Gardens cultivate more than veggies

Posted On July 1, 2016 By | No Comments on Gardens cultivate more than veggies

If you’ve ever worked the soil or spent time in a garden, you know it produces more than a generous harvest of food. The therapeutic element of gardening, the whole metaphor of being able to plant something, nurture it and see it grow and bear fruit is powerful and can be transformative.

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The Main Street Family Shelter features a garden that provides fresh vegetables for our healthy snack and meal program for children in our emergency shelter.

This year, gardens have sprouted at three different COTS facilities: our Daystation, Main Street Family Shelter, and Canal Street Veterans Housing.  Programming in COTS shelters goes beyond crisis needs – activities also affirm each individual’s dignity, help foster connections among all the members of our community, and cultivate hope.  Providing garden space and support at several of our shelter locations helps make those benefits possible.

Some of the gardens are spearheaded by staff such as our Main Street Family Shelter garden, and others, like the one at the Daystation, come about organically.  “Carol,” a Daystation client, who is a force of nature when it comes to gardening has spent a lifetime establishing gardens throughout the United States.  When she came to the Daystation this spring and saw a fallow plot of land in our outdoor gathering area, she immediately rolled up her sleeves and dug in — literally.

She enlisted the help of Daystation guests and staff to help turn the small parcel of a land into a garden teeming with all kinds of familiar and exotic faire.  As the summer progresses and the plants mature, we will be able to harvest a variety of vegetables, fruits, and herbs that can be incorporated into the nutritious noontime meals served every day at the Daystation.  The harvest from the garden will go a long way to help supplement the lunches donated by local organizations and businesses and help stretch the program’s food budget.

The Daystation garden is the effort of a guest who is in COTS services.

The Daystation garden is the effort of a guest who is in COTS services.

Of course, reaping a generous harvest that can be shared among all who are hungry is a primary aspect of a garden’s function, but the garden at Main Street Family Shelter is intended to provide so much more to the children who are living there. The creation of a garden offers children learning experiences that begin in the garden and stay with them the rest of their lives.  As part of COTS Children’s Programming in family shelter our AmeriCorps volunteer Casey Mears helps the children design, plant, and maintain the raised-bed garden helping to improve their math and science skills while fostering cooperation and responsibility. Casey works with the children to help them prepare, cook, and share their harvest with their families encouraging healthier eating habits and a deeper appreciation for the environment.

The benefits of gardening are seemingly endless, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Not only can tilling the earth, planting seeds, and weeding vastly improve physical health, but it can also improve mental well-being.

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. – Alfred Austin

Canal Street Veterans Housing's garden features flowers and vegetables.

Canal Street Veterans Housing’s garden features flowers and vegetables.

The series of raised-bed vegetable gardens at our Canal Street Veterans Housing in Winooski offer a safe haven and respite for our veterans from the pressures of everyday life.  The garden helps deepen the shared sense of community at Canal Street and has incredible healing effects for all involved. “Mark,” one of our Canal Street residents, feels the garden provides him with a sense of structure and permanence that he was missing before participating in the program. “I love the opportunity to be part of something from start to finish that benefits more than just myself,” he said.

Multiple studies have shown that gardening provides a variety of benefits. Being in a natural setting helps us to cope with and recover from illness, injury, and stress. It helps improve our outlook and life satisfaction and perhaps most importantly connects us to something larger than ourselves.

A special thank you to our good friends at Gardener’s Supply Company for donating the plants and supplies to help bring our Main Street Family Shelter garden to life.

Categories: Children, COTS Shelters, Families, Veterans
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