Meet the winners of the 2020 mini-grants

Grayson LandCare is pleased to announce the 2020 mini-grant award winners.  Mini-grant awards are given to Grayson LandCare members to help them create or continue to support an idea that benefits the community.  Both the Free Market and Farmers Market began with mini-grant support. This year, Hap Alexander received $500 to continue his work with The Little Food Pantry he created in Mouth of Wilson, VA.  Kit Marshall received funding to support the Independence Mural project.  Nancy Liebrecht was awarded money to create student scholarships to attend workshops at the Fiber Festival.  Mitchell Britt was awarded $500 to help establish an orchard that will be used for teaching as well as eventual cider production. Although the normal requirement states that the money must be spent in the award year, exceptions will be made this year if Nancy and Kit are unable to proceed with their projects due to Covid19 restrictions.

Hap and Suzanne Alexander bought an old farm in Mouth of Wilson in 2006 and began preparing for retirement… she from interior design, and he from the restaurant business on Topsail Island. They moved to Grayson County permanently around 2015.

Last year, Hap was looking for a way to serve others in the community, when he saw a Facebook post about a little roadside food pantry that had been fashioned after the ‘little free library’ concept. So, with help from carpenter friend, Brent Breedlove, and permission from the site’s landowner, a covered cupboard with glass doors was constructed on the side of the Highway 58, and the Little Free Food Pantry in Mouth of Wilson began in May of last year. Alexander filled it food, and people experiencing food insecurity began using the little pantry almost immediately. Churches and other folks in the community help stock the pantry with food as well, but Hap realized that they could not keep pace with the need without more help.

Grayson County Supervisor, Mike Hash, directed Alexander to Tina Johnson, of Springfield Church, who runs Hands of Grace Food Bank and The Way Camp in Elk Creek. This all volunteer organization is part of the Feeding Southwest Virginia/Feeding America network of food banks who are providing much needed food to folks in our community who are experiencing food insecurity. Hands of Grace allows the little pantry’s stewards to “glean” leftover non-perishable food items after each month’s food distribution. The Way Camp puts on a free yearly summer camp for around two hundred children.

Hap’s Grayson LandCare mini-grant of $500 was used to help Hands of Grace purchase more food in bulk, which in turn helps the little food pantry to remain stocked. If you would like to support both the Food Bank and the Little Free Food Pantry, you can mail your tax deductible donation to: Hands of Grace Food Bank, PO Box 24, Elk Creek, VA 24326. Write “LFFP” on your check. Hands of Grace is a 501 (C) (3) IRS recognized non-profit charitable organization. Donations are needed now more than ever.

Michell Britt has been interested in apples as long as he can remember.  He was raised in the Sedge Garden area of Forsyth county and his grandfather’s orchard was just down the road.  He grew up helping with the trees, even starting some from seed. That requires real patience. A grafted apple on an established root stock takes 7-10 years to really start producing fruit. Mitchell has been raising heirloom apple trees in Surry County for the last 7 years and has worked with regional apple producers such as; Diane Flynt, Horne Creek Southern Heritage Apple Collection, Lee Calhoun, Amanda Stewart with Virginia Tech, and many other farmers and orchardists looking to preserve our regions history and biodiversity.  One of Britt’s favorite cider apples is one with a rich history. “Hewe’s Crab is a plum sized crabapple especially well suited to blending with other apples for superb cider.  Most ciders are blends”, he goes on the explain, “although Diane was experimenting with single varietal ciders at Foggy Ridge.”

Mitchell’s grant application was based on the idea that “our nursery orchard could become a home base for Grayson County for seasonal Apple Scion production and grafting workshops sponsored by Grayson LandCare and the Grayson County Ag Extension office. I already have the genetics for grafting scion wood to make new trees and plan to work with Diane Flynt and Tracy Lounsbury to source root stock for Spring 2021. Both of these mentors would be available to help lead workshops as well.” he concluded.

Britt feels that offering these apples to area farmers could create a new revenue stream as production increases to meet the rising demand for quality cider apples.

Nancy Liebrecht is one of the founders of the Blue Ridge Fiber Festival as well as Fiber Days at the Independence Farmers Market and a member of the Blue Ridge Fiber Guild.  Nancy has created, advocated and promoted fiber arts since her arrival in Grayson County from Idaho in 2012 after a career in landscape architecture and environmental consulting.  

Nancy had planned to use her mini grant award to provide 10 scholarships to high school students in Grayson and Allegany Counties to take classes in the fiber arts at the Blue Ridge Fiber Fest.  The event has been postponed but the guild still hopes to offer scholarships to smaller gatherings through the summer. Each event will feature classes in a specific fiber art:  weaving, knitting, dyeing, and felting.  Each scholarship will include the cost of the classes and materials fees.  The goal is to keep these skills alive.  Fiber has a long history in Grayson county and is part of our rich artistic heritage.  In the event that the classes are not able to proceed, Nancy can carry her award until next year’s Fiber Festival.

Kit Marshall will use her mini-grant award to help fund the Downtown Independence Mural project. It’s fitting that the Mural will be on the side of one of the 2 businesses Steve and Kit have started in Independence, Paddleyaks. an outdoor recreation business in Independence featuring water sports, but including much more. The Marshalls participated and received the $10,000 first prize in the Mount Rogers Business Challenge, a competitive process to help foster business growth in the tourism sector in Grayson County. Organized by Blue Ridge Crossroads Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Grayson County Tourism, the challenge provided hands-on business training and networking. The creation of the Mural is part of the on-going development of Town Park at the corner of HWYs 21 and 58.  Kit has designed the mural and recruited area artists to assist in the transformation of a small drawing into a wall sized piece of public art highlighting local features including agriculture, music and the river.  A copy of the design can be seen at the Town of Independence office as well as in Kit’s home goods store, Home Feathers located at 116 West Main St., Independence.