By CATRINA FRANCIS
Gold Standard Senior Staff Writer
For many Fort Knox residents planting a garden isn’t the most feasible thing when living in on-post housing. But the 19th Engineer Battalion has found a creative way to not only plant, but also harvest vegetables in the unit’s Victory Garden in Thorne Park.
Stacy Lloyd, the unit’s Family readiness group leader, said the idea was born after last year’s Knox Hills garden. One of the ladies in FRG participated in the planting and thought it would be a good idea if the unit could plant its own garden.
“She made the connection and gave him (Steve Meredith) my contact information we met in November and started planning,” said Lloyd. “We currently have 800 plus Soldiers and (when they deploy) we thought it would be a good thing to keep the wives busy. You (also) have the bonding with these women in the battalion.
“It’s worked well. They do it with their children, with their spouses; we do it as a group when we needed help with fencing. It’s (a) connection on several different levels. The amount of knowledge these kids are learning is amazing. They are learning picking and they are getting (a) hands on education.”
Lloyd pointed out that having the garden also helps decrease the grocery bill. The Oklahoma native said she’s been amazed by the work the unit has been doing in the garden and the food that’s been harvested.
“There is also that pride that goes into eating something you have grown,” explained Lloyd.
Meredith, who works with the state’s garden program, said the governor and first lady have a strong commitment to the military and that’s why the 19th Engineers have been able to receive the benefit of growing a garden on post.
“There are people in military affairs in the commonwealth of Kentucky that have a great interest in the history of this post,” said Meredith. “This post is well connected with all interactions to state government that pertain not just to military but the economic development of this region of the state.
“There was some obvious connection how can we help military Families during this decade-long situation of conflict that the United States is involved in and in particular with this case the 19th Engineer Battalion because the battalion is deploying this year. (This is) a great opportunity to not just learn about gardening, but produce food and also engage in the camaraderie that goes with this project which is important to the Family readiness group.”
Meredith said the idea for the garden began last year when former Garrison Commander Col. Bruce Jenkins offered Thorne Park as the location for the garden.
“Col. Jenkins reviewed possibilities and this looked liked an opportunity to him,” Meredith said. “After we investigated the soil here we found it to be a compatible site for our project.
The planning for the garden began last year with education and preparation planting. During the spring Meredith began tilling the soil and planting seeds.
“It’s really critical you begin education and preparation planting well in advance of going out, tilling soil and planting seed,” he explained. “We’ve had an exceptional growing season. In some cases we started with transplants which started in greenhouses in February or March in some cases.
“When you are looking at something like sweet corn you’re looking at something that’s going to mature in about 70 to 75 days, squash in 42 to 45 days you are going to get your first harvest, cucumbers in 50 days (which) depends on the life cycle of the plant. We got things going here and (have been) very aggressive in getting produce off of this site.”
The unit has been able to work the garden through Kentucky’s garden program, Keep America Beautiful and the Lowe’s Foundation. Cecile Carson of KAB and the senior director of affiliate development, said her visit to Kentucky coincided with a conference she was attending and it provided her with an opportunity to see how the garden has been maintained.
“We can see lots of photographs of the projects but when we see them and get to talk to the people who are actually engaged, that helps us share this story nationally,” explained Carson. “I can talk about the success of this project, how the Families have been engaged, taking ownership and taking care of the property. “Basically (we) hope that will inspire others who don’t have projects like this to do them. (It’s also) an opportun-ity for us to work with other military facilities to say here is a very successful project KAB is involved and Lowes Foundation is involved with. You want to be connected with other military Families (and this garden) is that connection.”
Carson added that having the military involved with this type of project is beneficial when a Family moves from Fort Knox to another installation.
“I may only be here a year and I can have a connection (and) see what’s produced,” Carson said about military Families who may be stationed on an installation for a short period. “I’m going to take ownership in this land and I’m learning something I can take with me to the next location.
“(The garden) has that dual purpose. If you never experienced this before or you are a novice, you get to be engaged (and) learn from them (when) you go to the next location you are the person who knows about it and you can share it and teach kids. That’s even more exciting. The kids begin to take ownership. (They are) engaged more in learning and understanding how this all connects with learning (about) where food comes from. And gardens (make) that connection.”