We are thrilled to feature the charismatic Sydney Blume as our member spotlight for August. Sydney is a recent graduate of Appalachian State’s Sustainable Development department who now works as the ASU garden manager. She helps to apply the principles of Sustainable Development into all 3 sustainable gardens the university has to offer.
Sydney has been “impressed and excited with things happening through BRWIA since [her] first year at App.” She first became aware of the organization when she joined the “Farmers at the Round Table” club her freshman year because she was interested in connecting with local Watauga and Ashe County farms. As a graduate now interested in creating food security in the High Country, becoming a member of BRWIA seemed like the natural choice. As a BRWIA member, she now has free access to connecting with farms and learning from experienced growers through the CRAFT network.
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."
This month’s member spotlight gives honor to the talented and magnetic Susan Owen. Susan has been a farmer in Watauga County for 34 years. She became a member with Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture because she believes in giving people in rural communities the opportunities to grow food and become farmers through grants and programs, which helped her begin her own farm.
Susan believes in helping out small farms and providing opportunities to the underprivileged, which she does through her membership with BRWIA and her breadth of volunteerism. She wants to help give people a leg-up, and she enjoys being as involved as possible. Susan is highly involved in the community, serving on a number of boards in the area, from the Mountain Laurel Garden Club, the North Carolina Herb Association, and the Watauga County Beekeepers’ Association; she also helped to establish New River Organic Growers and helped to design the FARM Cafe herb garden. She learned volunteerism from her mother, and she makes an effort to be as involved as possible. “I believe so much in volunteering because I feel like we need to make our world the best we can, and to volunteer on boards makes me feel more connected - I meet a lot of cool people. I like to try and make a difference in the world,” Susan says.
Debbie Bauer is the Bethel School Garden coordinator with the Lettuce Program under BRWIA's Community of Gardens. As the former Garden Coordinator of the ASU Sustainable Development Edible Schoolyard, she has been teaching children of all ages how to tend a garden and where their food comes for over a decade. She is generous with her time, putting long volunteer hours and a good amount of sweat equity to keep the school garden productive and thriving.
One of the most rewarding aspects of her work with the students is cooking what has been grown in the garden. To see a child who says they dislike kale or spinach then "gobble up a kale salad or spinach smoothie really makes my work worthwhile!"
Debbie was also an integral part of getting the seed library in Watauga and Ashe Counties. "I am so proud of the phenomenal success of the library, including the huge turnout at the grand opening and the amount of seeds that were checked out," she said. Debbie is also a dedicated seed saver personally, and is now creating a seed saver garden at the school.
For Debbie, "BRWIA is a community organization that not only helps farmers but brings the whole community together. The staff and board are comprised of the most dedicated and diverse group of people that center their energy on the sustainability of the community by creating ways to support local food community, school gardens, the seed library and so much more. I am truly honored and proud to be a part of this organization."
Carol Coulter, Founding Mother and Former Executive Director, Recognized as "Pioneer" in 10 Influential Women Making their Mark Series
Judith Phoenix served as BRWIA Board Chair from 2014 - 2018 and continues to be an outstanding advocate for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. During her tenure, BRWIA experienced tremendous growth and grew in recognition, with great thanks to Judith's arrangement of numerous speaking engagements and her dedication to the organization.
Judith understands the important role that consumers play in ensuring a healthy and vibrant local food system. She believes that consumers have a responsibility to the growers to ensure that they are able to keep producing high quality food grown from our community's soil. While she doesn't plan on growing food for herself, her commitment to supporting local producers is an integral piece to the health of our local food economy.
As a farewell, Judith shared the following:
"Over the past 10 years, I have had many roles with BRWIA from Farm Tour volunteer, participant in the many of the Home Grown workshops, Board Member, and most recently as Board Chair.
Each role has given me the opportunity to support what I believe in and what I want to have access to: local vegetables, eggs, meat and other value added products. I love knowing where my food REALLY comes from and connecting with the individual farmer.
As Board Chair I felt empowered to “shamelessly” promote BRWIA and the High Country Food Hub to friends, strangers and civic organizations because I know that supporting BRWIA helps our community thrive. I know my membership dues go beyond my immediate needs to help ensure food justice by underwriting programs such as the Double Bucks initiative that gives SNAP users easier access to fresh food grown by our local producers.
Ultimately it always comes down to the people. The BRWIA women and men are hardworking visionaries who are helping make Boone and the High Country a strong and resilient community.
It is with great confidence that I turn the reins over to the new board chair, Julia Showalter."
Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture is currently seeking three qualified candidates to fill our AmeriCorps VISTA openings.
Special Event: Tuesday, February 27th | 9:30-11am in the Blue Ridge Ballroom (room 201), Plemmons Student Union @ ASU
Dr. John Boyd Jr. and Kara Boyd will share their experiences during an informal community conversation titled, “Keeping NC & VA Farmers Growing.”