British Columbia

Community garden brings hope, relief for women in recovery

Gardening proponents say the hobby isn't just a great way to grow vegetables — it's also a boon for mental health.

Gardening proponents say the hobby helps promote better mental health

Residents at Charlford House in Burnaby, B.C., now have access to their own community garden with the help of donations from local gardeners. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Claudette Samson has a new morning routine these days.

An early riser, Samson, 53, heads straight out to the garden plot in her backyard and spends the first hour of her day weeding, watering and tending to the growing vegetables. 

"It's a great way to connect with my higher power in the morning," Samson said, sitting on a stool among the cucumbers, strawberries and lettuce. 

Samson is a resident at the Charlford House Society's transitional housing for women. Residents can live there for up to two years after they've been through the organization's main recovery program. 

After six years of sobriety, the loneliness and isolation Samson experienced during the pandemic led her to relapse. 

Claudette Samson, centre, works alongside two other Charlford House residents. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But today, she's feeling better than ever thanks in part to a community garden built for her and the nearly 30 residents of Charlford House's recovery centre and transitional housing in Burnaby, B.C. 

Gardening proponents say the hobby isn't just about growing vegetables — it's also a boon for mental health.

Jordan Mara, founder of Mind and Soil, a company that sells worm casting based soils, jumped on the chance to help out with the Charlford House garden when he saw a post about it on a local gardening Facebook group. 

Jordan Mara, founder of Mind and Soil, says he wanted to help out with the Charlford House garden because he believes in the mental health benefits of gardening. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Mara founded his company in December to help people get their gardens started so they could reap the mental health benefits of digging in the dirt and watching things grow. 

"Gardening has been what I've turned to work through a lot of my challenges with anxiety," Mara said. "I've felt just how beneficial it can be to one's mental well-being. And I want to be able to bring that to as many folks as possible." 

Mara seems to have tapped into the pandemic gardening trend at the right moment. He says he blew through a year's worth of projected sales in just four months.

'It gives them a purpose'

A few months ago the Charlford House garden was barely more than a patch of dirt and a few concrete steps. 

Ariel Tait, a residential counsellor with the society, says it took a lot of hard work to prepare the garden beds and turn the little area into an outdoor sanctuary complete with bird feeders and fruit trees. 

Ariel Tait, a residential counsellor at Charlford House, says the community garden has been a great source of activity for the residents during the pandemic. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

She says the organization's executive director, Miranda Vecchio, first came up with the idea in order to create a seed-to-table program that would help the residents learn to grow and prepare their own food.

"Gardening is so beneficial in so many ways," Tait said. "It gets women outside and it gives them a purpose."

Outpouring of support

But starting a garden can be expensive, and Charlford House is a non-profit society.

So Tait looked for help on a local Facebook page. Donations quickly came pouring in — seeds, seedlings, tools and more. 

Mind and Soil's Mara was one of the first to respond.

The Charlford House community garden was just a patch of dirt with a few concrete paving stones before it was transformed into an outdoor sanctuary. (Arial Tait/Charlford House)

He says over the last few months he donated about $700 worth of start-up products like soil, mulch and rocks with the help of his community program. He also offered workshops to help the women learn how to garden. 

"The more that we can help with making [gardening] accessible to individuals, then we'll come across those folks like Claudette, where it just absolutely brings joy to her face and to her day," Mara said. 

The community garden took a lot of hard work from the Charlford House residents. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Samson agrees that the garden has helped her on her road to recovery, offering her a calm and safe space to process all the feelings she's no longer numbing through her addiction. 

"The garden is just such a peaceful, tranquil place to be," she said. "I feel amazing. There is hope." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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