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Seed samples in Elkhorn, West Virginia. Melissa Engle

Seed samples in Elkhorn, West Virginia. Melissa Engle

Providing seeds in Appalachia

Marla Pierson Lester
May 14, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mary Sturgill’s answer to rising food costs in the United States may well lie just outside her home in Eolia, Ky. – rows of corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, onions and lettuce, planted from seeds from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

Each spring, MCC provides seeds – donated by Mennonite-owned Rupp Seeds in Ohio, to families in Appalachia through organizations such as Eolia Christian Community Outreach (ECCO). Seeds are available to families who receive monthly food boxes at ECCO. They are also given out in ECCO’s thrift shop and extras are offered to area social workers to pass on to their clients.

“The seeds went faster this year than they ever did,” said Brenda Gross, director of Eolia Christian Community Outreach.

Sturgill, who serves as a volunteer in the thrift shop and has planted the MCC seeds for the last several years, said the produce will help area families manage their grocery bills not only in summer but also through the winter.

“Here not everybody puts out a garden. But the people that do, they can or freeze. It always helps in this area,” Sturgill said. “I usually can for my son and his wife. This helps them too. In the winter, you don’t have to go out and buy your corn and your beans, your tomatoes, your tomato juice.”

The people really hurt by rising costs in Appalachia, Sturgill said, will be those without gardens.

Gross has noticed rising prices on staples such as eggs, bread, milk and orange juice in her own shopping. She’s heard residents who come in for monthly food boxes express fear that prices will continue to rise.

Eolia Christian Community Outreach provides food boxes on the second Monday of each month, serving between 65 and 75 people, Gross said. Each food box includes a can of MCC meat.

Most of those who receive food are seniors living on a fixed income, Gross said. Many have few corners to cut if prices continue to rise. “You’ve got your electric bill. You’ve got your phone bill. You’re going to have to do without something,” Gross said.

The food is meant to provide a message of encouragement – and a reminder of Christ’s love.

“We just try to be the hands and heart of Christ,” Gross said. “We just let them know somebody cares what’s going on with your life. We can’t change your life, but we can give you some food. We can give you some clothes. We’re just trying to present the love of Christ through being a helping hand.”