Gardening: Nurturing Multiple Pathways

by Michael Schut, Communications Manager

Here at the Recovery Café Network we describe Recovery Cafés in a variety of ways:

  • as healing recovery communities;
  • as places where we embody what it looks like when we live like we belong to each other;
  • as communities of belonging and becoming.

And we emphasize that our practices—like motivational enhancement and trauma-informed care—are evidence-based. And that’s important. Evidence-based practices have been rigorously tested, peer reviewed, often described and published in academic journals; they have been proven effective.

More and more evidence points to the healing power of the natural world. And that makes a difference in a world that values what science has “proven.” We know that connecting with nature reduces stress and increases resiliency[i]. Doctors in Great Britain prescribe “nature” to their patients[ii]. For pregnant women, contact with nature promotes better fetal development and healthier birth weights[iii].

And the list goes on.

Recovery Café San Jose
Recovery Café Lowell
Recovery Café San Jose

But I don’t think we really need science to tell us, or confirm, that being outside is good for us. That, just like we belong to one another, we also belong in relationship to the air, water, and soil that nurture us every day. That our community includes non-human members. That it feels good to plant, water, and nurture a seed. That a carrot or green bean harvested by hand and eaten five minutes later is particularly nutritious for body and soul.

And in the context of Network Cafés, we don’t need science to tell us that planting a garden just might be what some Members deeply need—might be the thing that most powerfully makes the Café a healing recovery community for them. Might be the thing that most helps them feel like they belong.

On a recent Zoom call, a number of Cafés spoke about their gardens. And so we asked for a few pictures and a few sentences. Below we share those vignettes. We do so with hearts full of gratitude for the ways that each Café supports healing recovery journeys and provides multiple recovery pathways.

Reconnecting with the larger natural world, including through gardening, is one of them.

Recovery Café Jefferson County (WA)

Members lovingly cultivate the raised beds at Recovery Café Jefferson County. The Café installed seven raised beds last year on their back patio. The chives, dill, cilantro, sage, and basil show up regularly in the Café’s (delicious!) meals. Strawberries, blueberries, and flowers have also been started—proven effective in attracting both people and pollinators! 

Café Members who tend to the gardens say gardening is a way for them to build community with one another and to learn new skills. They take pride in the work. And, what better metaphor for recovery is there than a garden: small seeds, when nurtured with care, become something beautiful, magnificent, even miraculous.

Recovery Café San Jose (CA)

Recovery Café San Jose’s tagline is, “A place to belong and grow.” Members, volunteers, and staff delight in getting their hands dirty and nurturing plants. The Café tends a couple of container boxes where the team has grown a variety of vegetables, including squash, lettuce, and tomatoes. In addition, through a “Seed to Table” program, each week Members plant, weed, and harvest at Taylor Street Farm, a local urban farm. San Jose Members and staff are pictured above at Taylor Street.

Recovery Café Lexington (KY)

Recovery Café Lexington’s team of Members, volunteers, and staff recently planted two raised beds: one is a flower/pollinator garden; the other features herbs and vegetables. The middle photo above highlights the sunflowers that James, a Café Member and their regular lead gardener, planted last summer.

Recovery Cafés Lowell (MA) and Vancouver (BC)

Recovery Café Lowell (MA, above left) and Vancouver (BC, above right) are tending small veggie container gardens. Calen, a Member at the Vancouver Café, wrote, “Gardening is therapeutic for me because it allows me to think while being reminded of the earth’s humility, plus gratitude for the potential harvest. Plus the fresh air and exercise in it is an additional benefit.” 

Thank you to Brian Richardson (Jefferson County), Chadelia de Regt (Vancouver, BC), Aaron Guldenschuh-Gatten (Lexington), Kelsey Grondin (Lowell), and Kathy Cordova (San Jose) for their contributions to this piece.