Editorials

Will hope bloom with Owsley garden?

Flood plain owned by the Owsley County Schools in Booneville has been turned into a community garden by a coalition of school employees, civic volunteers and University of Kentucky students.
Flood plain owned by the Owsley County Schools in Booneville has been turned into a community garden by a coalition of school employees, civic volunteers and University of Kentucky students. Herald-Leader

The clues are often in the words. Consider: homegrown, from the ground up, seeds of change, grassroots. All terms rooted (another one) in the idea that solutions to many problems lie in the very soil we occupy.

Owsley County High School occupies 10 acres of rich bottom land, and that's where an interesting mixture of educators, students, county officials and community members saw a solution.

Owsley is consistently one of the poorest counties in the state. Poverty is not just a problem of dollars and cents, its side effects almost always include a wide range of health problems that stem, in part, from poor diet.

Homegrown Kentucky, Owsley County, is a grassroots effort to make the soil the solution by turning the 10 acres into a garden where high school students and community members grow vegetables and fruits.

The low-key ribbon cutting, reported by Herald-Leader staffer Linda Blackford, took place a couple of weeks ago but the idea has been germinating for months, aided by three University of Kentucky students who seem to have a deep understanding of what a land-grant institution can and should do.

In Owsley County, the school system, UK extension agents, the local bank and other community organizations have written grants, held bake sales and made contributions to provide seeds, seedlings, irrigation, tools and a tractor.

High school students — who, working with Alan Taylor, the agriculture science teacher, started seeds in a greenhouse — will get to enjoy their work in the cafeteria and sell some of the produce for the school at the local farmers' market. The project also offers plots, with seeds and tools, to residents.

The potential is there to lower costs for the schools while improving the food served, to provide affordable fresh fruits and vegetables for area residents and to give more people a chance to have the pure joy of growing food.

For decades, efforts to combat poverty and its debilitating effects in Eastern Kentucky have been, for the most part, anything but homegrown.

It is be easy to look at this project and say it's only 10 acres with a tiny budget and no building to name after an important person.

But it is homegrown and, so, offers a hope that it can prosper without depending on assistance from afar.

It remains to be seen if this effort to combat the effects of poverty will spread or languish after a year or two.

But hope is a rare commodity in Kentucky's Appalachia, and so we'll choose to agree with Taylor that this community garden will inspire and attract.

"When people see this," he said, "they will want to be here."

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