Project GROW was founded in 2011 to work with others to restore our Penn-York Valley's food system

Project GROW was funded in the summer of 2013 to pilot our Youth Training Initiative, one of the most heartfelt and intimate aspects of our mission: to teach kids to grow, prepare and eat fresh local seasonal food.

Our three pronged strategy to accomplish our mission to work with others to transform our local food system is best expressed in our Youth Training Initiative:  collaboration, education and restoration.

1. Collaboration -
Working with others is central

As of the summer of 2013, Project GROW actively works in partnership with two school systems, four churches, innumerable agencies and a score of volunteers as well as a hands-on Board of Directors. In 2013, having been awarded our 501c3 not-for-profit status, we were able to launch our pilot Youth Training Initiative, to begin to train teens in growing food and in the values and the culture around being local to your own home watershed. The Hooker Foundation and Tioga County NY's Department of Social Services as well as Bradford County's United Way voted to donate significant funds to this effort, for which we are grateful!

2. Education - College isn't for everyone

We are beginning to develop a curriculum that is, in the words of a permaculture instructor, “at the leading edge of a thousand year old technology." The curriculum is somewhat described in this booklet in its pilot form but includes principles of diverse small-scale organic farming/gardening, wildcrafting, preserving and canning, paleotechnology, cheesemaking and fermentation, using block and tackle/come-alongs, using books for identification, writing, measuring and math skills, with a close look at pollinators, soil structure and worms. RESTORATION/ Work on what has been spoiled We were so fortunate to be able to hold our pilot on the Miller Estate in Waverly NY which was designed on the scale of an Italianate villa, with grapevine arbors, an orchard, espaliered fruit trees, fountains, circular planters around a gazebo, and a fenced garden with eight raised beds flanked by large flat dirt surfaces. The gardens, which had been neglected for a long time, have been perfect to demonstrate this one aspect

3. RESTORATION - Work on what has been spoiled

We were so fortunate to be able to hold our pilot on the Miller Estate in Waverly NY which was designed on the scale of an Italianate villa, with grapevine arbors, an orchard, espaliered fruit trees, fountains, circular planters around a gazebo, and a fenced garden with eight raised beds flanked by large flat dirt surfaces. The gardens, which had been neglected for a long time, have been perfect to demonstrate this one aspect of restoration.

Youth Training Initiative Leadership

Introducing our leadership for pilot YTI 2013

Joe Mullen
Artist, college professor, builder and river guide

Chief Treebeard
A medicine chief of the Big Horn Lenape Band, David Chamberlain is also an author, a builder and gardener, and a father of three sons.

At first, when I entered into working with Project Grow, I was wondering how it would all work out. I knew it would, I just didn't know how. Without a solid land base, our own kitchen, etc. everything went smoothly. I really enjoyed cooking for everyone, and in the process I learned how to make decent pizza. Even though at times I had some things to teach, I also learned much and gained some new experience. Had clams cooked on pine needles, learned of berm & swale gardening. It was fun working with the young people. They were a good group, and I enjoyed their youthful exuberance. Working with these young people gave me hope for the future. If they listened to one thing in our many philosophical discussions, we succeeded with them; I hope they remain open-minded, and continue to consider & to think outside the box.

Destiny was great at co-coordinating everything, Joe, great at cementing order and starting dialogue, and showing even me a few new things. It was a pleasure, to serve and to share my knowledge.

Memories: Di going to make mozzarella & finding she had the wrong milk; Caleb playing the bongos; the chattering and giggling of young women/ remembering my youth at that age; the many demonstrations given by Joe; the bat in the kitchen as I was trying to make bread; Destiny, keeping everything together & so many things happening at once, in different directions; the beauty of the Miller Estate; meeting new people.

Wawoolamulsee! Tree Beard

Destiny Kinal
Co-founder of Reinhabitory Institute, with Judith Thomas, and co-founder of Project GROW, with RI's principals and the core committee of Project GROW in 2011.

Doing this--working with kids to engage them in their local watershed, its history and character--has been an ongoing dream of mine since our first bi-county team with Carantouan Greenway 15 years ago, building the Forbidden Path. Teachers of theirs at the time noted that the summer had been transformative for the students. In Buffalo, at a similar but urban Mass Ave Project, students graduated from high school at a 90+% rate against a background for Buffalo of 24%. I have always regretted that we didn't track our kids to see how they turned out as adults.

With Youth Training Initiative, we intend to stay in touch with our pilot group of six kids, and use them next year to seed into a new group of kids, our senior mentors.

Rose Lerche (Larkie)
Rose lives her life in service. When Destiny discovered that a family commitment would keep her out for the first two weeks of the program, Rose stepped up. Rose laid down the pattern of recordkeeping that would make Destiny's stepping back in crystal clear: attendance, work in the journals, the log of days, harvesting, lunch preparation and eating...all were set for both students and directors by the miraculous Rose.

MAPS OF THE MAIN GARDENS As Drawn by Mariah Leonard

MAPS OF THE MAIN GARDENS As Drawn by Emily Strenger


Every day we harvested. Every morning we ate Cheerios with organic milk and blueberries. Every morning we were visited by our two Andys: HEROES BOCES supervisor Andrew Richards and landowner with Rose Miller, Andy Brammer. (Two lucky can we get!)For lunch, on Monday we prepared and ate Mexican food, on Tuesday pizza and salad, on Wednesday a surprise: pasta, blue corn polenta, blueberry pancakes and beef hotdogs for example. Being hosted by Waverly Methodist Church, our HEROES, provided us with an excellent professional kitchen with space for all students around the stainless steel island. Every day we referred to our mentor Mr. Alfred Spadaro, our HERO, who died in March at 94.

BLUE CORN, An interview with Chief Treebeard, Medicine Man of the Big Horn Lenape band by Sonya


How did you develop the blue corn?

Chief Treebeard:

There was a multicolored corn planted continuously by a family in Delaware since the 1600's. I took the blue kernels out of the ears and planted them. It took me ten years to get a fully blue-kernelled corn. We used to have it a long time ago. We know how it was used. It was originally a warriors', a hunters' food. It was dried and roasted, carried in a bag. When you came to water, you could add water and eat it. Very nutritious. We had it tested by a lab. Lots of vitamins and minerals in it that yellow corn doesn't have.


Could you tell me your recipe for blue corn?

Chief Treebeard:

You grind it up. Add water and cook it to a gruel. You can eat it like that or you can let it cool. It jells then you slice it up and fry it.


Can you tell me about the red corn?

Chief Treebeard:

It's called Star Corn. Kept in a family in Delaware since the 1600's. There's a starburst pattern in each kernel.

An Account of the Flood by Kat

The day of the flood, I was in my house sleeping, when I got woke up by the sound of my aunt yelling at me, saying, "There's water flooding the streets!" Everyone in my house rushed to get all of our important things from the downstairs to the upstairs. The water was rising quickly. We got most of our valuables, then we had to figure out where we would go.

Who was in my house at the time?--my grandma, my aunt, her two kids, her mother-in-law, and me. Luckily our cousins lived right up the road so we quickly got the little kids up there, then got our pets and more of our things out of the house.
Shortly after we got done, the water had risen way higher. I saw people stuck in their homes with their pets. I had also seen people riding jet skis and canoes in the flood water so they could get somewhere safe.

The water had filled at least the first floor of my house, so we had lost many of our things. We weren't worried about things so much as making sure everyone was safe.

I had to help my one friend Lindsey get her dogs and cats out of her house because they were stuck on the second floor. Lindsey lived right around the corner from me, so it was easy for her to find someone to help her. When I went over to her house, the water was in the first floor up to my waist like almost every other house in that area.

At first I didn't want to go in there because the water was nasty; all brown, it smelt like someone forgot to take their garbage out for about a month. I knew she would do the same for me so I went in anyways.

Lindsey had one dog named peek-a-boo but everyone just called her Peek. Lindsey had three cats but I don't remember their names because they were never inside. Going in that house, walking through the water, was the most disgusting thing ever, but when we finally got upstairs her animals were all in the same spot, in her grandma's room on the bed, looking so cute but also scared.

Knowing that I helped save her pets made me really happy. Her dog was like family to me too. When we walked down the stairs with them in our arms and got into the water, they started to freak out. Lindsay and I got scratched like crazy by her pets but we finally got them out and that's all that mattered.

Interview with Mister Joe Mullen by Sonya

Tell me about yourself.

Mister Joe:
I'm almost sixty. I'm an artist.

I heard that you are a college professor.

Mister Joe:
Yes I taught college for 18 years, a Survey of Fine Art and Introduction to Philosophy. I have degrees in both.

Did you say you like boating and fishing?

Mister Joe:
I fell in the river just last night. I was walking in the river after dark and I fell three times, skinned my knee.

You were walking over water?

Mister Joe:
No I can't do that. Not even a tiny bit.

What do you do in your spare time?

Mister Joe:
I'm on the river. I enjoy gardening. I'm enjoying the company of you kids. I missed Kat when she was out.

What haven't I asked you that you might tell me?

Mister Joe:
I worked on the Greenway with Destiny. We floated boats down the river and picked up garbage. We filled a forty yard dumpster with garbage rom the river. Oh! And I am waiting for a very wealthy person to discover one of my art projects, a monument to Adam, based on Mark Twain's writing. The City of Elmira has approved it but we still have to raise the money to cast it in bronze.

Mark Twain's corpse is still waiting.

PERMACULTURE PRINCIPLES: The Leading Edge of Thousand Year Old Technologies

Permaculture is a terrible name for the restoration of practices that have been proven effective over the centuries.

Many farmers around here plant by the moon
Things growing above ground planted in the waxing moon between new moon and full moon. Things growing below the ground planted in the waning moon, between full moon and void of the moon.

Heirloom seeds
We tell the kids: an heirloom is something you inherit from your grandparents. Here in the Americas, native people developed corn, beans, squash, potatoes, tobacco, tomatoes!--vegetables that have spread around the world into cultures. Heirloom vegetables are the seeds families from Europe, Africa, Asia brought with them to this continent, sewn into pockets and hems, plants they couldn't imagine living without, heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds planted the next year grow exactly the same plant they came from while seeds from hybrids, like Big Boy and Early Girl, will not produce the same vegetable or flower. The two Valley school systems with greenhouses, Waverly and Athens have been growing our heirloom plants for our gardens for three years now!
OUR HEROES: David Steinfelt and Tim Wolcott!

Diversity within the bed
We interplant certain flowers and herbs with our vegetables. These attract beneficial insects and repel the marauders. In addition to making beautiful beds, the herbs and flowers enliven our menu and ensure our vegetables are pest free, without pesticides.

Creating soil
A variety of techniques allow us to continually enrich our soils. We have learned from county agencies and from our teachers not to rototill our beds as it destroys the soil structure. Use of leaf mulch free from our Barton Township Pit (HEROES Crow and his staff) introduces healthy worms into our beds, mulches the soil to prevent weeds, conserves water, and feeds our beds as it degrades. We have so many uses for straw, again, to create beds, keep out weeds, feed soil, and protect seedlings. Liz Hibbard of Project GROW's board and director of Sayre House of Hope is leading the charge to innovate use of straw bales for planting.

Garden structures
Every structure should have multiple uses. We plan to plant kiwi (they grow here but take six year or so to establish and bear) on Miller's pergolas. We are using chicken wire cages to grow potatoes (we'll see. We thank our HERO YouTube for this.) Young people did some heavy labor before YTI started early July digging and establishing our berm and swale structure in the soil at Millers. The swale is the path that composts weeds and distributes water. The berm, 3-4 feet higher than the swale, provides a planting surface for vegetables. Three Sisters, a technique used by the Haudenausaunee (the name the Iroquois have for themselves), creates a rich mound onto which are planted corn at the top, beans to grow up the corn, and squash at the base to shade out weeds and conserve water.

Paleotechnology; making fire with friction sticks by Justice Crawn

~  In order to have a high chance to make a fire you need to make a bow.

~  To achieve the bow, you tie raw deer hide rope to a decent length stick, self tightening loop knot. If you don't have the rope you can use a 550 parachute cord or a shoe lace.

~  Once the bow is ready, you place your spindle into the hide rope and use a back and forth sawing action to create the ember on the fire board.

~  You place a rock on top of the spindle while rubbing it to apply a downwards force, creating friction at the top concentrating friction at the bottom where fire is being created.

~  once an ember is created, you put it in a tinder nest; we used dried nettle, the inside bark of cedar scraped to be fluffy, sap from pine cones.

~  Blow in the tinder nest on the ember to create fire.

Team Members


We are especially thankful to our partners in Tioga County NY who made this year's pilot possible:

  • Department of Social Services Summer Youth Employment team and BOCES. Especially noteworthy is Valerie Nitti who held the vision and made it happen!
  • Floyd Hooker Foundation caught the fire and funded a significant percent of Project GROW's portion of the expenses.
  • Bradford County PA is slated to come on board in 2014. We received significant help for Project GROW in 2013 and 2014 from United Way of Bradford County. Penn State Cooperative Extension and Bradford County Conservation District stepped up!
  • Rose Miller and Andy Brammer of the Miller Estate created access for Project GROW's Youth Training Initiative for the summer, essential! A legal basis for continuing this mutually beneficial arrangement is in the works.
  • Without the support of our two school systems' greenhouses and their staff and students, David Steinfelt at Athens and Tim Wolcott at Waverly, we wouldn't have gorgeous heirlooms to grow.
  • The members of the Board of Directors of Project GROW and of our mother organization Reinhabitory Institute provided solid support.
  • The directors of our first Youth Training Initiative, (alphabetical) David Chamberlain (Treebeard or Hittakonanaulax), Destiny Kinal, Rose Lerche, and Joe Mullen invented this program as we went. SEED is a record of our six weeks together.

Field Trip to Project GROW’s Youth Training & Penn-York Valley

All kids of Tioga County DSS Summer Youth Employment

  Take me back to
  Project GROW!