UK Extension Service teaches life skills such as nutrition in drug-treatment facilities; 10 counties have grants for gardens

Freeman discusses ways clients and families can eat healthier. (Photo by Steve Patton, UK Agricultural Communications)

By Katie Pratt 
University of Kentucky

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — Program assistants and agents with the University of Kentucky‘s Cooperative Extension Service are teaching life skills to help individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction live healthier lives once they leave treatment facilities.

In January, the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment hired recovering heroin addict and doctoral student Alex Elswick as extension specialist for substance-use prevention and recovery. He has started a program with agents in three counties; two other programs with agents in four other counties are to start next month. Elswick is co-founder of the UK Collegiate Recovery Community.

In Taylor County, program assistant Angie Freeman offers nutrition-education programs to clients at The Healing Place, an addiction recovery center in Campbellsville. She has led programs at the all-male treatment facility since 2013, presenting topics such as meal planning, MyPlate, food budgeting and food safety.

The education programs are funded by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which includes what were once known as food stamps. This part of the program is known as “SNAP-Ed.”

“Our eight-week class series is geared toward trying to have a healthy family and a healthy lifestyle on an economical level,” Freeman said. “Hopefully, they will take the things we have talked about and go home and actually meal plan using the weekly grocery ads, so they can make a really good shopping list and eat on a more economical basis.”

The Healing Place staff report that the eight-week class greatly helped participants, so they now require all of their clients to complete the class before leaving the treatment facility.

Steve Croghan of Columbia has been a client at the center for six months, recovering from an addiction to suboxone and methamphetamine. When interviewed, he was days away from graduating from the program’s first phase. He said Freeman’s class gave him information that will help him as he moves forward with his life.

“Angie and Kara have been tremendously helpful for us,” he said. “Angie actually takes the time with us to make us understand what is going on and gives us a lot of good nutritional values. It helps us live out there healthier.”

In addition to nutrition education, Freeman’s class tends a small, raised-bed garden on the property. Taylor is one of 10 counties that have grants from SNAP-Ed to install and help manage gardens at addiction recovery centers.

Extension agents and program assistants in Jefferson, Pendleton, Daviess, Martin, Lawrence, Pulaski, Boyd and Madison counties have received funding to partner with local addiction recovery centers to install gardens at the facilities.

Christopher Browning is a Healing Place client from New Haven, recovering from a heroin addiction. Even though he was raised in rural Kentucky, he said the gardening classes have been eye-opening. He enjoys tending the garden.

“It’s something different to do in a place like this,” he said. “It makes us not so sheltered in. We get to get out and do some things that we might enjoy doing on the outside.”

The Healing Place started out with one raised-bed garden in 2018, with their clients raising cool- and warm-season salad ingredients. They added another bed this year and plan to add another in 2020.

“I really hope they gain basic knowledge about how to grow their own fruits and vegetables,” Back said. “Some of them have never really done this before, and it’s just a way for them to see it firsthand. Maybe later on down the road in their life, they may be interested in growing some on their own.”

Recently, 17 men graduated from Freeman’s series of classes. Two of them were Croghan and Browning, who were excited about their accomplishment.

“It’s nice to actually complete something,” Browning said. “I have not done so well with that the last few years of my life, but I have actually had the patience and the time to do something productive.”

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