PRESTONSBURG — About a dozen volunteers spent Friday digging in the dirt and assembling lumber for nine new raised garden beds at Big Sandy Community and Technical College. And while their efforts will almost certainly result in a bounty of vegetables, herbs and flowers, there is more growing in the garden that just plant life in the Appalachian Roots community garden.
“It’s all about growth,” said Sister Kathy Curtis, of Appalachian Roots, a local group that supports community gardens, as well as the Floyd County Farmers Market, seed and story saving, and heirloom seeds. “It’s not just about growing seeds, but it’s about growing lives. It’s about growing communities. It’s about growing well.”
Friday’s expansion and the garden itself are the fruit of a unique collaboration of community institutions, including the college, Appalachian Roots, Grow Appalachia and Growing Warriors. But the list goes far beyond those four groups, said BSCTC faculty member Sandra Saad.
“The project was actually the inspiration of Sister Kathleen Weigand, executive director of St. Vincent Mission; Dr. Tom Vierheller, a faculty member at the college; and Tony Grubb, with the Soil Conservation District,” Saad said. “Big Sandy Community and Technical College donated the use of the space for the garden. Prestonsburg City Utilities, with the backing of the City of Prestonsburg, uncovered a water line at the site and set a meter so the garden could be watered. Soil from the renovation of Prestonsburg High School’s football field was purchased at a discounted price to fill the beds. The City of Prestonsburg has provided wood chips for mulch. The college’s Maintenance and Operations employees cut the boards to create the beds and the college volunteers put them together. Additional beds will be built by volunteers with Carl D. Perkins Job Corps.”
The garden began as a way to provide fresh produce for local food pantries. Now, it’s output should more than double with the addition of nine 12-foot-by-4-foot garden beds, to match five other similar size beds and seven smaller beds on the grounds.
But in addition to feeding the hungry, the garden will also provide income for a handful of unemployed veterans. Growing Warriors, which works to train veterans in small-scale agriculture, will be hiring two or three veterans to maintain the garden. Those hired will work 10-to-15 hours a week and receive a salary of $12 an hour.
“This exemplifies what we’re doing,” said Growing Warriors coordinator Mike Lewis. “This exemplifies the level of support we need from our communities to grow and to rebuild. I’m just so excited we now have to provide some level of support and a small little bit of income and community for some veterans that don’t have anything to hold on to. This is going a long way toward reintegrating, re-educating and rebuilding our communities.”
“Look at what we’ve built today,” Lewis said, a proud smile stretching across his face. “We came together, everybody.”