West Virginians are no strangers to resiliency.
Through tragic flooding in southern counties and challenging economic times, the state’s people have a way of bouncing back.
That’s why community programs created to help people recover and get back on their feet—such as Fruits of Labor’s Farm-to Table American Culinary Federation Culinary and Agricultural Quality Program in Greenbrier County— are essential to a resilient people.
Now in its 16th year, Fruits of Labor, Inc. initiated its first series of training programs in 2013 called Seeds of Recovery, a program offered by the Fruits of Labor’s Training Café and Bakery in Rainelle. The training program addresses the growing drug epidemic across the state by providing services, free of charge, to men and women in the West Virginia drug court system who are overcoming addiction.
“Seeds of Recovery is often the last chance for our students to do something—meaning if they don’t, the alternative could be jail time,” said Elizabeth Reynolds, West Virginia University Extension Service Nutrition Outreach Instructor. “Students volunteer with this program with the understanding that they have got to want help in order to receive it—once that happens, they are surrounded by love, encouragement and absolutely zero judgment throughout their journey here with us.”
Reynolds supports the Fruits of Labor mission by providing WVU Extension’s Eating Smart, Being Active course, which teaches nutritional programming as part of the students’ curriculum and is federally funded by the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Reynolds’ course is just one component of the students’ overall education at Fruits of Labor’s training programs.
In 2014, Fruits of Labor collaborated with the WVU Extension Service to provide additional nutrition training and certificates for the students. Two years later, the “Seeds of Hope” program was developed to offer similar training for at-risk youths, individuals aging out of the foster care system, and young adults in difficult transitions or living in underserved areas. Participants in this program obtain certification and learn skills that aim to prevent addictive patterns or unhealthy life choices.
According to Reynolds, the Seeds of Recovery/Seeds of Hope programs teach more than cooking skills and nutritional education—it’s a chance to help students learn how to provide and be with their families and kids in a healthy way, both physically and socially.
“Many of our students have children and simply need to know that there are people out there who want to help them get back on the right track,” said Reynolds. “They get that support with these programs.”
The programs’ graduate statistics are proof of their effectiveness, with a 75 percent graduation rate among Seeds of Recovery participants over the last five years. Seeds of Hope has a 100 percent graduation rate throughout the past three years. Additionally, 90 percent of those enrolled in drug courts go on to successfully graduate from the program.
Elana Smith-Kearney, a graduate of the Seeds of Recovery program, plans to become certified by the American Culinary Federation and has set her sights on becoming an executive chef of her own restaurant one day.
“This program has had a profound influence on my life,” said Kearney. “The entire staff built me up, pushed me to do better and was always such an encouragement—[they] brought hope back into my life.”
Perhaps just as important as career skills are the life skills and lessons that students carry home with them upon graduation, according to Tammy Jordan, President and Founder of Fruits of Labor, Inc.
“Extension’s nutrition curriculum helps our students understand not only the power of nutrition, but the power of eating meals together with their families,” said Jordan, who also serves as a member of the WVU National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health’s community partnership in Greenbrier County, which offers a Women on Wellness program in Rainelle. “Understanding how their food choices impact their bodies and how to throw together quick and easy meals for home cooking.”
Kearney, who took WVU Extension’s nutrition courses as part of the Seeds of Recovery curriculum, echoes Jordan’s sentiments.
“I learned how important healthy eating and exercise are to my overall health,” said Kearney. “In order to live a happy, healthy life, I must nourish my mind, body and soul.”
The program was jeopardized in 2016 when historic flooding all but swept away Fruits of Labor’s educational training center and café and bakery in Rainelle.
As the floodwaters rose, the entire staff was trapped upstairs until help arrived the next day.
“We lost a lot,” said Jordan. “Flood surges toppled over our dish stations, and we lost the majority of our culinary equipment, supplies, tables and chairs. All of us trapped inside lost our vehicles.”
True to their resilient nature, staff members and students bounced back by not only partnering with organizations to clean up and rebuild, but also by jumping full force into recovery efforts for others who lost everything.
“We provided water and lodging for visitors and responders, distributed personal hygiene items, Bibles and essentials to three different towns, and gathered towels, non-perishable food, water, laundry detergent and cleaning items from multiple churches to give to a local shelter providing showers, food and provisions to families in need,” said Jordan.
Staff and Seeds of Recovery/Seeds of Hope students continue to provide 100 free meals each month at the Café for Community Gatherings—an event aimed at healing the community where discussions of flood recovery, health, addiction and more take place.
Despite setbacks and adversity, the program and its students continue to push forward. Much like its response to the 2016 flooding, many Fruits of Labor graduates are on the road to a brighter future.
“Fruits of Labor’s cleanup and recovery encouraged the entire town to pick up and move on in the midst of so much devastation,” said Reynolds. “For the students who learn in this compassionate environment, some begin their careers in the bakery after graduation, while others know they can always reach out even after the program ends. Seeds of Recovery has touched their lives in a way that nobody else has—and it’s taught me that if you can surround someone with positive people, you can help them recover through hard times.”
To learn more about Fruits of Labor or Seeds of Recovery/Seeds of Hope program, visit www.fruitsoflaborinc.com
To learn more about the WVU Extension Service and its family and nutrition based programs, visit www.extension.wvu.edu.
The WVU Extension Service is a primary outreach division of West Virginia University. With offices in each of the state’s 55 counties, Extension faculty and staff develop and deliver programs in leadership, rural and community-based economic development, youth development, workforce development and health education.
Brittany Dick, WVU Extension Service Writer/Editor