Planting Seeds of Wellness: Harvesting Health and Hope

When you think about community gardens, you probably think of a garden’s ability to grow flowers, vegetables or fruits. What you may not think of, however, is a community garden’s ability to foster personal growth within those who tend to its crops.

That growth was evident in downtown St. John’s in the summer of 2018, thanks to a budding partnership between Eastern Health and The Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and a grant from Eastern Health’s Healthy Communities Partnership Fund. Through the grant, the partners were able to support two groups: Wisdom to Wellness and Gender Journeys. These groups offered health, hope, and the opportunity for growth, among members and within their beloved community garden.

Wisdom to Wellness is a program designed for people who are living with addiction and/or other mental health issues. Based on principles of recovery and harm reduction, participants in the program explore ways to live healthier lives in recovery.

“The Wisdom to Wellness program made me feel in control of my own recovery, while providing tools to make that recovery possible.” – Participant

 Gender Journeys is a program designed for adults who represent a range of gender non-conforming identities and the wider trans communities. The program provides a positive space for people who are exploring their identities and who may be dealing with transphobia in their lives.

“Gender Journeys was a valuable and productive experience for me as a participant,” said a Gender Journeys participant. “The guided facilitation on important and sensitive topics created a safe space for myself and other participants to engage with challenging issues related to our transitions, while having access to a social work professional as well as a facilitator with lived experience.”

Participants enjoy group activities like snowshoeing, yoga, and walks around Quidi Vidi Lake.

Participants enjoy group activities like snowshoeing, yoga, and walks around Quidi Vidi Lake.

The Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is no stranger to partnerships and community development. The Venerable Roger Whalen, the Archdeacon of the church, said that churches like his are “trying to focus more on mission – the connection and engagement between the church and the community.” He said that “partnerships allow us to facilitate some of the important work done in our community, by using the expertise that is already present.”

In fact, both Wisdom to Wellness and Gender Journeys followed in the footsteps of another well-established and successful group known as the Friday Wellness Group. This Eastern Health-led group has been operating for eight years and, depending on the activity, takes place in partnership with different community groups and organizations. The Anglican Cathedral hosted the Friday Wellness Group members on different occasions over the summer months for outdoor yoga, gardening, and cooking. Other activities of the group include indoor yoga, hiking, and snowshoeing and participants in Gender Journeys and Wisdom to Wellness are encouraged to attend.

Group activities range from season-to-season.

Group activities range from season-to-season.

All three groups are facilitated by social worker, Brenda Halley. Patricia Waddleton, a clinical dietitian, also co-facilitates the Friday Wellness Group. Both work with Eastern Health’s Mental Health and Addictions program. Though the three groups have a different focus, the facilitators ensure that the programs – and their participants – connect with each other.

“The intent was for the programs to flow together,” said facilitator Brenda Halley. “Participants from either group could attend some, or all, of our many sessions – like yoga, meditation, and cooking – depending on their interests. I used the garden to connect everyone, because food connects us all.”

The community garden, which was built right on the grounds of the Cathedral, has had a huge role in fostering those connections, as well as allowing for hands-on learning opportunities, and facilitating growth – in more than just vegetable crops.

“This not only provided a food source for people. The tending and care of the garden, over several months, lead to a sense of commitment and pride for those involved,” said Patricia Waddleton.

Planting, tending and seeing growth in a real garden inspired and often mirrored personal growth in the lives of the program participants.

Gender Journeys has had a positive impact on my life in so many ways, mostly in terms of how I see myself living with mental illness,” said one of the program participants. “The support I have felt from the members of the groups at the beginning of my transition has been absolutely amazing!”

Participants in Gender Journeys, Wisdom to Wellness, and the Friday Wellness Group all had a hand in tending to this garden bed.

Participants in Gender Journeys, Wisdom to Wellness, and the Friday Wellness Group all had a hand in tending to this garden bed.

In October 2018, all of the vegetables were harvested, but the group didn’t stop there! Participants used the vegetables to prepare a meal together. The overall “food-to-table” experience was a great one, especially for those who didn’t always have the means to access healthy food, or food at all.

According to Waddleton:Cooking sessions are a great opportunity to educate, in a practical way, about food preparation methods of healthy, affordable meals.” She recognized that many of the program participants were often hungry and isolated, and that cooking and eating together often helped them meet those needs. One participant said that “the availability of healthy foods during our sessions meant the difference between having access to food and not.”

Program participants made mason jar salads using crops from their community garden and other nutritious ingredients.

Program participants made mason jar salads using crops from their community garden and other nutritious ingredients.

Though the cold temperatures have put a pause on the garden for now, personal growth has not been stunted! With continued support from the Anglican Cathedral and Eastern Health employees, the groups help to grow and strengthen social networks by providing open and inclusive spaces where relationships are nurtured and supported.

“We each bring something valuable into the partnership, a combination that provides something even more valuable and useful for the community,” said Archdeacon Whalen. “We all want to work for the benefit to the community, and partnerships make that work more efficient and effective.”

The church will continue to apply for community grants like the Healthy Communities Partnership Fund, established by Eastern Health’s Board of Trustees, and partner with local organizations to have a positive impact.

All those involved are keen to continue working together to promote health and wellness in their community, according to Brenda Halley.

“We are building community, one group at a time.”

The Healthy Communities Partnership Fund is Accepting Applications

The deadline for applications is Wednesday, May 15, 2019. Healthy Communities Partnership Fund guidelines are available on Eastern Health’s website. To discuss potential projects and obtain an application, interested groups can call (709) 466-6316 (Rural Avalon and Peninsulas) or (709) 752-4912 (St. John’s and area). ■

This story was written by Hannah Tilley, social marketing consultant with Health Promotion, Population and Public Health, in consultation with Brenda Halley, social worker with Mental Health and Addictions with Eastern Health.

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