KY GROW creates new opportunity for Kentuckians with disabilities:

Gardening used as a catalyst for improving skills and lives

There's something special about tilling the soil, planting seeds and watching new plants take root.  The newly funded Kentucky Gardening for Recreation or Work Project (KY GROW) will allow people with physical, sensory and mental disabilities to come together with other gardening enthusiasts in inclusive settings to see how well their gardens can grow.

The project received a $301,382 grant from the U.S. Department of Education-National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research and will be administered by staff of the University of Kentucky's Interdisciplinary Human Development Institute, the UK College of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.

"This project will be a little different," said Kathy Sheppard-Jones, KY GROW field coordinator. "We are definitely going to get our hands a little dirty. These types of recreational and vocational opportunities are much needed for people with disabilities in Kentucky."

The project's principal investigator is IHDI's Barney Fleming and co-PI is Wade Bailey from the Kentucky Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. The project director, Matt John, is a former Edmonson County Extension agent.  John Hancock from UK's College of Agriculture AgrAbility project will serve as technical advisor, with Sheppard-Jones lending support as the project's field coordinator. The project was funded in October and will operate through September 2004. The project will involve at least 150 participants statewide, with about half of those being individuals with disabilities.

The project will team participants with varying levels of ability in a fun, recreational setting. Program participants will be encouraged to pursue certification as Kentucky Master Gardeners which is a designation offered through the state's Extension offices.  This will lead to opportunities for today’s project participants to become tomorrow’s leaders in horticulture.  The project's key goal is to develop a consumer-driven pilot program that will introduce people of all ages and abilities to accessible gardening activities in an inclusive community-based setting. It will begin by developing gardening programs at four regional sites across Kentucky.  Additional locations around the state have already requested being considered as pilot sites as well. As the project progresses, it will provide training for professionals, volunteers and participants.  It also will develop accessible training materials that can be used as resources for future inclusive gardening programs.

Dissemination of project activities will be strongly pursued through county Extension.  All publications will be submitted directly to Extension as potential official Extension resources.  This will allow for statewide access by all Extension offices, and more importantly, by community members who already recognize Extension as a trusted resource. The end result will be increased knowledge of disability and accessible horticulture for all community members.  The collaboration between Extension and Vocational Rehabilitation will enable interested participants with disabilities to pursue gardening as a potential source of increased income.  Through hands-on participation and increased resources for professionals, KY-GROW offers opportunities for recreation, leadership, and vocation.

Written by Alyssa Eckman, IHDI Public Relations