The Road Less Traveled

25 08 2010

The road into the Meadowcreek valley is usually pretty quiet. Limited to the neighbors and a few locals who enjoy nearby swimming holes, traffic is usually drowned out by the chirping of birds and buzz of insects. Most of the time we can even tell who’s driving down the mountain by the sound of their car. If you’ve ever wondered about the meaning of “tranquility”, just move to a rarely traveled road for the best definition.

I was turning my compost pile in the front yard this morning as the caravan of vehicles made its way down the mountain. From the air, I imagine they must have looked like a colony of termites slowly working their way through the woods, twisting and turning along the steep and cumbersome (yet oh-so-charming!) dirt road. Had I not known they were coming, the shiny white government vehicles might have been cause for alarm. Instead, I was ecstatic to see them, but not because I knew who they were and why they were coming. Rather, I was excited because for the first time since beginning my residency here, PEOPLE WERE COMING TO THE VALLEY TO LEARN!

The Ozark Highlands Office of The Nature Conservancy was hosting a workshop on the maintenance of dirt and gravel roads, and let me tell you, they could not have chosen a better site for a demonstration! Meadowcreek is a great destination for quaint country sight-seeing but the road that seems so idyllic to Sunday Drivers can present a challenge to daily commuters. If there’s a malady that can affect a rural roadway, we probably have it. Luckily, The Nature Conservancy arranged for the Stone County Street Department to bring their graders down for the workshop.

Arrangements for the workshop attendees and sponsors to have lunch at our dorms had been made, and I headed down to make sure the facilities were in order. (A big thank you to Sage Holland for the use of her vacuum and donation of her superb mopping abilities, as well as to Kaylee Tejeda for his plumbing know-how!) After some tidying up and re-arranging of furniture, Meadowcreek was ready to host our 25-30 guests from across the state of Arkansas.

Honestly, I was unprepared for the enthusiastic questioning from some of the diners. I’ve talked about Meadowcreek in casual conversation before, and I have most of the “History of Meadowcreek” from the website memorized, but I’d never had such a captive audience! How motivational and invigorating it is to have people show interest in a project you are passionate about. “This place has so much potential” seemed to be the mantra of the day, an affirmation of why I am here.

It was also a good day for networking, both with The Nature Conservancy staff and government officials from various towns and counties in the region. I’m looking forward to learning more about Project Wet, Project Wild, and Project Learning Tree, which one attendee noted would be excellent programs for Meadowcreek to offer. And perhaps The Nature Conservancy will keep us in mind as a meeting facility if they offer more workshops here in the future.

In other news, Meadowcreek has two major projects in the works. Charles and Shirley Rosenbaum, with the assistance of John North, are working with the Humane Society on a Horse Rescue Mission to aid in the rehabilitation of neglected and abused horses. Country Oaks Bed and Breakfast in nearby Mountain View has generously donated hay to help with the feed needs of the rescue horses. Horses may be sponsored by individuals or groups to help provide for the veterinary, grooming, and other needs of the horses. Lodging is available for those who would enjoy extended visits with the horse(s) they sponsor, and riding is permitted.

Bev Dunaway is actively pursuing funding opportunities for the construction of the Meadowcreek Greenhouse. We already have a greenhouse frame, it just needs to have new ends built, center support posts added, and a cover put on. The completion of the greenhouse will enable Meadowcreek to provide a variety of gardening and agriculture-related programs during an extended growing season. I’ve been working on a budget for a “dream greenhouse” that we can use as a demonstration model for market gardeners and folks with an interest in year-round harvesting.

If you plan on being in the area and would like to stop in to see our progress, feel free to drop me a line. We’ll even let you go for a ride on our brand new tire swing while you’re here!

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We’re Sitting on Go!

17 06 2010

Just a quick note to share some exciting “news”. I’ve been pondering the possibility of programs well-suited to the environment and facilities that Meadowcreek has to offer. I believe that we have, hands-down, the most beautiful site in the state for a variety of educational opportunities. The serenity students find here serves as a catalyst, opening their minds to new knowledge and experiences. No matter your background, vocation, or aspirations, attending a program at Meadowcreek precipitates a paradigm shift.

For those of you who’ve tracked Meadowcreek over the years, you’re familiar with the various challenges we’ve encountered. Funding and organizational structure have been at the forefront of those obstacles. As I delve further into the “solution finding” phase of my residency, it has become clear that these two elements are intimately intertwined. Like the age old chicken-egg dilemma, I’m constantly wondering “which comes first, the programs or the infrastructure/assets?”

I’m looking forward to fund raising: As surely as I believe that Meadowcreek is worth my time and energy, I am certain it deserves the financial support of donors and foundations who share our principles of education, sustainability, and leadership. But the question that begs to be answered is “What are we funding?” It’s an inquiry I ask of myself, and one that grant makers expect I will be able to answer.

Finally, I have a feasible program concept. Bev Dunaway, one of our amazing board members, is also the Stone County Farmer’s Market manager. She recently introduced me to Dustin Black, a young man full of energy, enthusiasm, and ambition during the Market.

Dustin recently graduated from Le Cordon Bleu culinary institute in Orlando, Florida, and has started a grass-roots business called Ozark Mountain Foods. He’s working with Stone County farmers to turn their surplus produce into value-added products with mass appeal. His goal is national distribution of wholesome, hand-crafted provisions that benefit both the consumers and the farmers.

As I’ve been working tirelessly in the garden (and looking forward to my first day as a Farmer’s Market vendor!), it seems that horticulture has permeated all aspects of my life. I have seedlings growing behind my shop in town, can be found perusing farm supply catalogs behind the cash register, and exhibit the tell-tale “dirt under my nails” when I show up to work directly from the garden. This has led several of my customers to inquire, “How do you know how to do all that?” While gardening is by no means “easy”, it’s something almost anyone can do and enjoy. Eventually, I found myself brave enough to answer, “Well, I’ve just moved out to Meadowcreek, and I’ve been thinking about offering classes…” This has been met with a resounding, “That would be wonderful, please let me know when you start!” on several occasions

So there I was, pulling weeds and mulling over curriculum ideas. Then, the epiphany: What could be better than learning to not only grow your own food, but also how to prepare your garden vittles? Not much! And so the vision was born. This evening I ran it by Dustin who agreed it would be an outstanding collaboration.

“From Home Grown to Home Made” That’s our working title, and I’m a little bit proud of it. What do you think?

The project is in its infancy, of course, and I’ve yet to pitch a proposal to the Board of Directors. There’s still a syllabus to write, marketing to undertake, and facilities to prepare. But if rehabilitating Meadowcreek were a race, initiating a successful program is the starting line. Slowly, steadily we will overcome hurdles, passing the baton of knowledge from resident instructors to students. The finish line is inconsequential; it’s the journey that matters.