Last updated: July 18. 2013 11:20PM - 247 Views
Cris Ritchie

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CORDIA – Administrators at Lotts Creek Community School say a newly-acquired grant could help local communities build a more sustainable future.

The school was recently awarded funding through Grow Appalachia, an initiative begun in Berea in 2009 that aims to decrease the impact of food insecurity in Appalachia, with partner sites in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The overall goal is to increase knowledge and capacity for gardening in the region, something that is increasingly being lost with the younger generation of people, noted Jeff Combs, director of the wellness program at Lotts Creek Community School.

“We have kind of lost the sense of gardening and how to garden, especially part of my generation,” said Combs, who is 31. “It’s kind of a lost thing; kids don’t know anything about gardening.”

There are a few reasons for this decline in growing food locally, Combs said, including the ease with which more processed and less healthy foods can now be obtained cheaply through super markets.

With these grant funds, however, Combs said he expects that local children will benefit from an increased knowledge in gardening because it provides the tools to teach younger generations about the positive effects of growing their own food. The program will also represent a boon for the older generation of people who may wish to continue gardening, but are no longer able to prepare the soil.

“We’re trying to bring gardening back to a generation that’s no longer able, plus the generation that’s never done it,” Combs explained, adding the school will be able to not only till garden plots, but also provide fertilizer and seeds.

The program at Lotts Creek has already signed up 20 people to participate in the local service community, which includes Lotts Creek, Clear Creek, and Vicco. Combs noted that there are requirements for the participants, including that they attend a few educational classes and record their growth each month.

Another benefactor of the program will be the school’s food pantry, which serves 190 local families. Combs is donating the use of an acre of his own land in Perry County for a gardening plot, which in turn will supply the food pantry with fresh produce. And what isn’t taken from the pantry will be used in the after school program.

Combs said he views this program as one of the best the school will offer, because if it is successful it will not only help secure a more sustainable future for local families, but also a healthier one as it could guide people away from eating more processed foods. And while these foods may be cheaper than raw fruits and vegetables now, they may not remain so inexpensive. According to the latest Marketbasket Survey conducted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, food prices in Kentucky decreased by 1 percent in the state in the fourth quarter of 2012, but that followed a 2 percent increase the previous quarter.

“It’s all about getting people back into gardening and sustainability, especially with their food cost being so high,” Combs said. “Part of it is also the healthy aspect. You can’t eat stuff that’s processed. It’s a killer. We want people going back to eating more healthy food.”

Additionally, there are even instances, while not common, where raw fruits and vegetables purchased at stores have been contaminated with E. coli or some other potentially harmful agent. Growing food in your own back yard could help reduce the likelihood of contamination, Combs explained.

“Nothing can be healthier than something you grow in your back yard,” he said.

There is money available to help people with year round gardening, including construction of high tunnels and even raising chickens and goats, Combs said. At present, the program at Lotts Creek has signed its limit of participants, but as the grant is renewable each year, there would be a requirement to sign up more people if the grant is renewed. So, there is room for expansion next year.

In the meantime, Combs said he has been busy purchasing the necessary equipment and supplies to get the program up and running, and he’s looking forward to the local benefits that it could provide.

“I think it’s going to be one of the best things we do,” he said.

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