As spring has arrived (technically, anyway), our gardening programs in Kentucky and Virginia are working diligently to ensure they are ready to hit the ground running when it comes time to put seeds and seedling to ground.
In Kentucky, our partner, the Puckett Family Community Garden in Lee County, will once again be planting on its two-acre property vegetables and fruits and distribute the produce free to the elderly and disabled living at home and local homeless shelters benefiting an estimated 200 individuals.
Also in Kentucky, for the first time, Americans Helping Americans® is providing grant funding for a teacher at the Lee County high school to teach 50 teenagers the basics of hydroponic growing to help ensure food security in the distressed Appalachian community.
In Marion, Virginia, with grant funding from Americans Helping Americans®, our partner there Sprouting Hope is planning on doubling the number of participants in its Homegrown program which provides support, education and materials to budding gardeners enabling them to grow vegetables and fruits in their own backyards. All residents of Smyth County were eligible to apply and “all you need is a place for your garden or raised beds with light and access to clean water.”
In previous years, the program could only accommodate only 10 families, but this year, thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, we are able to increase our funding this year to enable an additional 10 families to participate – focusing on low-income households who quality for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Another exciting development this year is that among the Homegrown participants will be students from the nearby Emory and Henry College School of Health Sciences which offers undergrad and nursing programs, as well as graduate programs in physical and occupational therapy, physician assistant, and more.
Emory and Henry graduate students reached out to see how Sprouting Hope would be able to help them start a community garden right on campus and take part along with all the other Homegrown participants. The goal is to open the garden up to the local community, and specifically for those who do not have a place to establish a garden themselves.
Among those who benefited from the Homegrown program last year were Amanda and David, a young couple who wanted to have healthier food options for themselves with fewer chemicals.
For Amanda, the idea of starting their own garden was a bit overwhelming, having attempted previously on her own with little success. At the start of the growing season, her confidence was low but with the knowledge she gained regarding plant spacing, companion planting and pest management during classes and home visits by Sprouting Hope staff she showed steady improvement in her gardening skills.
The overarching goal of Sprouting Hope is to decrease food insecurity and increase knowledge of sustainable food in the local community, while also providing the support to achieve this mission.
And perhaps the biggest indicator of the success of the program is that several of the families who took part last year are returning to participate again this year – not as students, but as mentors to the new crop of Homegrown participants.
“There are quite a few folks looking forward to this year’s program as a result of last year’s participants’ success,” commented Sprouting Hope program coordinator Sarah Jo Jones