March 11-17 is AmeriCorps Week, so we want to extend a big thank you to the AmeriCorps members who have served at the farm and share a little about the projects of those currently serving. AmeriCorps VISTAs utilize the farm’s resources to promote health, nutrition, evaluate economic viability, and educate the tri-county area.
Ritchie Wai is the longest serving VISTA at the farm. Since March 2016, he has been researching aquaponics and evaluating systems for economic viability on the plateau. He learned about aquaponics nutrients cycles, how to build various systems, and how to adjust for the local climate. (Most aquaponics systems are in tropical climates or heated greenhouses.)
His service on this project is coming to an end this month and has resulted in a permanent 6,190 gallon deep water culture aquaponic system in the farm’s high tunnel #2. The farm’s system is the first support for community experimenters - providing information, example, and stock (fish, plants, bacteria).
Erin Lee is serving as network coordinator for the Cumberland Teaching Gardens, which is a network she has organized since beginning her service February 2017. The network now supports around 14 garden sites by assisting teachers to develop specialized garden curriculum, advising for infrastructure improvements, and organizing a series of educator workshops.
Through these and other avenues, Erin connects individuals, schools, and organizations across the tri-county area to contribute to our community’s well-being together. Barbara Roberts recently joined VISTA and will continue Erin’s work as CTG’s co-coordinator with Ritchie starting this month.
Emily Heid has served at the farm since May 2017. She has been collaborating with local farmers to determine interest and opportunities for specialty herbal crop development on the plateau.
Her research so far has resulted in a decision to pursue elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) as a new cultivated crop for farmers. This gave way to a USDA grant proposal that would fund three years of place-specific data collection on improved elderberry cultivars and offer programming for local farmers.
In addition, Emily is collaborating with the Friends of South Cumberland and CTG to create an educational garden at the South Cumberland State Park that will feature herbs, grains, and fruits native to the plateau.
Ashley Pancoast has also been at the farm since last May. Her service projects range from the creation of this website to increased social media engagement to a growing binder of educational material designed for CTG.
As well as building capacity for the farm’s communication, Ashley provides expertise for the other farm VISTAs. She collaborated with Emily to plan and organize brainstorming meetings with farmers and assisted Erin with increasing CTG’s educator workshops from five attendees to around 30.
Thank you, AmeriCorps VISTAs, for your dedicated service, innovative work, and for always #GettingThingsDone!