Life Lessons in the Garden

Collard greens and kale

Collard greens and kale ready for picking, with Garry hard at work in the SHS garden in the background.

The sun was beaming on the Swope Health Services gardens at mid-morning as the gardeners began assembling to plan out the day’s work.

The gardeners are all members of the adult Community Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program (CPRP), along with Lenise James, Community Support Specialist.

Today’s tasks involved examining the crops already planted and then preparing two beds: one for sweet potatoes and one for zucchini.

Gardening empowers the participants, giving them specific tasks and focus.

Participants follow their interests: Garry takes a shovel and makes short work of preparing the bed for planting; Antwan, who aspires to be a herpetologist, inspects the garden for bugs – he finds earthworms, grubs and a caterpillar and he’s happy there are no signs of Japanese beetles. Stephan relishes the task of harvesting collard greens.

About 15 individuals in the CPRP participate in the gardening activity two or three days a week, weather permitting.

They plan for three seasons, rotating crops in the eight beds, and then they take care of watering, weeding and generally nurturing the plants to harvest.

Sweet potatoes

Abera Kelecho shows Lorena and Stephan how to plant sweet potatoes.

“We have a good time,” Lenise says, with her gardeners nodding in agreement. The gardens are a tangible expression of caring and nurturing, raising up tiny seedlings, and ultimately, cooking and eating the bounty that comes from the plants.

“It’s a little like raising children,” said Clarence, a program participant. “They start out so small and helpless, and then before you know it, they’re teenagers and young adults and ready to go on.”

This year’s garden program included a class on tomatoes, presented by the Kansas City Community Garden, and hands-on experience in planting and tending vegetables and herbs. Lenise notes it also gives some of the members a chance to teach the others. Some have experience and enjoy sharing memories and insights with others.

Abera Kelecho, case manager, joins the group this morning to help with planting sweet potatoes.  There’s plenty of lively chatter as he demonstrates how to separate the tender plants and prepare them for planting.

Lorena and zucchini

Lorena carefully positions the seedling zucchini in the garden.

Novice gardener Lorena listens intently and follows the guidance, earning praise from Abera.

“When I started, I didn’t want to touch the dirt,” she said. “Now I love it.”

The garden gives the group a chance to plan for the future as well as remember the past. Every year, the team dedicates a memorial to honor fellow gardeners who recently passed away.

This year’s memorial will be a large planter, filled with healthy and thriving herbs. The herbs will join the other plants when harvested in creating meals like collards and cornbread.

“They are so delicious,” Clarence said. Soon the team was busy recalling past meals from the garden while making suggestions for the next one.

Six members of the CPRP team, led by Sonya Bolden-Oakley, Supervisor, support the partnership that produces and manages the garden.

Co-leads are Lenise and Mark McIlroy, an experienced gardener and community support specialist.  The program is also supported with a grant from Kansas City Community Gardens.



Additional photos provided by Rosie, a program participant, showing the fruits of the 2017 garden: watermelon, tomatoes ripening on the vine, collard greens and peppers

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