Shelterwood GardenThis spring and summer our students have had an amazing opportunity to work in our new garden, which was built last fall.  We have been able to see one growing season all the way through from planting to harvest.  We have grown tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, herbs, squash, and more.  The flowers have been beautifully arranged to provide even more color in our garden and throughout campus.  Students have had a part in each step of the process.   Daily, the kitchen proudly uses the produce to create some nutritious and creative dishes.

Not only do we enjoy the delicious and beautiful provisions of the garden, but we also are very aware of the therapeutic benefits, as gardens can be an amazing avenue of healing.  Here are some of the therapeutic aspects of our garden:

The ability to take ownership

Gardens require ownership and need careful tending.  Teens we work with often struggle with feelings of loneliness, not belonging and a lack of purpose.  As seeds are planted and life is created, students quickly take on the role of caretakers and get to experience the responsibility, even if in a small way, of maintaining life.  Pulling weeds in an effort to protect and nurture life starts to become a requirement for success and provides immediate feedback as to how well they are doing.  And with the harvest, teens experience fantastic tasting food and the satisfaction of a completed task.

Empowerment to make decisions

Decisions are always difficult for teens as they struggle to feel confident. Perfectionism can often paralyze behavior and their ability to process information.  Fortunately, plants are flexible and forgiving. Making choices and decisions in caring for them offers avenues for trial and error as well as recognition that there is not always a “right” way to garden.

Communication of Emotions

Emotions can often get the best of us, but for teens emotions are often expressed in unpredictable and in unusual ways. We find that our garden provides many fantastic metaphors, which enable teens to express emotions in deeper and more appropriate ways.

Shelterwood Academy FoodGood Food

Those with eating disorders often view food in a different way.  Research suggests that food often takes on a “bad guy” persona.  Food actually becomes an object of fear.  Those who struggle with eating issues often detach themselves from food and have difficulty feeling safe around it.  Being involved in the production of food ties teens back to food.  Because of the teen’s investment in the food, they are able to slowly change the way they view the purpose and intention of it.

We are thankful for the garden at Shelterwood and are excited to see its therapeutic benefits continue.