guest essay: a passion revealed
Its often said that getting your hands into dirt and gardening can be the best therapy. I know personally that the day's worries can melt away after a session of weeding, pruning, even watering my garden. Now science is backing the claim that gardening can have not only therapeutic effects on stress levels but that the soil itself might have something to do with it as well. This is a fascinating article about the chemistry of the microbes and their effect on brain chemistry. Gardening Chemistry
In the spring, I had an opportunity to visit the smallest organic farm in Washington state. It's located in perhaps the unlikeliest of places -- a transitional housing facility that serves adults that live with chronic mental illness. I was intrigued by this concept of teaching self-reliance and creating recreation with a simple idea, growing food.
Jenny Hauschildt is the director of the farming program at Transitional Resources and I will share my interview and the images I took with her in a later piece. Her personal essay explores her journey from never having had a vegetable until the age of 22 to organic farmer.
note from Audra: With respect for the residents’ privacy I chose not to show their faces in these images.
A Passion Revealed by Jenny Hauschildt
I didn’t eat vegetables until I was 22, as it was never required of me and fast-food was so much tastier and more abundant! Romaine lettuce- the only exception- had to be doused in ranch to be edible. My dad used to feed our sunflowers with Miracle Grow, and more Miracle Grow. To his credit, we did win the local competition for tallest sunflower (over 16 feet, 10 inches to be exact). As a child of the Corn Belt in the Midwestern United states, I never predicted that my upbringing would lead me to pursue organic farming.
I fell into mental health work at Transitional Resources (TR), an agency serving individuals with several and persistent illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar. The first time I walked into the certified organic plots on site at TR, I was overcome with awe and wonder, but also deep frustration that I couldn’t decipher what anything was. The woman giving me the tour knew the name of every plant as if she knew a different language. To me, everything looked the same and nothing looked like anything I ate.
Stemming from curiosity and a desire to learn how to “read plants”, I soon found myself wanting to spend all my time in TR’s greenhouse instead of passing medications or case managing my clients. After a while, I started running Garden Groups, where clients would come for a few hours and we would hack away seeding in the greenhouse, transplanting, or harvesting outside.
It has long been recognized that gardening and farming has therapeutic effects. Putting our hands in the soil transports us to another world- mentally and physically. Research shows that coming into contact with a strain of bacterium in soil (called mycobacterium vaccae) has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which elevates mood and decreases anxiety and depression.
Garden Group allows us to get out of our heads and tap into fascination- a state of being that has us hooked on the incredible natural stimuli all around. And for my clients, focusing on something other than voices or uncomfortable side effects of medication is a welcomed relief. It’s a kind of therapy that doesn’t have you talking, but has you doing.
Also, let’s not underestimate the powerful effects of having something beautiful to look at in a place that is full of struggle. Many of our client’s apartments face the urban farm, and the happenings of everyday life at TR unfold in and around it.
And perhaps the most important part of our vegetable beds at TR is exposure and access. It giving people a chance to learn about, eat from, and sit in a natural place right in their backyard.
I believe that your passion reveals itself when you find yourself being completely absorbed when you engage in that thing. When I’m at TR, time isn’t something I think about. Nothing forces the present moment upon me more than reconnecting to the natural environment within which we evolved. For my clients who experience constant inner turbulence, a truly enjoyable present moment is a rare one. But I believe that they temporarily find it in the garden, and it keeps them coming back week after week.
Everyone experiences their surrounding differently, and my clients experience our sanctuary in especially unique ways. Sometimes they ask me, “Are we giving the garden a haircut today?” Or, my favorite, “Can we grow french fries?” And my answer is, always, “Actually, yes, we can grow french fries.”
Originally published August 11, 2015