BIG UGLY, W.Va. -- Scott Butler is ready to disclose his family's secrets to his rural community.
Gardening secrets, that is.
Butler and his wife, Judy, are among 20 families who live along Big Ugly Creek Road and participate in Grow Appalachia, a charity that teaches rural people how to grow their own garden.
While some families have signed up to plant seeds and to till their own garden merely to learn how to do it, Butler, 49, wants to help those people. Other families know the right time to plant specific crops but they aren't willing to share their secrets, he said, and he doesn't understand why.
"There's a lot of people saying, 'I'm not giving up my secrets.' They think that a lot of the things they do are secrets but it ain't no secret how to grow food," Butler said. "As long as people aren't afraid that they're going to lose a family secret ... They're going to lose it if they take it with them. Then nobody will know it.
"Like Dad always told me, when you quit learning you might as well crawl in your pine box because you're dead."
Having families work together is one of the program's purposes, said David Cooke, director of Grow Appalachia for Berea College in Kentucky, and a Mingo County native.
Grow Appalachia is an outreach, educational, and service project of Berea College, Cooke said. John Paul DeJoria, co-founder and CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems, funds it.
In its third year, Grow Appalachia blossomed when Tommy Callahan -- one of DeJoria's vice presidents who grew up in Kentucky -- told DeJoria about the economic struggles in most rural areas and wanted to do more, Cooke explained.
DeJoria knows about hard times, Cooke said, considering he grew up dirt poor in Los Angeles and was once homeless.
Today, DeJoria is worth an estimated $4.2 billion. He also owns Patron brand tequila.
"As soon as he started making money, he started giving it away," Cooke said.
The first year, DeJoria donated $150,000 to start Grow Appalachia, allowing four groups in Kentucky and Tennessee to grow about 120,000 pounds of food.
The program grew the next year so that seven nonprofit organizations -- including West Virginia's first location in Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties at High Rocks Educational Foundation -- could grow gardens.
More than 200 families -- and nearly 700 people -- benefited from DeJoria's $200,000 donation. That impact covered 14 counties in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Virginia. The families grew more than 130,000 pounds of food last year, estimated at $1.53 per pound.
This year's $500,000 grant has sparked even more interest in the project. There are now 15 groups involved, including Lincoln County's Step by Step nonprofit, where Cooke served as board chairman.
The nonprofit is at the Big Ugly Community Center.
Esther Gray, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer serving with Step by Step, said the program benefits southern Lincoln County for several reasons.