Thank you Dig In!

Olivia Sanders

What an incredible gift it has been to be a part of the Dig In! Community Garden team for three seasons! I couldn’t locate Burnsville on a map before I applied to this position, but the organization’s vision to share healthy food with everyone in the county compelled me to apply, interview, and move here. I had no idea what a wonderful community I was jumping into– I came for one summer and have stayed for nearly three years, if that shows you how much I liked it!

The generosity and compassion in this county astounds me. To the people of Dig In! and the wider Burnsville community, thank you for all the beautiful ways you share with each other, build, create, and celebrate together. From hand drawn maps to off-season work, from cameos in the paper to a scholarship for the trip of a lifetime to Cuba, your gifts have inspired me in their generosity and genuineness. I hope to be able to reciprocate all the kindness one day.

I want to thank Dig In! for all the work they are doing and will continue to do. I realized quickly that what we are growing at Dig In! is far more than vegetables. I have seen this group of dedicated people grow a community where people really care for each other. I have seen us build a garden from scratch that lives vibrantly as a world apart from the world at large, with gorgeous flowers, fluttering butterflies and bees, sweeping curved contour beds, and friendly people who are happy to see you every week. This place, this project have showed me what beautiful worlds are possible if we put our egos aside and collaborate together. I am so grateful to have served this garden and contributed in some small way to this important work.

Thank you for all for creating such a beautiful workplace, community, and culture and sharing it with me. All of this has been such a gift!




IMG_2449 (1)Our experience is that bowls can change a community. Leading up to Dig In!’s 8th Annual Empty Bowls Dinner, consider placing a bowl in your home and collecting change. Bring the coins you collect to our Empty Bowls event on 10/19/18 and we’ll put it all together to grow and share food so everyone eats well in Yancey County. The sound of those coins in your bowl is a good reminder that when we all share, there’s enough for everyone. We’re calling this #BowlsforChange. If you’ve got a Bowl for Change, share a picture and tell us about the world you want to grow. Every contribution matters, especially yours.

Gardening in Times of Extreme Weather

Olivia Sanders

Many folks kindly asked about how we fared in the rain from Hurricane Florence. We fared well, with no flooding and little erosion. I thought I’d share an update, some pictures, and some things I’ve learned about gardening in a very rainy season. 

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Top: Farm before Hurricane Florence
Bottom L: Collapsed tomato trellising after the storm
Bottom R: Runoff water collected in tractor bucket. The tractor was sitting in the barn during the storm. The water is from what flowed through during the weather event.

The weather is growing less predictable every year, and extreme weather events like these storms and droughts are becoming increasingly common. Because of the geography here, the weather can be very extreme, localized, and difficult to predict. We got only 5.5” of rain from Hurricane Florence, while our friends in the South Toe (same county, just over two mountain ridges) got 11.5 inches. Since we can’t change the weather, how do we use best practices to prevent damage to our crops?

These extreme weather events are new to us too, but I thought I’d share my observations about what’s working for us at the garden and what’s not. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are a lifetime of lessons to learn, but I’ve shared a few things we’ve picked up on. Some are from successes and some are from failures!

Slow water down on your landscape. Fast moving runoff grabs soil particles with it as it runs downhill. Slowing water down increases infiltration into the soil, which helps your plants grow and prevents that erosion. Many of the strategies below are some application of this concept.

Swales and berms helped us prevent erosion in this storm. Swales and berms are tools that help slow water down; swales are little gullies that collect water, and berms are rises that stop water from flowing. When you put a swale and a berm together “on contour,” meaning they go directly across the slope of the land, they act as little dams to stop fast moving runoff. (Those metal water bars that go across gravel driveways are similar to this.) While it’s helpful to put permanent, large scale berms and swales on your farm, if you just want to prevent some damage at the last minute like we did, you can run around the farm with a potato plow digging trenches uphill of all your fields

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Raised beds on contour are very stable. We have many raised garden beds that are built up from the walking paths, about 4-6 inches high. We have some that are laid in straight rows based on ease of cultivation, and some that are built “on contour,” meaning they go directly across the slope of the land. Between those, we found that the straight beds were more likely to erode due to fast moving runoff, while the contour beds stopped water and slowed it down, like little dams.

Alternatively, if drought is the problem, this strategy is still helpful– when the beds are on contour, they slow water down from moving off your property. The little dams act to hold water in the garden longer when you do have it.

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Mulch is great for protecting your soil and maintaining ideal moisture! Earlier this summer, a heavy rain fell on the garden, and we had some little chard plants surrounded by lots of bare soil. We thought, this is great! The chard had so much soil surface exposed to absorb the rain! Wrong. Within days, it was dry and cracked like the desert, damaged by the pounding rain.

This time around, we laid some hay mulch in between the plants. This layer slowed down the rain hitting the soil surface and prevented that damage. It also prevents the water from evaporating, keeping the soil moist longer. You can see how this strategy would help in a drought situation too.

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Choose shorter, sturdier corn varieties than we did! Like us, you may want to grow the biggest, baddest dry corn around, the one that grows 18 feet high, has two big ears per stalk, and takes over 100 days to mature. Learn from my mistakes–that’s not the corn for small mountain gardens! Tall, heavy, late maturing varieties in a small scale garden can so easily blow over in the high winds we get these late summer storms. Maybe you’ll have way better luck than us, but I just want to warn you so you don’t get disappointed by fallen, immature corn like us.

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Farming has always been a risky endeavor, and as the changing climate increases the likelihood of these extreme events, it’s only getting riskier. I am grateful we are gardening in a community that cares about how we all get fed. If you have any suggestions of your own to add to the conversation, don’t hesitate to comment or contact us!

Calling all ye bowls

Two organizations in Yancey and Mitchell Counties host Empty Bowls events to support efforts to address hunger in our communities. We’re teaming up with Shepherd’s Staff in Mitchell County to collect bowls from generous clay artists in our area to make these events successful. For more information on how to donate bowls to Dig In! and Shepherd’s Staff 2018 Empty Bowls events, please click on this link: Call for Empty Bowls

Goose Corn

Olivia Sanders, Dig In! Field Manager

Heirloom corn– with its dented kernels and browning, wormy tip, it doesn’t look like it belongs in the same world as the shiny, uniform corn in the supermarket. And in some ways, it lives in a different world entirely. Heirloom foods are historical breeds that have been saved and refined for generations, many of them passing through families to a time before European colonization. They represent the diversity and the stories that were present on our dinner plates before commercial breeds we now see in the grocery store became ubiquitous. While our heirloom field corn might not look pretty to many of us, to some of our neighbors it looks just right. It may look just like the grain they grew up shucking, hanging in barns, and taking to the grist mill. This corn has passed through so many hands and carries the intergenerational story of Appalachian agriculture.

We planted our heirloom variety “Goose corn” kernels in circular mounds in June, guarding the sprouts with row cover until they grew too big to fit in a crow’s mouth. After that, we stood back and watched them grow. When the volunteers would arrive for our weekly work together day, the most common greeting was “Would you look at the corn!”

When we harvested the ears in mid-October, they sparked even more conversation. The dense, long ears that were white or red doesn’t look like typical summer barbeque sweet corn. That’s because Goose corn is a type of “dent” corn (also called “field” corn) that is traditionally dried and ground into cornmeal. This means that you harvest it once the kernels have small dents in each one, revealing that they are mature and losing moisture. After we harvested the corn, we hung it in our barn to dry. During the winter we’ll scrape the kernels off their cobs, winnow it, and grind it into meal, carrying on the story of so many Appalachian farmers before us. And like them, we’ll also save about a third of the seed to plant out next year.

The story of this Goose corn extends far beyond our few short months spent with it. We received the seeds from our neighbor Jim Veteto, who directs the nonprofit Appalachian Institute for Mountain Studies (AIMS), a group that works to save heirloom varieties and keep them in production. The seeds for our unique variety of Goose Corn came from Bald Mountain in the northwest corner of Yancey county, where they have been selected and planted by several generations of Yancey County settlers. Jim explained to us that for seeds to stay viable and genetically diverse, they need to be grown out every year or two. This allows them to keep growing and adapting to the conditions that vary from year to year.

By planting these seeds and saving them for future generations, Dig In! is grateful to continue the agricultural traditions of our region. We think heirloom foods represent an important part of our history that can live on through our work and create a more resilient, diverse food system. We’d like to give a big thanks to all the farmers before us who worked with this land to bring us regionally adapted varieties, to AIMS and Jim Veteto for making these seeds available to us, and to everyone who supports our work in this county!

Autumn Reflections


First, second, and third frosts have now settled on the garden, and we feel the transition to winter blowing down the valley. Summer crops have been frost bitten and hauled to the compost bin. The garden is putting on its winter layers of mulch and cover crops. We’ll continue to harvest our few crops that don’t mind the chilly weather, but mostly our garden and gardeners will soon rest for the season.

As things settle down, we can’t help but reflect and be amazed at what has been accomplished in this first year of growing at Blankenship Creek. The pictures above were taken in early March, July, and late October, 2017 (from top to bottom); they reveal how our gardeners have moved mountains this season, transforming a bare pasture to a thriving community garden. This has been such an incredible journey to share with you all. The generous folks in this community have continued to support our work in so many ways: spending time at the garden, donating tools and supplies, attending our fundraisers, and so much more. We are so grateful to grow with you all.

During this time of rest we will reflect, plan, and prepare for the upcoming growing season. Keep abreast of these activities on this blog and our Facebook page. We hope you have a restful and joyful winter.

With gratitude,
Olivia (Field Manager) and Kathleen (ED & Garden Manager) 

From Field to Farm

Our new garden site has transformed over the course of a few short months. Thanks to everyone’s hard work, we have a brand new community garden!

Posted by Olivia Sanders, Dig In! Field Manager

What a whirlwind season it has been at the farm! From the foggy mornings of March to these warm summer days,  so many people working at Dig In! have been consistently, carefully crafting gardens and a farm from scratch. We’re quite proud of the transformation the earth we’ve cultivated has undergone in just a few months, and we want to share the story with you.

Last autumn, many of you took part in the transition of the garden on Bolens Creek to Blankenship Creek. In a matter of a few weeks, we picked every tool and material we could take with us–unfortunately we had to leave the soil– and brought them to our new home off of Prices Creek Road. We transplanted perennials, planted garlic, tucked tools away in our new barn, and waited patiently for the ground to freeze and thaw again. We held planning meetings through the cold of winter with our volunteers, local farmers, and permaculturists to dream about what the new farm would look like.

In early spring, we stepped onto the new ground with big dreams from our winter planning sessions. Looking at the five acres of blank pasture felt both inspiring and terrifying–where would we begin? The brown rectangle of tilled soil we saw didn’t exactly look like a community garden.

But slowly, the garden has taken shape. Week by week, our volunteer gardeners have painted their creative ideas over the blank slate. Soil was flipped into double dug, bio-intensive beds. Cardboard was layered into “lasagna” sheet mulching. Pocket-sized pollinator gardens popped up in corners. Daily we are surprised by some aspect of the garden’s new look. Each person leaves their mark in their own way. The garden has become an amazing collage of the community’s work, which in totality no one person can take credit for.

Now, we’re in the swing of high summer with nearly everything planted, weeded, mulched, and  growing strong. Harvesting our first flush of ripe tomatoes last week was a joyful milestone–I can’t think of a better reward for hard work than a ripe, heirloom tomato. A farm’s work is never done, but I am relieved at how established the new garden feels thanks to our everyone’s dedicated work. Just a couple months ago, I couldn’t have imagined the beauty and productivity you all have created.

Dig In! Community Garden is grateful to grow with everyone in this community. Everyone’s hard work creates a community garden where people can grow food, knowledge, friendships, and food security for Yancey County. Thank you to every person who has been a part of our growth and transition!

Join us in the gardens as we work together on Tuesday evenings 5 p.m. until sundown and Thursday mornings 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.