On October 1, 2016, I travelled with the Virginia Tech Collegiate Young Farmers chapter to volunteer at Sinkland Farms in Christiansburg, Virginia. Every weekend in October, Sinkland Farms hosts festivals for everyone to participate in. Through connections within our young farmers chapter, we agreed to assist with one of their “Pumpkin Festivals”. Having been to similar pumpkin patches and fall festivals before hand, I had a general idea of what I was getting myself into. However, I found that this festival had similar qualities, but was definitely a unique experience that I was glad to have participated in.
Once we arrived at Sinkland Farms early that morning, we were immediately put to work by the festival organizers. Our first task as a group was to sweep and hose down the livestock barn, followed by bedding and prepping the box stalls. Coming from a dairy production background, I was pretty accustomed to the work assigned to us. Once the animals were brought into their respective stalls, we broke our group up to facilitate the various stations around the festival according to their needs. I was fortunate enough to stay with the “petting zoo” and communicate my knowledge of production agriculture with those attending the festival. I always enjoy talking to people at local and state fairs about my dairy project as they stroll past my pack, so it was really nice to communicate with the locals about agriculture. Although I technically live in the Appalachian region, interacting with the locals here proved different areas also inspire different thoughts and ideals within the region.
After a while, we switched stations to experience a new part of the festival. At this point, I was in charge of operating the potato cannon, which uses compressed air to launch a potato down at multiple targets. This was by far the most fun station I went to, and those who wanted to fire the cannon had a great time as well. It was so great to just relax and have fun with the festivalgoers and talk to them. As this station was very popular with the people, I got to see and interact with a wide variety of individuals.
My final task for the day was the most exhilarating of them all; parking cars for the second half of the day. While this task was rather uneventful, it was essential nonetheless to running a smooth festival. About 30 minutes into my shift, a lifted Ford F-150 Raptor pulled up, decked out in Freedom Motorsports decals. After talking with the driver, I learned that he was a former Marine who was disabled from his service. He started Freedom Motorsports from his home in Christiansburg and shared a lot about his life with me. Talking and learning about his struggles and how he works to over come them was really special and definitely made the trip worthwhile.
Volunteering at Sinkland Farms was a great way to experience the local Appalachian culture first hand. I learned that it definitely takes all kinds of kinds to make up the region, and the people were genuine and kind. Our group was actually asked to come back to help with future events, and I am definitely going to take advantage of future events with Sinkland Farms.
The second event that I attended for experiential learning was the Catoctin Colorfest on October 8, in Thurmont, Maryland. Each year around the
beginning/middle of October, Thurmont holds one of the largest arts and crafts shows on the east coast. Since I only live about 20 minutes away from Thurmont, I decided to go up with some of my friends and just walk the streets.
Thurmont is located at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, and there is always very little parking during Colorfest weekend. So naturally we drove around for a while just trying to get to the fire station where my friends volunteer at. Finally, we walked through the down to Main Street where all of the vendors are set up. I was absolutely amazed at how many people showed up and how far they traveled just to buy a few pieces each. Since a lot of my friends live in the Thurmont area, I had always been advised to save myself the trouble of going because it was a nightmare for the locals with roads being closed and the horrible traffic. However, I was glad I tagged along this time because it was definitely interesting to go just for a day.
While walking around, I saw so many people that I know very well, and even some that haven’t been around in a long time. The atmosphere is what really attracts the crowd because of the small town feel that Thurmont provides. The handmade and unique crafts are the main purpose of the event, and they definitely exceed expectations. So much of the culture of Appalachia can be seen through these arts and crafts because a lot of the vendors are from the region. Something as simple as an old milk can that is restored or painted has so much history and draws people from far and wide just to visit. I had the opportunity to talk to a lady while looking at one of the exhibits, and she was told me that her family travels up there from Georgia every year as part of their vacation just in the hopes of finding “that new, unique piece” for her home. The desire for buy-local products are high, and I was extremely glad to see that there is still a desire for Appalachian art.
While arts and craft shows are not my favorite events to attend on a weekend, I definitely had a good time being home with my friends and experiencing Colorfest for the first time. This event really opened my eyes to the Appalachian culture in my own county and I definitely view home differently because of it.