Throughout this tumultuous spring, those of us at KidsGardening have been encouraged and comforted by all of the remarkable stories of families, schools, and community organizations who are using gardens and garden activities to offer hope and joy to the children in their lives. Many of these stories have been shared with us by our 2020 Gro More Good Grassroots Grant winners. This year’s recipients were notified of their award on the first day of spring right in the midst of a rapidly changing world. We offered them the opportunity to decline or delay their award or to alter their plans to meet more immediate needs wanting to be as flexible as possible, but the overwhelming response we received was one of determination that the garden programs would continue. It was amazing to me how quickly they created new plans and adapted their programs to meet pressing needs arising from the pandemic. Over the next few blogs, I want to share with you some of these inspirational stories from our Grassroots Grant winners which I hope will bring you as much hope as they have brought to me.
Eliada Homes Therapeutic Tea Garden
Eliada Homes is a residential facility offering a wide variety of treatment programs for youth who have experienced trauma and abuse. From substance use issues to juvenile justice involvement, Eliada residents are there to focus on learning how to overcome their personal mental health challenges. Many have bounced through systems of care as children and are distrusting of adults and the systems they represent because of the way they've been failed in the past. Three years ago, a garden and farm program was started on the grounds of Eliada to provide a therapeutic activity that would help staff build trust with youth and offer experiences to help them regulate their emotions, manage their impulses, and help them develop the coping skills they need for the future.
Eliada’s gardening program currently centers around a geodesic grow dome and a growing tunnel. Hydroponics and aquaponics methods are used to produce large quantities of leafy greens, herbs, and fruits. Everything grown is used in the cafeteria on a daily basis. With their Grassroots Grant award, Eliada plans to expand beyond the enclosed indoor gardening spaces to create a no-till, regenerative educational garden. They plan to dedicate one section of the garden to a therapeutic tea garden.
Assistant Director of Development Nora Scheff, shares this about why planting a tea garden is so important: “Youth living at Eliada are in our high-level treatment program. Youth in this program have experienced trauma which results in internalizing such as self-harm or externalizing such as aggressive behaviors that make it unsafe for them to live at home. Their time at Eliada is for healing, and one of the things the kids love most is herbal tea. Many of the kids in the program have bounced around in the mental health system for years, and have been hospitalized. They have been prescribed a menu of medications, and they have often felt out of control of their treatment experiences. Self-soothing techniques like drinking herbal tea are popular because the kids have agency around their use.”
Due to the pandemic, the installation of the tea garden has been delayed, however as an essential and residential service, Eliada’s garden has continued to grow strong. Nora mentioned that with students unable to leave their facility, “Expanding on-campus opportunities has been really important so that we can continue to offer enriching activities that help with healing and build resiliency.”
She continues, “This is such an unprecedented time. For youth living at Eliada who have experienced so much trauma, it has been important to us to create as much normalcy as possible. Having a structured routine and keeping kids engaged has been vital. Having gardening opportunities offers so many sensory experiences from taste and touch, to smell and sight. Youth who have experienced trauma often struggle with emotional regulation. While at Eliada they learn what coping skills they can use to calm themselves and deescalate when feeling angry, anxious, depressed, or out of control. Visiting the garden can be a coping tool, same as drinking herbal tea. The garden offers so many opportunities for youth to identify personal strategies for achieving calm and focus. While in the garden, youth also get to help out with farm chores, work off some excess energy, learn a new skill, and take their mind off of everyday tasks. Gardening gives their brain a chance to focus in on something else that is alive and growing, too, and kids learn how to be gentle and handle fragile plants and animals. They get to help plant seeds, watch food grow, and harvest their dinner salad- getting a sense of pride and taking responsibility for feeding themselves.”
Gardens offer so many ways to help heal and I hope Eliada’s efforts are as encouraging to you as they are to me.