Mental HealthThe power of Giving is so powerful! It nurtures our soul, our mind and helps with our mental health. Giving has a ripple effect. I recently wrote an article for The Pollination Project and want to share it here. This post is about growing food, empowerment, the environment, and youth. I find it appropriate and I hope you do too!

What a fun morning on a beautiful sunny day in San Diego County visiting with Craig Williams, a teacher at Sunset High School, a continuation school designed to give extensive help to students in need of flexibility and individualized attention. Craig received a grant from the Pollination Project back in 2013 to support his “garden pass” program and he invited us to catch up with him.

The garden idea started when Craig wondered one day, how to bring his “Happy Place” from home to school. His happy place is his home’s front yard filled with organic edible plants that he shares with others and that brings much happiness to people.

He thought his students could use a “happy place,” an area to engage, to learn, to support their mental health or to just feel at peace.  His idea got the support of everyone at school and the seed money from the Pollination Project allowed him to start building.

Building a GardenAbout seven students volunteered and worked after school for weeks on end. He shared that it was almost sad to finish the garden as the experience was truly empowering for the participating youth.

Everything was going well, the plants were beginning to grow (from seeds) when one morning a student noticed that the whole garden was eaten down to stubs! Critters! Something unforeseen but a lesson to all on learning how to live with them. Adjustments needed to be made and once again Craig brought his tools from home to protect the garden; the critters have been unable to get inside since then.

Over the last three years, the garden has been home to small groups of students and teachers who have shown interest. They have grown all sorts of crops including artichoke, lettuce, tomato, dill, rosemary, arugula, potatoes, sunflowers, milkweed (for monarchs), and more. Most mornings you can see Craig out watering and playing in the garden, and it becomes a central meeting place for himself, a few students, and a few teachers and provides a smooth transition into the school day.

The students know that when they are frazzled and unable to concentrate during class, they can spend a few minutes in the garden watering or doing a specific task to help center them mentally. Good mental health!

The garden now has a small pond, some drought resistant plants and a mix of beneficial critters like ladybugs, lizards, birds, and spiders. Part of the process has been to help the students experience the appreciation for the miracle of all living things through interacting with them and observing them.

Garden 2018A real challenge (besides the critters) is that Sunset High School has a population of students with problems ranging from depression and anxiety to drug addiction, suicide attempts, homelessness, poor relationships and more. It is difficult to get consistency from this population, so beds go uncared for when pressing issues in the students’ lives take over. Craig does a lot of the caretaking himself so that their plots remain happy. The students don’t need to know that, they just need to feel the accomplishment.

The garden has been a huge success in 2018, with more participants than in previous years thanks to the Adopt-A-Plot idea, where a student gets his own plot to tend. Students suffering from anxiety have greatly benefited and use that space to relax by tending to their crops. Some plots are abandoned, which is expected with this type of student body, but many have grown and produced beauty and bounty! Craig shared with me that he is overall a very happy person and I can see why.

Find out about The Pollination Project and the amazing things they do for the world.