This month's member spotlight is the extraordinary Allison Jennings, development Director for Watauga Habitat for Humanity and advisory board member for the Western Watauga Food Outreach project. At Habitat for Humanity Allison brings people together to build homes, community, and hope. She was naturally drawn to organizations that create community, which is why she loves BRWIA. Allison also has a background in food-service, having degrees in Culinary Arts and Hotel Restaurant Management.
Many people may not know this about her, but her family has lived in these mountains for more than eight generations. Allison's grandparents, Clarence Berry and Virginia Mast, met in high school in Cove Creek, and married, eventually settling in the Grandfather/Foscoe Community in the 1940s. She spent her childhood visiting her great Grandpa, Hardy Berry there, and her summers were filled with the abundance and gifts these mountains offer.
When asked about her childhood time spent here Allison says, "Summers in Watauga County are the greatest memories of my childhood. My sister, Betsy, and I along with the Townsend children would spend days roaming the mountains, picking plump blackberries that my grandmother would use to make the best blackberry jelly that would last all year. We would go across the holler and visit the Townsends, who would send freshly churned butter back to my grandmother. I remember vividly as Larkin Townsend made sweet sorghum molasses in the early fall and all the neighbors gathered to help, on a cool, dark autumn night. It was extraordinary food, and we were ordinary people."
"I treasure the (somewhat-hysterical) childhood photos of me looking on as my dad and grandmother butchered chickens. My great Grandpa, made the best chicken and dumplings and my family must have really wanted his cooking, because they took the ax to the chickens, cleaned them up and offered them to Grandpa to cook. It was chicken and dumplings the hard way, but well worth it!" Neighbors sharing their harvests were all part of growing up in the mountains. Simple food, lovingly shared, that creates community.
As time moved forward, she grew up and left these mountains, going on to culinary school and to study hotel-restaurant management. “I started a family and life went on. I always missed that sweet scent of clean mountain air, the summer fireflies, my grandparents’ home and the face of a billion-year old rock formation, befittingly called The Grandfather. After twenty years of being away, I was lucky enough to come home to Watauga County and carry on the tradition of community that my grandparents instilled in me.”
Upon returning to her roots, Allison shifted her focus from working in restaurants and serving people who wanted food, to offering food to people who needed it. She started volunteering at F.A.R.M. Cafe, worked as a food coordinator at a local food pantry, and helped begin a food outreach program for folks living in Western Watauga County. When asked about this switch from feeding those who wanted food to those who needed it she said, “I developed this sense that ALL people should have access to fresh, healthy, locally-raised food. There are people living in our community that grew up just like me, yet no longer have access to food that is their heritage, their history, a part of who they are.“
At Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture we understand that. We too work to connect local food with our community and just like Allison we believe that everyone, no matter their income, should have access to fresh, healthy, organic food. Everyone who wants freshly churned butter, homemade blackberry jam, and farm-raised chicken should be able to have those simple items. As Allison puts it,” BRWIA keeps my food history and heritage alive. And just like the Townsends and my grandparents did 40 years ago in a small farming community at the face of the Grandfather, BRWIA is a neighbor sharing the harvest, offering extraordinary food for ordinary people.”