Volunteer farming program Top Crops ready to grow

Lawrenceburg junior Alexis Corbin works for the local organization Top Crops at the local farmers market Saturday, April 30. Top Crops currently sells a variety of vegetables and plans to sell blueberries and strawberries in the future; they will be growing pumpkins in the fall. Lex Selig/HERALD

KJ Hall

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of interesting goods and activities at the Community Farmers Market of Bowling Green. Each booth you pass has a story. Each vendor is there for a reason. Among these booths is the Top Crops booth, which people can find as soon as they walk into the market.

“You can’t miss the grocers donning their Top Crops aprons, ready to greet everyone who walks through the front door,” Owensboro native Bill Greer, cofounder of Top Crops, said.

Bill Greer and Carol Greer along with their oldest son Tucker Greer founded Top Crops in 2013 as a garden project that offers training and continued education opportunities to adults with special needs, according to Bill Greer.

The Greers saw the need for a program for special needs adults over the age of 21. Once a special needs adult is out of school and encouragement has essentially halted, many individuals become dependent on government assistance and lack opportunities to develop their potential, find purposeful work and make a positive impact in the community, Bill Greer said. Thus, Top Crops was born.

They began planting their first season in late summer of 2013 and harvested that fall. Since then, Top Crops has doubled its growing space with additional raised bed boxes and in-ground planting, Carol Greer said. She also said Top Crops has added additional gardeners for both planting and the market.

Top Crops is located at the University Farm, where it has received immense support from the agriculture department.

Members of the program prepare the soil, plant seeds, tend to plants, harvest crops, sort, package and sell to the community each Saturday morning at the Community Farmers Market, Bill Greer said.

Not only does Top Crops offer a vast array of volunteer opportunities, but it now offers internships to WKU students through the Honors College too. This allows for more hands-on support at the garden as well as potential college credit hours for students in a learning experience outside the classroom, he said.

“It’s an opportunity for students to spend time with some really cool people like our gardeners and for the gardeners to meet and hang out with WKU students. That social interaction matters a lot,” Bill Greer said.

This opportunity has been especially significant for Lawrenceburg junior Alexis Corbin, who has been serving as an intern and garden manager at Top Crops for the last two semesters.

Corbin found out about the internship when she ran into Craig Cobane, the executive director of the Honors College, after visiting the farmers market one Tuesday. Corbin expressed her interest in the relationship between the environment and social justice, and Cobane mentioned a new internship opportunity with Top Crops.

Corbin helps out with daily tasks, including weeding and shoveling compost, working with different gardeners on harvest day and helping run and operate larger planting or harvest days. She has also taken on a project of her own each semester. In fall 2015, she worked on an information sign on herbs, and this spring, she has been formulating a new method of planting potatoes.

Corbin has learned a great deal about pragmatism from this internship and about how being sustainable both socially and environmentally can sometimes be challenging, she said.

“Top Crops shows how people use environmentally sensitive methods to work with social needs, and it has been amazing to focus on the abilities of our gardeners in that way,” Corbin said. “At the same time, it’s hard to have super extensive gardening or to try new, sustainable [agriculture] techniques because we do have limitations.”

While Corbin’s career goals don’t focus solely on working with people with special needs, she said she would definitely take a job in that area if the opportunity arose.

“They [special needs adults] are such genuine, overlooked people in our society, and they bring such joy and life to everyone they encounter,” Corbin said.

While this is Corbin’s last semester interning with Top Crops, Bill Greer said they will definitely have more in the future, and both Corbin and the Greers look forward to seeing how the program will continue to grow in the future.

The gardeners are filled with talent and capability, and Top Crops is one avenue for them to learn new skills, gain confidence and provide a beneficial product to the community, Bill Greer stated.

“The opportunity to work with those with special needs is just a privilege,” he said.