Growing people: Patriot Guardens uses agriculture training to expand opportunities for recovering West Virginians

By By Edwin Wriston, West Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office | West Virginia National Guard | May 29, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —

The West Virginia Military Authority’s (WVMA) Patriot Guardens program, a component of the Adjutant Generals department, is helping to assist West Virginians with substance abuse disorders on their path to recovery and new lives.

Currently, there are approximately 164,000 West Virginians who suffer from substance abuse disorders, including those who have fell victim to the current opioid epidemic sweeping the state and nation.

The WVMA Patriot Guardens program, an integrated agriculture and economic diversification initiative, is piloting a partnership with Recovery Point WV, a non-profit organization that offers recovery services at no cost to citizens across the state.

Each week, Patriot Guardens staff visit the 92-bed residential facility for women located in Charleston, West Virginia, to teach Recovery Point WV clients about agriculture and gardening.

“The goal of the Charleston program is to help the women in the program learn new skills and get them excited about positive opportunities and growth,” said Brad Cochran, Patriot Guardens Agricultural Specialist. “Each week we teach about proper gardening techniques, and then get our hands dirty by actually planting and growing food from seed stock to harvesting.”

Recovery Point WV in Charleston has a number of raised growing beds outside their facility. Patriot Guardens personnel have assisted residents in planting tomatoes, strawberries, different varieties of lettuce, radishes, eggplant, and a host of other vegetables.

“We teach everything from how to germinate seed, how to propagate cuttings, how to transplant, how to keep the plants healthy without using harmful pesticides, and how to harvest,” Cochran explained.

Participants in the program give it rave reviews.

“With the help of the Patriot Guardens staff, myself and the women here undergoing treatment are learning how to grow our own gardens and food,” said Sharon Whittaker, a Recovery Point WV client, originally from Man, West Virginia. “This will help us live healthier and be healthier for ourselves and our families and is teaching us skills that we can use to get jobs, making it easier for us to get back on our feet.”

Program client Nichole Knotts from Philippi, West Virginia, agreed. “I think it is an awesome program!” she said.

Cochran has seen the positive impacts first-hand.

“Each week we go back, it seems there is just more and more enthusiasm for what we are teaching,” he said. “The ladies, no matter the circumstances of what led them to this point in their lives, all want to grow and live better lives. I see the excitement in their eyes, and they have a million questions and honestly want to learn.”

“We aren’t just growing plants,” Cochran explained. “We are growing people.”

Patriot Guardens plans to expand their programs to additional Recovery Point WV locations in the future, providing education and opportunities to even more West Virginians.