August 16, 2000 | By: Laura Skillman

Michele Lazu spent her summer tenderly caring for a vegetable garden along with other children at the Browning Springs Housing Complex.

Michele, a second-grader, was dedicated to the garden that provided a better understanding of nature and of responsibility.

Michele's mother, Ann Marie Hashlamoun, praised the program sponsored by the Hopkins County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and the Hopkins County Master Gardener Association.

"She's missed maybe just one day," Hashlamoun said. "Every time she'd go, she'd bring the vegetables and we'd cook supper. I thought it was really good idea. Just to have something growing, they have achieved something and their eyes would just glow like little bulbs."

Both Michele and her mother tried vegetables they'd never eaten before and liked them. One meal with chicken, tomatoes and banana peppers was a real hit.

"She went back for more three times for dinner," Hashlamoun said. "That's the first time that child has ever gone back three times."

The program offered children an activity that kept them busy, their minds occupied, she said.

They were actually learning while they were doing things. They talked about the food in the garden at the playground, Hashlamoun said, rather than about what brand shoes they will be getting for school.

The Seeds of Hope, Harvest of Pride Community Garden was funded through a Kentucky IPM grant that helped to build raised beds for the children to use. Free seeds came from America the Beautiful Foundation, said Amy Fulcher, Hopkins County extension agent for horticulture.

"The Master Gardeners definitely deserve a lot of credit," Fulcher said.

Master Gardeners have been at the garden each Tuesday helping the children and teaching a lesson. They've shown them everything from how to plant a seed to how to harvest a ripe vegetable.

Some guest speakers also discussed cultural diversity with the youngsters including a look at what plants are found and used in Taiwan, Central America and by American Indians. Drug and alcohol awareness was also a part of the lessons.

Nancy Kelley, Hopkins County Extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences did nutritional lessons with the children as well as provided information on how to prepare the vegetables. On Tuesdays they also had tasting days. The most recent featured salsa made from the garden's produce.

More than 30 children have helped in the garden at varying times this summer with some being there nearly every week.

"It's been fun," Fulcher said. "And there's a lot of potential for next season."

Kathleen Porter, a Master Gardener, said the project was aimed not at giving the residents in the housing complex groceries but was more in the realm of "if you teach a man to fish rather than give him a fish."

"We were counting on our friendship with the children being important to them and it was important to us," she said. "And we taught them. Every Tuesday we met and we talked about one concept like the need for rain, pest management and how to unpot a plant safely."

Jay Allison was picking tomatoes and peppers recently and looking forward to cooking them.

"I can just taste the pizza," the youngster said as he rubbed his stomach.

Sherry Martinez, Hopkins County Housing Authority resident coordinator, said they were interested in the garden because they want to get the children involved in community projects.

"We have a juvenile justice program that requires them to volunteer in programs other than regular after school activities," she said.

At first, there was some concern about vandalism and how well the garden would be received. But once it started, there was a waiting list of children wanting to participate, Martinez said.

"It bloomed." she said.

Martinez has applied for a grant with the National Gardening Association to help continue the program.

"This has just been so wonderful," she said.


Amy Fulcher, (270) 821-3650