People and programs
Gardens are central to Community Food Centres’ programming. Not only do they provide a source of produce, our gardens ensure that everyone in the community has a place to learn, experience self growth, and see life in action. As people get their hands in soil and their faces in the sun, they’re also coming together and building important connections that reduce social isolation. Gardens create calming, therapeutic spaces that encourage a sense of belonging, which is particularly beneficial for community members with a range of mental health needs. Gardening programs in Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations provide healing, safety, and support.
For Noel Dhingra, Garden/Greenhouse Coordinator at The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford, ON, a vibrant program sprouted out of a community need for mental health support services. The Local’s weekly gardening program for men with mental health issues has made a huge difference in how men see themselves and their place in the community. Dhingra found that the participants respond positively to having a sense of purpose and being responsible for a specific task, whether it’s weeding, watering plants, or harvesting the beautiful produce they help grow.
At the end of each gardening session, Dhingra facilitates a peer support group with the men, where they have the space to talk about what’s going on in their lives. In his experience, it “takes a short time for everyone to feel comfortable talking openly about their mental health struggles. What comes first is the connection to each other and being outside together.” This connection is facilitated by the shared work of growing and caring for the garden as a team.