Community garden teaches drug court participants new skills

bbashioum@demo-mo.comSeptember 26, 2013 

Cass County Commissioners got a taste of something healthy growing in the county at a recent meeting.

David Hoffman, the Cass County program director for the University of Missouri Extension Office in Harrisonville, gave a presentation about a new community garden in Cass County to commissioners during a regular meeting Sept. 19.

The idea for the community garden came about in January, Hoffman said, as a voluntarily counseling session opportunity for Cass County Drug Court individuals and Cass County Psychological Services clients.

“The goal of the project is for program participants to gain some life skills through gardening activities, to provide some locally-grown produce of fresh vegetables for the participants, and to use this demonstration as a teaching tool for different aspects of gardening,” Hoffman said.

The official kick-off start for the garden was May 3. Participants come to the Extension Office every Friday from 11 a.m.-noon to work in the garden, which was developed on the east side of the office building on Wall Street.

Four garden spaces, 6-feet-by-8-feet wide, were developed to grow a variety of vegetables, including various kinds of lettuces, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers and cauliflower.

So far, the garden has bared about 160 pounds of fresh produce, with more expected to be ready to harvest in the coming weeks.

“For many of (the participants), they had never had a majority of these vegetables,” Hoffman said. “Some of them have never had kale or the different varieties of leaf lettuce.”

Hoffman said during the harvest season, participants are able to keep some of the produce for themselves and would eat the fruits of their labor for lunch right after they had been picked.

“One aspect of this program is these people are coming up here to work together, and they’re getting the sense of teamwork,” Hoffman said. “A lot of these individuals haven't made the wisest choices in their life and may have never had that sense of accomplishment or ability to work together.”

The project was supported by the Soil and Conservation district, area Master Gardeners, the city of Harrisonville, and Jeff Yearington with the Lincoln University Cooperative Extension's Farm Outreach Program.

In its first year, Hoffman said the program has been a success.

“Participants learned from each other and they really enjoyed completing the task,” he told commissioners.

Hoffman said the participants, 13 or 14 people each week, displayed excitement and a sense of pride about their growing.

“They would say that it’s ‘their garden,’ and they took that sense of pride and ownership in the garden,” he said.

He also said some of the participants, as a result of the program, started small gardens at their home with their children.

As part of the efforts with the community garden, Cass County Extension Office Nutrition and Health Specialist Susan Mills-Gray also took time to show garden participants how to make pickles from cucumbers they grew.

“They’re gaining skills that they can take back and utilize for themselves,” Hoffman said.

Recently, gardeners organized a celebratory luncheon with the participants of the garden with members of the community.

“They really appreciated the fact that there were people willing to invest time in them,” Hoffman said of the participants.

In other meeting business, the commissioners took the follow actions:

Accepted a letter into the records from Presiding Judge William Collins regarding issues discovered in Circuit Clerk Amy Bell’s Office regarding reporting and payment procedures.

Accepted a change order for a concrete pad from McConnell and Associates at the Health Department.

Approved a resolution for a day care participation agreement with Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for child care sanitation inspections.

Opened bids for the installation of emergency equipment in 17 Cass County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicles.

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