The Cowan Community Center is using a grant to encourage families to tend gardens this summer.
The center obtained a $28,000 grant from Berea College to help 28 families in the Cowan area till gardens and plant, grow and harvest produce.
Grow Appalachia is a project funded by billionaire John Paul DeJoria, cofounder and chief executive officer of hair care products giant John Paul Mitchell Systems Inc.
“The idea is to reduce and eliminate barriers that prevent an individual or family from having their own garden and producing their own produce,” said Valerie Horn, Grow Appalachia coordinator for Cowan Community Center. “It is another positive endeavor by the Cowan Community Center to reach out to families to become involved with healthier lifestyles.”
Participants in the project attend educational workshops about gardening and keep a harvest record of what they raise. Produce may vary depending on the gardener and might include corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, beets and potatoes.
Cowan Community Center has provided participants with plants, fertilizers, tools, stakes, trellises, straw and canning jars.
The center purchased a $3,000 tiller in the spring and tilled gardens for those who requested.
Participants range from 15 years old to 92. Some gardens are small. Some are large.
Each participant chose the size of their garden as well as what they are growing.
“It’s not based on need,” said Horn. “It’s based on a desire to garden. It has been a wonderful thing.”
Horn is available to encourage and support gardeners as well provide resources. “It gives validation when you see someone cares and thinks what you are doing is important,” said Horn, who has visited each garden this summer.
Horn said one of the goals of the program is to encourage gardeners to plant extra to sell.
“One of the definite goals is to provide income,” said Horn.
So far, participants prefer to share their produce with others, rather than sell it.
“Most are eating and sharing,” said Horn. “Very little has been sold. That’s something we do need to work on. It could be a money making venture for some people.”
Chase Dixon, 15, of Cowan, is growing corn, squash and tomatoes in a rather large garden in an effort to make some money this summer.
In the next few weeks about 10 of the participants will receive poultry and chicken tractors, which are about the size of playpens. The mobile units will help keep the gardens fertile as well as provide fresh eggs for the participants.
In addition to encouraging the 28 families to garden, children who attend Appalachian Early Child Development Center in Whitesburg also learned about gardening. Horn and Lydia Thurman, an intern from Duke University who has been helping Horn with the project, helped start a garden at Appalachian Early Child Development Center. Four- and five-year-old children helped plant peppers and other items.
Children at the daycare facility listened to the story “Sunflower House” by Eve Bunting. They were each given a copy of the book and packets of sunflower seeds to take home with them.
Activities such as learning how to make rain barrels and salsa were held at Cowan Community Center.
“ We’re open again,” said Horn. “Members who have lived on Cowan and have never been to the Cowan Community Center are showing up to these events.”
Cowan Community Center is one of 15 sites in four states chosen to be apart of Grow Appalachia. The sites in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia are Red Bird Mission, Henderson Settlement, Pine Mountain Settlement School, Laurel County African American Heritage Center, Lincoln Memorial University, St. Vincent Mission, High Rocks for Girls, Appalachia-Science in the Public Interest, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, Kentucky River Foothills Development Council, Project Worth, Step by Step and Scott Christian Care Center.
Horn and Thurman will meet DeJoria at a Grow Appalachia site in London on Thursday.
“I’m eager to meet him,” said Horn. “He has faith in what we can do and believes in it. ”
Th is is the third year of Grow Appalachia and the first year Cowan Community Center has been involved in the project.
If Cowan Community Center is awarded the grant again, the center will participate in the project next year. Horn will soon be planning an organizational meeting for the next growing season. Those interested in participating can call 633-3187.