After enjoying some delicious homemade biscuits from Marie Webster, we headed over the mountain to Middlesboro, KY and met with Pat Biggerstaff, a local organic gardener with 72 years experience and passion for making things grow. She has organized several community gardens, and she is particularly enthusiastic about the next generation learning how to sustain themselves through gardening. “A community garden is hard work,” she said, reflecting on the challenges of people changing their lifestyles to participate in growing vegetables in raised beds, several of which are high above ground and handicap accessible. The key to organizing a community garden, she repeated more than once, is not creating an organization or a hierarchy. “We don’t have a president or vice president or anything like that,” she said. They focus on the work of planting and harvesting, and in county with a high unemployment, the benefits of the garden are obvious and numerous.
Following our tour of the garden, we enjoyed an excellent tour of Gap Cave at Cumberland Gap National Park, led by tour guide Lucas Wilder. The park is located in Virginia, but the location is at the point where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia meet. The cave functioned as a tourist attraction for decades before being purchased by the National Park Service. Lucas provided the natural history of the cave, increased our appreciation for the many bats we discovered, and helped us experience total darkness–the kind that can only be found deep in the ocean or cave. The drive to and from Middlesboro is a winding, mountain road, used often during the week by trucks loaded with coal. We saw evidence of stripping–mountaintop removal–noting the altered landscape, which looks more like the surface of Earth’s moon, rather than the forest that once stood there.
Students are ending the day around a fire, making Smores, sharing stories, and probably counting stars.