Christina and I both spent a long time living in West Virginia and the state remains in our thoughts and hearts even as we have moved away. The state has fallen on hard times but I’m grateful to know that a person like Mallory Markowitz is working very hard to turn the tide in her own community. She’s making quite an impact in New Manchester, up in the Northern Panhandle region, with a project called Fruit N’ Holler. Based on the coverage she’s getting, people are noticing, including us. To learn more about what’s going on with Fruit N’ Holler, I wanted to interview Mallory and learn more about her work, why she’s doing this, and what she has planned for the future of this inspirational endeavor in Appalachia.
Mallory Markowitz of Fruit N’ Holler in West Virginia
What is Fruit N’ Holler and why did you start it?
I started Fruit n’ Holler because I want to help people. I’ve always had a calling for humanitarian work, and I am in a position where I couldn’t “uproot” and help abroad, which made me think about who needs help here and what could be done about it at home. I’ve always had a green thumb, and for me, being outside, surrounded by beauty is therapy and I wanted to give that to my community. The region where I live (and much of Appalachia) is poor in both economy and spirit.
The viral photograph depicting a heroin overdose with the frightened little boy in the backseat is 5 minutes from my home. I firmly believe that a large part of my area’s struggle with poverty and drug abuse is due to a disconnect with our identity as Appalachian people. By “identity,” I mean a lifestyle that was built on a lifestyle that’s rich in living off the land and gifted in craftsmanship and the arts. The name Fruit n’ Holler is a pun on the term “hoot n’ holler,” which is Appalachian slang for “calling out,” or “causing a ruckus,” which is exactly what I intend to do. Fruit n’ Holler is calling out, causing a ruckus for social change. It’s time to rediscover our roots.
Are there any similar initiatives like this in your area/elsewhere that inspired you?
There has been a resurgence in organic farming and community garden “communities,” which are designed to show people how to be self-sustaining, economic, and therapeutic. That absolutely inspires me, and that’s where my mind originally started, but I took it a step further in designing Fruit n’ Holler to be specifically Appalachian in aesthetics. By that, I mean a place for wildflowers, medicinal plants, native fruits and select vegetation, and CRAFTS! In the process, I’ve discovered that artisanship and skilled crafters are inhibited by lack of a user-friendly platform, so it’s become a safe place for that along the way.
What have been your toughest challenges to overcome in getting started?
My toughest challenge so far has been finding help! I am one person with 4.07 acres of rough landscape that needs constant attention and preparation, and finding consistent manpower has been difficult. Also, funding is hard to come by. I have used most of my own finances and I’m happy to do it. However, getting donations and lobbying my cause will be my next big challenge (I’m not a pro at either of those things). Also, most things are trial and error when you’re working with the land. What grows good here today might have squash bugs out the ears tomorrow! While frustrating, it’s a necessary part of a learning curve.
Future Plans and Goals
Where do you see this going or leading to in the future?
My hope is for Fruit n‘ Holler to become a regional outreach program. By next year, we will be having biweekly vendor shows and farmer’s markets, which makes a small income while providing one for our local growers and businesses. I will be hosting classes on canning, essential oil and medicinal extractions from herbs and flowers, and even classes touching on wilderness survival. In addition to those things, we will have an Opiate’s Anonymous meeting group, lead meditation sessions, yoga, and a safe space for philosophical gatherings (a place for intelligent minds to meet up and talk about global and regional issues, books, ideas, all that fun stuff). There is so much BEAUTY and honesty in Appalachia, and I want people to see that and benefit from it.
Any advice you’d like to give to someone wanting to do what you’re doing?
My advice is to lead with your heart. You will change your mind time and time again, but your heart will keep you where you need to be and show you where to go.
Our Thoughts and Yours, Too!
I can’t stop reading Mallory’s answers to my questions. They’re just so honest, heartwarming, and make me think that we should all be giving back to our communities. If you’d like to follow Mallory’s progress with Fruit n’ Holler, her Facebook Page is the best way to start.
Do you have anything like Fruit n’ Holler in your area? Have you started something like this? What do you think of the work that Mallory is doing? We’d love to read about it in the comments section below:)