Top Crops gives opportunities to those with disabilities

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Olivia Marshall

Even on a dreary Friday afternoon, nothing could dampen the spirits at the Top Crops garden on WKU’s farm. Laughter and warm smiles traveling from the garden seemingly made the day a little bit brighter.

Created to give an opportunity for adults with disabilities, Top Crops was founded in 2012 by local residents Bill and Carol Greer with their three children Tucker, John and Ginna. The Greer’s daughter, Ginna, suffers from visual impairments, developmental delays and a seizure disorder. Ginna was about to graduate high school when they realized the lack of programs post-high school for those with disabilities.

“We’ve been around a lot of individuals who have disabilities and Ginna was getting ready to graduate high school,” Carol Greer said.

The driving factor for Carol Greer was seeing an opportunity for learning and growing to be provided to the community. The lack of social, educational and vocational programs available for adults with disabilities was concerning to her and her family. The family worked together, creating what is now known as Top Crops.

Carol Greer said that they thought the garden would offer an opportunity to participate in a social, educational and vocational program through gardening, learning about healthy foods and selling produce at the Community Farmer’s Market.

The Greer family created a business proposal for the College Heights Foundation and soon after were given a plot of land at the farm.

“Jack Rudolph was over at the farm at that time and he agreed to let us have the land within the fence right on Nashville Road, and we jumped on that,” Greer said.

The organization broke ground on the garden in July 2013. Since then, Top Crops has partnered with WKU’s Mahurin Honors College to find interns to help with the garden.

Elaine Losekamp, a senior majoring in agriculture, has interned with Top Crops for almost two years. Before coming to the garden, she had no previous experience working with adults with disabilities.

“I honestly had never had experience with working with special needs individuals before my interview for this position,” Losekamp said.

Losekamp believes Top Crops is a great opportunity for those who also haven’t had much exposure to adults with disabilities.

“I think there are a lot of negative stereotypes that people have of people with special needs that they don’t mean to have,” Losekamp said. “There’s not a whole lot of education about people with special needs, and they are really not that different from anyone else, so I think it is really good for people to come out and volunteer and talk to the gardeners and just realize that they’re just like anyone else.”

Along with interns and other participants, a core group of gardeners can be seen rain or shine. These individuals include Ginna, Alex Embry and John Michael Huffman, who have been with the garden since the beginning. Even after years of working on the project, their dedication and passion for the program doesn’t seem to be faltering anytime soon.

The trio said that their favorite parts of the garden are the tomatoes and the friends they’ve made. Friendship is a big part of the atmosphere at Top Crops, and everyone knows it.

“Half of what we do, we do pick so we can take to market, but 90% of it is chatting and talking,” Carol Greer said. “It’s just nice to be doing something productive and spending time with people you enjoy spending time with. It’s more about the gardeners than the garden itself.”

Something the gardeners say they especially love is when groups of volunteers come to the garden to help out. The gardeners will find a group and tag along with them, and they all are always looking to make new friends.

Organizations from fraternities and sororities to Best Buddies and even businesses have come out to volunteer at the garden. Top Crops is also a participant in the United Way Day of Caring.

“It’s a great place to come to have fun with great people and do good work,” Carol Greer said. “There’s something about getting your hands dirty and nails dirty and growing something start to finish. Seed to table basically.”

Features reporter Olivia Marshall can be reached at [email protected] Follow Olivia on social media at @marshallolivia_.