DescriptionGreenhouse 17 (GH17) is a forty-acre domestic violence emergency shelter and farm that has become a healing oasis to thousands of women and families since 2004. Greenhouse 17 is a Grow Appalachia success story for its innovative therapeutic farm stipend program for survivors. The farm, a multi-acre community garden with six high tunnels, was started in 2012 when GH17 became a partner site with Grow Appalachia. One of the most successful components of the farm is the cut flower enterprise, which grew into a Cut Flower CSA that serves the greater Lexington area. This year, GH17 generated more than $25,000 just in CSA and other cut flower-related sales.
Debra started out participating in the stipend program in her time at Greenhouse 17 and was then hired on as the assistant florist for the CSA. “The farm helped a lot to build back up my self-esteem. People always asked if I’d done this before because I was so good at it. I did all the flowers in the house for each table. It helped build me back up from being torn down for so many years. I didn’t think I could do work like that—it is hard work. You don’t realize it but it’s also rewarding.”
Another survivor, Elizabeth, agreed. “I did everything while I was here. Mulching, planting, seeding, picking, mowing up in between all the aisles. I know what the word ‘work’ means now. Because no matter what you do, that job is never done if you want to have vegetables to eat. They do not grow by themselves, especially at the speed you might want them to grow at.” For Elizabeth, Greenhouse 17 and her work on the farm set her and her son on the path to a better, healthier future. “After he got out there and worked, too, he complains a whole lot less about eating his fruits and vegetables now that he knows what it takes to get from the ground, from nothing, to the plate. At first, I didn’t do [the stipend program] for the experience or anything. I did it because I needed the money. But you know what? It was more of a healing experience than anything. That fresh air and being able to actually see things grow is a miracle. Right now, even though we don’t have everything we want, we’re very happy with what we’ve got, and every day is a blessing.”
Debra became a mentor to other women in the stipend program at GH17, building trusting, patient, and loving relationships with women in a way she’d never experienced before. “Us women, a lot of us are so closed up when we get here. Then we’re like the flowers, we open up and bloom.” Like Elizabeth, Debra’s work on the farm was vital to her healing process. “Seeing it go into the ground, growing, harvesting it, putting it together, being trusted to teach classes on it, it amounts to building yourself up and loving yourself. It helped me love myself. It’s what I love the best about this house. It’s given me my life back; it’s given me myself back.”
In addition to all the other services Greenhouse 17 provides—from job and housing placement to navigating the legal system and counseling—the shelter has created a “Handmade By Survivors” line of Kentucky Proud body care products, processed, manufactured, and packaged in the on-site commercial kitchen by GH17 residents. 100% of the proceeds from “Handmade By Survivors” purchases go directly to support the shelter and its services.
Grow Appalachia is a community garden-based food security program, headquartered at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. Since 2010, Grow Appalachia has worked with more than 4,375 families that have harvested 2,957,740 pounds of food. This year, Grow Appalachia is working with 32 partner sites in six central Appalachian states. Grow Appalachia seeks to help as many Appalachian families grow as much of their own food as possible.-Story contributed by Alix Burke, Grow Appalachia Communications and Foodlorist VISTA volunteer.