When the pandemic hit in 2020 the Governor challenged the Kentucky Extension and Nutrition Education Program to help promote Victory Gardens in Kentucky. Victory Gardens were started during the World Wars to help decrease the effect of food rations and increase fresh food supply. During the pandemic, due to the uncertainty of how long the shutdown was going to be, many started stocking up on hoarding food and supplies, leading to food shortages. Growing food in gardens can help to provide food during shortages.
The Shepherd Shelter Treatment Center in Mount Sterling, an all-male rehabilitation center, was ahead of the game. In 2018, the SNAP-Ed Nutrition Program at Kentucky State University (KSU) had helped them implement a garden. With the assistance of SNAP-Ed, the garden continued to expand each year since.
Proper nutrition and hydration are key to the substance abuse healing process because they help restore physical and mental health and improve the chances of recovery. Shepherd Shelter partnered with the Montgomery County KSU SNAP-Ed Program to offer the “Healthy Choices for Every Body” classes. The classes are a research-tested, direct- education intervention. Classes focus on planning budget friendly nutritious meals, teaching safe food-handling practices, learning food preparation skills needed for a healthy lifestyle, and adopting a physically active lifestyle.
Gardening and recovery go hand in hand. Gardening helps improve the diet, which may have been neglected during addiction. Gardening is a way the recovering addict can get more exercise, relieve stress, decrease blood pressure, depression and anxiety, and boost the immune system. Shepherd’s Shelter wanted to continue this partnership during the pandemic, so classes continued virtually.
The SNAP-Ed Program Assistant would drop off the needed garden supplies at the door to the facility and offer advice over the phone. The garden started off in 2018 as a 30’ X 40’plot. The garden expanded to a 40’ X 70’ plot in 2021. During the pandemic the facility had approximately 20 males in recovery. It was the resident’s responsibility to care for the garden which included planting, maintaining, and harvesting the fruits and vegetables. The weekly SNAP-Ed classes reinforced the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables following MyPlate recommendations for their calorie intake.
The picture below shows a participant cutting fresh strawberries to use in the smoothie recipe shared with them in class. The produce from the garden is used in the meals at the facility, prepared by men in recovery. In addition to the strawberries, onions, green beans, corn, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumbers are some of the produce items grown at the facility. Some fruit trees were also planted.
Graduates of the “Healthy Choices for Every Body” classes showed improvement in one or more of the following diet-quality indicators:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables (especially red, orange and dark green vegetables)
- drinking less regular soda
- drinking less fruit punch and teas
- improvement with physical activity
Growing a garden can help with budgeting, reducing salt and sugar in the daily diets, eating fewer calories, increase outdoor exercise, increase vitamin D, and be a natural stress reliever.
During the summer of 2020, twelve men at Shepherd’s Shelter graduated from the classes and gained knowledge on gardening. These twelve men will be able to continue to make changes to improve their overall health. They will be able to take their knowledge gained from the SNAP-Ed program back into their individual homes once they leave the recovery center. SNAP-Ed plans to continue to offer classes and gardening advice to the next group of men at the Shelter.
Author: Jessica Reed