UGA grasp gardeners convey which means and sustainability information to males coping with habit
For people dealing with substance abuse, creating a healthy routine and lifestyle with no triggers can be one of the greatest challenges. With the help of the University of Georgia Volunteer Expenses, an impactful organization is creating a path to recovery from addiction that includes a centuries-old sustainable practice – planting seeds.
Located in the mountains of Northern Georgia, Victory Home is a belief-based drug and alcohol rehab program that has been in operation since 1959. Known for its impact on the local community, one of the core values of Victory Home’s successful model is to harvest healthy, locally grown food and plants.
Victory Home’s mission is to nourish the mind, body, spirit and soul of the men in the program. According to Victory Home staff, an important part of their recovery is getting residents involved in a program where they can learn skills and see where their food is coming from. Showing men that someone really cares about them is another key to helping them become healthy members of society again.
With the organization’s aging 30 by 100 foot greenhouse and many of the surrounding garden lots in need of major renovation and cleaning, the Headwaters Chapter of Master Gardeners – made up of seasoned gardeners from Rabun, Habersham and White counties – rose to the challenge.
“First we started collecting plants from our own gardens and from people we knew had only one starting point,” said Kathy Booker, a retired nurse and the driving force behind the master gardeners’ involvement at the facility. “Without consistent management of the greenhouse, over time it became a kind of storage unit. Our goal was to change this and make it work again. “
Booker and a group of volunteer master gardeners submitted the official revitalization proposal for the Victory Home Greenhouse Project in 2019 and asked the Headwaters Master Gardeners for resources and guidance. It was a chance for the group to give back to their community through their passion for gardening.
“This project is a unique opportunity for our master gardeners to learn hands-on through direct connection with our horticultural specialists,” said Steven Patrick, Co-op Co-ordinator for Habersham County Expansion. “They are leveraging this knowledge and doing their best to use the available food production and landscaping resources to raise funds for Victory Home, local grants, and community landscaping projects.”
Agents and volunteers met with Victory Home to set expectations for the project. The goal of the greenhouse project, which reflects the mission of Victory Home, is to provide food and education to improve the nutritional status of residents now and in the future.
The first step was cleaning the greenhouse and preparing for their first fundraiser – a wreath-making class. Using the class’s startup capital, the group restored active production of the greenhouse and made major improvements to the greenhouse structure, including repairing benches and water pipes and sealing holes in the plastic. With the help of extenders, they also stabilized a shadow tissue to reduce the intensity of the sun for plant production.
Volunteers used the help of extension agents in the surrounding counties to conduct soil tests and borrow equipment to begin the initial planting process. With a foundation for growth, the next step was to develop a program to care for and train the men in the facility.
Planning a sustainable program
“We decided to go beyond the renovations and develop an ongoing program that would involve residents and Victory Home administrators,” said Booker. “After talking to them and receiving initial feedback, they all agreed and together we developed a process in which they can work with us.”
A major focus of the program was on seed formation, soil care and planting techniques. Every Monday, volunteer master gardeners would work in the greenhouse, planting, watering, checking for plant diseases and insects, and doing general maintenance. Several residents took part in the garlic and seed planting process. Many also participated in the cultivation of shiitake mushrooms on tree trunks. Although there were routine activities, the main focus was on education and personal connection.
“The educational component has always been a key objective for us when we started working together,” said John Scaduto, Rabun County Expansion Coordinator. “We wanted to teach the residents skills that they can use beyond the six-month program.”
After a successful start-up year in 2019, many operations were slowed down or stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Booker hopes normal operations can resume in the coming months.
The fruits of their labor
Although food production was minimal during the pandemic, the greenhouse project provides financial support through plant sales. The main funding for Victory Homes comes from the local thrift store and from private donations. The proceeds finance the operation of the greenhouse and the daily activities of the facility. The funds also help provide full and partial scholarships for men who may otherwise not be able to afford the Victory Home program.
In the first year, plant sales and donations raised a total of $ 5,200 for Victory Home. Shiitake mushroom logs created in the first year will bring men around $ 600 in groceries or sales during their five-year life cycle. The vegetable patches are expected to produce approximately $ 1,800 over the three years of active production. Several cover crops were also planted to build up the soil.
“Victory Home loves the contribution and progress that the master gardeners have already made,” said Booker. “They love to have us there in the gardens and in the greenhouse because it was something that was out of order and we brought it back to life.”