Abby Huggins - Tangles of Seed Packets

In my fellowship thus far, I feel like I am looking at a table overflowing with piles of roughly organized seed packets – herbs and flowers, peas and beans, cabbage and collards, tomatoes and peppers. Then, we discover this special winter squash from a friend, this beautiful bean seed we must plant, this tasty kind of melon, this interesting mustard green. Then, we look at the maps of gardens that came before, to make sure we’re not duplicating, make sure we’re not taking too much of one thing from the soil, but also giving back. Then, we consider perennial fruits and herb terraces and magical bean pole labyrinth forts to build. Then, we notice a whole container of seeds we overlooked and should also sort through.

There’s more possibilities than practicalities. So what are our parameters? How do we understand our limitations but create space for growth and nourishment and beauty? How do we push the edges of the garden while protecting it from being overtaken by wildlife? Are we the best people to be deciding about this garden? Are there other ideas and visions we’re missing? The process, the tangle of thoughts, is both inspiring and paralyzing at the same time. And metaphorically, in my work, I have felt a similar dance between optimism and confusion.

With gratitude, I’m learning about endless dance and food happenings and hopes in Eastern Kentucky: long standing community dances, plans for community canning kitchens, square dance calling mentorship, growing farmers’ markets, farmer support, food access efforts, culture based community organizing, and dreams of square dances on farms. Every week I learn more, talk with more folks, and feel inspired by the creativity, pride, and ingenuity moving all around.

Caption 1: Farmers and farmer supporters gathered at Hindman Settlement School at the Eastern Kentucky Farmers Conference in February, organized by Community Farm Alliance.

Caption 1: Farmers and farmer supporters gathered at Hindman Settlement School at the Eastern Kentucky Farmers Conference in February, organized by Community Farm Alliance.

As I immerse in this project that will highlight food and dance in Eastern Kentucky, I can feel overwhelmed by the prospects, the questions, the choices, and the ways this work fits into a bigger picture.  How does this connect with larger Appalachian transition and justice work? How does a wide vision translate into day to day details? How do we measure work that feels abstract and difficult to quantify?  How do we branch out beyond our comfortable networks to hear a diversity of voices? How do we create spaces where people can gather and organize around common ground? How are we careful to complement, not duplicate, existing efforts? How do we support emerging leaders who have potential to create change in their communities? How am I contributing a project that will live on beyond me in a sustainable way? How does tourism help to strengthen local communities without being another form of extraction? What do we mean by heritage? Who gets to define it? How is this work both dynamic in the present and respectful of the past?

The questions will remain. The questions should be pondered, revisited, and pondered again. Still, there are gardens to plant, one seed at a time. There are harvests to work towards. There are hands to join with and dance. Accepting uncertainty with patience, but also striving towards movement, I hope the penciled plans we have created will turn into something fruitful and good. The soil is warming. The daylight is lengthening. I’m excited and thankful to be a part of spring and to watch what grows.

Caption 2: Carcassonne Community Center, home of the oldest continually running square dance. Flag is half-mast to remember Ruby Haynes Caudill, matriarch of the dance, who recently passed on at the age of 99.

Caption 2: Carcassonne Community Center, home of the oldest continually running square dance. Flag is half-mast to remember Ruby Haynes Caudill, matriarch of the dance, who recently passed on at the age of 99.