Shane Hamilton, a client in the Hope Center recovery program, grew up on a farm in Bardstown. Now, as he tends the large garden located between the George Privett Recovery Center for Men on West Loudon Avenue and the adjacent Lexington Police Department horse pastures, he's able to use those skills.
"It's a full-time job when you have a garden this size," Hamilton said about the garden that expanded to include four plots this year.
The recovery program, which addresses alcohol and drug addiction, assigns each man at the center a job to do depending on their skills or interests. For Hamilton, it's the garden.
And what makes the job so satisfying for many of the men is that it's self-sustaining, said Carey Cairo, volunteer manager at the Hope Center.
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Vegetables from the garden support the 500 to 600 meals served each day at the cafeterias in the Privett Center and Jacob Hope Shelter, the main homeless shelter, said Cairo.
The cafeterias serve the homeless, male recovery residents and the hungry in Lexington.
"The men who work in the garden get a sense of accomplishment because they give food to the homeless and they get to give back to the program," Cairo said.
The Hope Center donates surplus goods produced by the garden to the women's shelter, the Ball-Quantrell Recovery Center, as well as local charities, such as God's Pantry.
Robert Byrd grew up on a vegetable and cattle farm in Winchester, so he is accustomed to the every day, all-day labor that goes into gardening.
"I have an enjoyment out of giving it away," said Byrd. "It feels good instead of selling it we're giving back."
Added Hamilton, "As much as we have, the rabbits can get a few because we have enough to go around."
The garden consists of more than 150 plants, including squash, beans, corn and cucumbers, said Hamilton.
The garden grows most plants from seeds, but BB&T bank donated some already started plants, such as tomatoes, which allowed the gardeners to till more land than last year.
BB&T also donated soil and gloves through the Lighthouse Project, a volunteer program. Volunteers from the company came out three or four times to help plant, Hamilton said.
The gardening crew, which usually consists of three men in the program, began working on the land in late April. The garden took off fully about two weeks ago, Hamilton said. The men with garden duty go out every day to tend to it.
The Hope Center's recovery program also provides mandatory classes and meetings, led by peers who graduated from the program, to support men through recovery and teach life skills.
Cairo prides herself on the fact that the Hope Center can provide emergency shelter for any man and that its recovery program has a success rate that's better than the national average. She quoted a 2014 University of Kentucky Center on Drug and Alcohol Research study that found that 65 percent of its program participants stay clean from drugs and alcohol one year after leaving the program, which is three times better than the national average.
The Hope Center also offers recovery programs to women, as well as programs for veterans, mental health, social services, employment, transitional housing, Spanish speakers and more. Each program provides services to its clients to aid their growth and recovery.
The positive impact the garden project has on the men is "two-fold," Cairo said.
"There's the actual food nourishing them physically and the nourishing in an emotional and spiritual way by the camaraderie," she said.