Top Crops: A Planting Partnership With a Harvest of Hope

Story and Photography by Jim Bob Baird

Growing a crop is hard work; it’s a partnership with the fertile soil; planting at the right time; sowing the seeds properly; fighting back weeds; contending with Mother Nature; and sometimes life itself. Hopefully, the end result is a successful harvest.

“A garden requires much vigilance, and has some real challenges,” said Carol and Bill Greer, the founders of Top Crops. Established in 2013, Top Crops is a garden program that helps individuals with special needs continue their education, develop social skills and gain self-assurance.

The Greer’s 23-year-old daughter, Ginna, is part of the Top Crops program. Ginna had a stroke as a newborn. She also has a seizure disorder, and has developmental delays, but none of that slows her down. She works at Zaxby’s, participates in Special Olympics, and, given her friendly nature, is a member of several clubs. Ginna appreciates hanging out with her friends. Along with her family, Ginna moved to Bowling Green in 2012 and received an excellent education (educational, vocational and social supports) through the help of the Warren County Public Schools.

Alex Embry, age 27, has an easy smile and has been a gardener at Top Crops since the program started. Alex was born with heart failure, intestinal problems, and Down syndrome, but, like Ginna, doesn’t let anything keep him from reaching his potential. He loves people, and shows a special interest in animals. Alex also participates in Special Olympics, and loves to learn about National Parks when his busy schedule allows it.  

Any farmer will tell us that, to get a good harvest, the crop needs attention, and maybe a little extra help every now and then to reach its full potential. It’s the same with any of us, including the gardeners who are part of the Top Crops program.  

Top Crops is a non-profit program geared to provide continuing education and training for individuals with special needs; their garden is located at the Western Kentucky University’s farm just off of Nashville Road in Bowling Green. These part-time farmers dig up the dirt to plant the seeds, tend the garden, harvest the vegetables, and then sell fresh produce each Saturday morning at the Community Farmers Market in Bowling Green, located on Nashville Road. Early crops include snow peas, cabbage, kale, broccoli, and lettuce, just to mention a few. They are assisted by other adults and volunteers.

The quarter acre of land where the garden is located was leased to Top Crops by Western Kentucky University. Home Depot and Connected Nation partnered to create the raised bed garden boxes. Atmos Energy has also been a strong supporter of Top Crops, along with other volunteer organizations through volunteer events like United Way Day of Caring. The Top Crops growing area also includes an unheated high tunnel house, made possible through a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.    

“We stay focused on the abilities of each member of the Top Crops team,” said Rod Embry, Alex Embry’s father. “Our gardeners are learning new skills, and producing a wonderful product. And they’re teaching great lessons to all of us each step of the way.”  

Top Crops program information can be obtained by calling Bill or Carol Greer at 270-779-9147.