tennessee

It’s been too long since I’ve written,  but such is the case after the type of move we’ve had.

As I write this, I’m sitting in wife’s parents’ living room before anyone else is awake. We’re down in their home in Macon, Georgia, to celebrate Christmas with Julie’s parents,  siblings, their spouses, and their kids. Prior to our coming back to Tennessee, this kind of get-together for all 15 of us got to happen once or twice a year. Now that the trip is only a few hours of interstate driving — as opposed to a cross-country flight or days on the road — we hope spending time with our family will happen much more frequently.

Our cross-country move happened in what felt like a blink of an eye in early November. Now we’re getting settled in Tennessee: getting used to a new town, acclimating to a new (and much more demanding) schedule, and trying enjoy our new environment. More on the move itself — and what was so difficult about it — later.

In my last post, I mentioned what I think a friend of mine, Matthew Lee Anderson, has laid down as a great challenge for someone like me: how to communicate things of a very parochial nature to a wide audience, and how to do it “with verve,” as Matt likes to say. The longer I’m here, working at The Greeneville Sun, the more things like this will strike me, I’m sure. But just a couple weeks into my stint, I got a good glimpse at an exclusively local operation that has teaching powers unconfined by county borders.

I got an assignment to go cover some federal officials visiting Rural Resources, a local non-profit that focuses on educating young kids about locally-grown food. But that’s not all it does. It runs programs for teens to learn how to grow food, how to cook with food they grow, and then how to set up and run a business based around the food they grow and cook. Rural Resources also has a mobile farmers market program, where workers and volunteers take the food grown on the organization’s small farm and sell it out of an old school bus in different communities in Greene County. Be sure to visit the website.

My assignment came when the federal-co chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission visited with a gaggle of state and federal  VIPs to get a first-hand look at what Rural Resources does in a large Appalachian county, whose size and rural nature presents a lot of challenges with poverty. Read my story to see what what said about Rural Resources by the Washington crowd. But I was struck — in my newness to the county — by how much this little non-profit was doing. The staff and volunteers there (some of whom have very dramatic testimonies regarding Rural Resources) have been challenged by the nature of their work, but a fire a few years ago destroyed much of their facilities. Now they work out of construction trailer on loan from a local company. Construction trailers don’t have bathrooms, so they  have an outhouse on the farm that they have to use.

Coming from a job that rightly taught me to always be mindful of ideologies at play — worldviews — it’s refreshing to see an organization that doesn’t fit neatly into certain political or ideological categories that are so tempting to stereotype. Rural Resources’ focus on locally-grown, organic food may seem to many conservatives to put it in line with modern-day liberalism. But Rural Resources’ focus is on using that tool (food) to make life better for its immediately local community. And it focuses primarily on families with its educational programs. Cue Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, I suppose. It’s the sort of thing that deserves much more attention, which is why the crowd from Washington and Nashville wanted to take a look at it.

What’s so refreshing to see — especially given my background — is a local organization with the mission of making life better for the rural population of a county using the tools at its disposal, regardless of how some over-thinkers, like me, would categorize some of its methods. Certainly most of us would agree with the underlying assumptions of its programs: locally grown food is a good thing; learning how to produce and cook food is a good thing; learning transferable skills that will come in handy both now and later is a good thing; doing all this in the context of families is a good thing.

This, of course, is not to say that non-locally produced food or my going to the grocery store to buy so I can pay someone else to to handle the time- and labor-intensive processing of my food are inherently bad things. But sometimes doing things in your own backyard — or a community garden in the middle of old tobacco farms in East Tennessee — is a better thing.

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