Covington, Kentucky —- Here we are at the end of summer and I am proud to say that we have not lost any of our Victory Gardeners to defeat! Ok. Maybe this seems like a low bar for success. But just two months ago we had to work quickly to get this program created from the ground up. And when we’re dealing with a brand new program, brand new gardeners, and a pandemic, you celebrate ALL victories, no matter how small. I credit this success to the mentors. When we set up this program we knew that we wanted to have mentorship and relationship building be the linchpin of how we are organized. We recruited 15 new gardeners who would all be gardening at home, we wouldn’t be able to hold in-person classes to boost confidence, we wouldn’t be able to hold gatherings where people meet and share their stories, so the relationship and the support between the beginners and the mentors is what we knew we would need to have people be successful. And it’s working! Some beginner gardeners have experienced a few set backs – seeds that didn’t take, fruit that rotted, a tomato that was re-homed to a location with more sun, but none of them have given up and all of them have grown something! Isn’t that wonderful?!?! 

I think the importance of these relationships is best illustrated with an example. Meet Tonya.

Tonya is a firecracker of a woman who is a wife, mother, and grandmother that loves to spend her free days babysitting grandkids, cooking for her family, and hosting big backyard parties for family, friends, and neighbors. She loves event planning so much that a few years ago she started her own wedding planning business so that she can use her time and talents to help others have the time of their lives, on one of the most important days of their lives. So earlier this year when COVID19 struck, Tonya found herself cancelling weddings instead of planning them, unable to host her typical family barbeques, and in need of something productive to help fill her free time. She applied to the Victory Garden program not having any previous gardening experience, but knowing exactly what she wanted to grow: hot peppers. Tonya loves anything spicy and has previously made salsas and hot sauces. She knew she’d be able to put her peppers to good use, so we accepted her into the program and our volunteers built and filled a bed in her back yard. Ever the party hostess, Tonya offered us and our volunteers a shot of tequila while we shoveled dirt. We took a rain check this time.

Then we connected Alexa with Tonya. Meet Alexa.

Like Tonya, Alexa also owns her own business, but Alexa’s business is a farm. Alexa’s farm, Covington CSA farm, is a community supported agriculture model and all of the growing happens on a couple previously vacant lots in an urban Covington neighborhood, that just happens to be four streets over from where Tonya lives.  Before this program Tonya and Alexa had never met, and Tonya had no idea that there was a highly productive farm just steps from her front door. Alexa has been an avid supporter of our Victory Garden program since day one. She is a very busy woman who in addition to running her own CSA farm, also manages the Covington Farmer’s Market, and is a mother to a young son. However, Alexa did not hesitate to accept when we asked her to be one of our mentors. Alexa’s response was that she has been given so much by so many other people to get where she is, and she wants to continue to pay that forward. And Alexa has gone above and beyond with Tonya and her other beginners.

This is Tonya’s garden about a month ago. Tonya was so worried about doing something wrong that she wouldn’t put plants in the ground until Alexa came over to make sure she was doing it right. So Tonya and Alexa decided that every Thursday evening, after Alexa gets done working on her own farm, she would stop by Tonya’s back yard and reassure her that she was on the right track. Pictured above is Tonya’s pepper plants right before her first harvest – something else she was sure to not take on without Alexa’s guidance. 

Tonya is loving this process and has found even more satisfaction in knowing that some of what she is able to feed her family was grown right in her own back yard. She is the perfect example of someone who has the determination to do what she sets her mind to, but needs a few tips and a little confidence building along the way. Tonya is feeling so great about her new hobby, that she thinks next year she might even be able to add a second type of produce. 🙂

Thanks for checking in with us!


Shannon Ratterman,

Covington Victory Garden Program Coordinator