There’s something about gardening. Touching the Earth and rooting through the soil with the sun beaming down can be a calming and therapeutic activity, and is sought after as a remedy for many illnesses.
The field of STH, or social and therapeutic horticulture, follows this model – utilizing plant based activities including gardening to administer therapy. Individuals experiencing mental illness, developmental disabilities, or other issues often find respite in a natural setting.
Those recovering from addiction often turn to this particular remedy as well. Pleasant Hill based non-profit Seeds 4 Recovery caters to these individuals, offering community gardens for them to work in and enjoy on their path to recovery. In addition, they assess the needs of the recovering community – developing action plans to support, educate and empower their clients.
Shannon Pugh, a student in the Health Education program at JFKU volunteers at Seeds 4 Recovery. As part of her service learning project, she had the opportunity to choose from numerous local non-profits to partner with on community projects. A personal trainer by trade, the mission of Seeds 4 Recovery resonated with her and she signed up.
“My project has been to do some research into what people in the recovery community are looking for and things that can actually enhance the recovery and enhance their health and wellbeing overall,” Shannon says. “It definitely aligns really well with what I’m doing right now for work.”
The allure of Engaged Service Learning program at JFKU lies in the practical, real-world experience each student is afforded. JFKU has forged relationships with local, national, and international organizations, allowing the student to choose from a range of options the one most in line with their career goals. In Shannon’s case, not only did the project align with her professional life, it aligned with her personal life as well.
“I’m also in recovery so I relate really well to those I was speaking to,” she confides. “I have that personal connection to the health and wellness side but also the personal connection to the recovery side.”
Her relatability made it possible to establish a rapport with the patients that may not have been possible otherwise.
“I think there was a little bit of trust established,” she says. “Whereas had it been just somebody that didn’t have a relationship, I’m not sure they would have been as open.”
Leveraging that trust, Shannon was able to talk to individuals in early, mid and late stage recovery to assess their needs. What she found was the desire for a holistic treatment program that incorporated mental, physical, and spiritual treatment.
“We realized that people want a more holistic, whole person approach,” Shannon says. “They are interested in yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices–enlarging their spiritual lives, which is central to recovery.”
Not only are they interested in holistic therapy; the patients are interested in nutrition as well. Through Seeds 4 Recovery, they are able to learn about nutrition and healthy eating from the therapists and volunteers, many of whom are experts in eco-therapy and horticulture. For Shannon, being able to teach nutrition is essentially on the job training.
“It’s good practice for me, since that’s what I want to do for a career,” she says.
Volunteering with Seeds 4 Recovery is more than just a project to Shannon. It’s an opportunity to connect with individuals like her and gain priceless professional experience along the way.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” she concludes, referring to the service learning program. “I hope people take advantage of it.”