HAZARD — Spring is on its way, the season of growing and new life, and volunteers with Pathfinders have found a new way to help the community better itself while also showing off their green thumbs.
Jenny Williams, chair of the board of directors for Pathfinders of Perry County, said she, Karyn Knecht, and Allison Cooper, both Vistas working with Pathfinders and the Kentucky Mountain Health Alliance respectively, have come together in just the last few months to start a gardening initiative in Perry County.
“We all were really interested in food issues and in gardening and in access to healthy food and all of those things,” Williams said. “I kept saying I wish we could figure out a way to do it, and Ally said well let’s just do it. And I thought, you know, she’s right, we don’t need to write a bunch of grants. We’ve kind of got the ability to do this on a really small scale, so let’s do it on a small scale.”
Fueled by donations from local businesses and community members, Williams, Knecht, and Cooper began working with what they had, starting the initiative last month after a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day walk in town. Volunteers stopped by STAR Land in Hazard to help fill flower boxes with seeds that were later placed at the Perry County Public Library as a teaching garden. The initiative plans to also have gardening plots next to the Peace Garden in Hazard, one of which will be managed by volunteers from the homeless shelter, and has been trying to keep plans small until more help and funding could be found.
“We have nothing, we have zero budget for this at all,” Williams said. “We’re just kind of by hook or by crook finding [funds]. Karyn and Ally have looked at a few grants and written a few small ones, but we basically can do what we have to do with nothing.”
The initiative has received even more help in just the last few weeks from Grow Appalachia through the Lotts Creek Community School, which will be partnering to assist with the gardens. Grow Appalachia is an initiative that was begun in Berea in 2009 aiming to decrease the impact of food insecurity in Appalachia.
“It’s like a regional program that’s meant to kind of boost the local food system,” Knecht explained. “Basically, what they’re doing is, they primarily go out to local families who want to start home gardens to feed themselves and kind of like provide them with some materials and also a lot of education.”
Knecht said the those who are working with Grow Appalachia in Lotts Creek have offered their services to help till any land they plan to garden in, as well as provide seeds if needed.
“They’re not providing everything we need though. The main thing we need is volunteers,” she said.
The trio plans to attend community gatherings to get the word out about their initiative, Knecht said, and have already reached out to some community members.
“We just had this really great meeting at ‘Hot Topic, Cold Dish’ over at First Presbyterian where we were just kind of like talking to them about the program that we’re trying to start,” Knecht said. “A lot of them there were master gardeners … so they were like giving us all this advice. So, we know that there are people in the community who want to help we just have to get the word out.”
Cooper explained that the group hopes to be able to expand the initiative even more in the future to include plots for the county’s correctional facility, something that has been done in the past.
“When they had it going, and this was two or three years ago, they had two acres they were planting and they got to eat all the food that they grew,” Knecht said.
“The jailers are all ready for it, they have all the security and stuff. We just have to find the land for it,” Cooper added. “I just think it would be good for them, and good for the system.”