Gardening and Recovery by John Price
When I was approached about doing a garden at the Best Care Residential program in Redmond, of course I was excited. Not only because I am a chef and have always dreamed about having an onsite garden that I could use in the preparation of the meals I prepare, but also the thought of “farm to table” fruits and vegetables and knowing those foods were grown in the ground where I cook them, well it doesn’t get any fresher or better than that. When I cook I prefer the most organic and natural food I can get.
Here at Best Care the garden is more than a way to get fresh food; it is used as a teaching tool. We use the garden as a metaphor starting from scratch with seeds and starts. Having a plan, working the soil so the plants will grow successfully and caring for them as they flourish. The metaphor is working the plan or program, seeing it grow and maintaining it just like sobriety. When starting this project I had a conversation with my boss who put this in a great light. “Chef, we are not in the gardening business we are in the recovery and education business.”
As part of my job I am expected to hold a food education class for an hour every other week. I have used this time to get the clients involved with growing and working the garden. The result after one month into this process has been nothing short of remarkable and rewarding. The clients are excited to help and learn. Usually on Thursdays after lunch I will get all the clients together at the garden and assign duties, i.e. some will weed some will water and work the soil and some will take care of other plants and flowers here at the facility . The most rewarding part of this process is seeing the attitude of everyone involved. We talk about how things grow, what types of food we can prepare with the things and what everyone likes to eat. The clients get a break from the routine of the facility and they laugh and pitch in to help each other. Everyone has stories from their childhood about gardening with their parents or the garden they have at home or just stories of growing up and life. Because we are all together doing this there is a lot if laughing and smiling and just an all-around good feeling of teamwork. One of the clients told me “chef what I love about gardening is when I am down on the ground digging and planting I am able to get out of my own head. I don’t think about anything else just what I am doing right at this moment.” I agree with that and feel like that time is very well spent and a great form of relaxation.
We have been doing this for a month now and as clients are only here for a certain amount of time I am able to assign the job of daily watering and general care to different people. There is conversation that takes place each day about how things are growing, the weather and other things pertaining to the garden. Clients get excited about having some responsibility and are always asking if they can be the one who can water and work next. I am thoroughly enjoying this part of my job and am looking forward to the big harvest probably around late August or early September. What I have told all the clients that participate is if all goes well and they “work it because it works” and stay focused in their sobriety we will have a big harvest meal at the end of the season and hopefully they will come back and taste the fruits of their work.