Just off the side of the main road, the community garden at Fort Knox in Kentucky is hard to miss. Lush greenery blankets the half-acre. Fourteen raised garden beds produce healthy delectables like tomatoes, zucchini, kale, pumpkins and herbs. A shed bears a colorful mural painted by a local artist. Kids frolic in the mud kitchen.
It’s hard to believe that it didn’t even exist until January of 2023.
“It’s turned into a beacon for the families at Fort Knox,” said Alisyn Kandybowicz, the garden’s coordinator. “When we PCSed here last July, I just saw so much potential in the space and thought, wow, this could really be something someday.”
That “someday” came quickly as Kandybowicz, a speech therapist and wife of Army Maj. Joshua Kandybowicz, took over the plot in October of 2022, just three months after arriving. The land had been used as a community garden previously but was in a sad state, including 2-feet-high grass, rotted wood laying around and poison ivy underfoot.
“Every station I’ve been at, I’ve been involved in a community garden,” explained Kandybowicz, a Phoenix native. “Gardening is a way for me to find likeminded people and give back to the community by doing something with a space.”
She kicked things off the Army way, creating a SOP for the neglected acreage. The mother of three drew a map of the proposed garden spaces, planned for user education on topics like nutrition, campaigned for funds and presented everything to the garrison command. They received the SOP enthusiastically, as did Knox Hills, the privatized housing company that owns the actual land.
From there, Kandybowicz said it was easy to gain momentum and people.
“The whole community came together, and it was really cool to see,” she said. “Everybody loved the idea of coming out here and having a mission to create this space to grow food and share it with our people.”
Food insecurity among the military community is a topic near and dear to Kandybowicz’s heart. To that end, the garden has produced 109 pounds of fresh produce for hungry military families in 2023 so far, and there’s a trading counter area where anyone can bring excess produce to donate.
Plenty of local businesses and organizations have also gotten in on the generosity. Lendlease, the military housing business via Knox Hills, gave Kandybowicz’s team a $3,000 grant. Her boss donated physical goods to assist with the cleanup and planting. An on-post spouse and community club awarded the garden team another grant. People purchased items off an Amazon wish list. A home improvement store donated a pallet of garden soil for the raised beds. Thus far, more than 100 people have volunteered to weed, mow, edge, harvest and water, including a husband-and-wife pair of veterans who faithfully landscape every week.
“The biggest joy has been just meeting so many people out here, and it’s been so much fun to uplift other people,” Kandybowicz said. “Individuals who didn’t know how to garden, we’ve been learning together, and now they’re able to reap that harvest.”
Four other military installations have contacted Kandybowicz, wanting to replicate a community garden on their own bases. Future plans, meanwhile, include finishing a slab of concrete so that people in wheelchairs or other mobility devices can still participate, while Kandybowicz has installed a communication board for nonverbal gardeners. Painted signs sprinkled throughout were designed by schoolchildren on post.
It truly has become, Kandybowicz said, a place for everyone.
“Any community garden I’ve passed by, I instantly feel like that community is thriving,” she said. “And our garden here at Fort Knox is a sign to everyone that we’re a supportive, welcoming community that cares about this place and each other.”