This article about vocational training at Nebraska’s world-famous Boys Town — it’s the site of our favorite Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney movie — got us thinking about community gardening programs designed to educate. Boys Town has always had roots in agriculture. I remember driving by there as a kid and seeing large greenhouses standing next to rows of corn and other crops. It fit right in among the surrounding farmland.
Today, Boy’s Town has been swallowed by the suburban sprawl of Omaha. But its agricultural tradition, as part of larger job skills organization which include carpentry, welding, and machinery repair, lives on. All these skills will be needed in the emerging world of urban growing, often done on rooftops.
But horticulture especially is a practice that provides meaning and purpose even as it relaxes us and makes us more thoughtful people. So it’s no wonder that groups around the country are employing gardening as vocational training, as a method of therapy, and as a way of teaching math, science, and writing skills.
From that perspective, it’s easy to think about how important gardens are to our personal well-being, both mental and physical. It just makes sense that the act of growing things, the learning of it as well as its practice, is a valuable endeavor, both commercially and personally. Bonus: you get food.
You might think of it as the most productive and well-rounded self-help course there is. And you wouldn’t be wrong.
The idea of “horticultural therapy” isn’t a new one. It’s been used by troubled teens, persons with disabilities, and the drug-addicted to reboot and add value to their lives. It’s even being used to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
Horticultural therapy has its own Association and trainees can earn certificates in horticultural therapy from places including the Chicago Botanic Garden. People who come out of their classes take their skills to schools, nursing homes, prisons, and hospitals as well as to community gardens. The field (no pun intended) is seen to be an emerging practice in all kinds of health care.
There’s a fine line between therapeutic and educational gardens. That’s seen in the level of interest around the country that engage urban and economically challenged kids. These urban farming ventures prove to teach values as well as skills. And those skills will become more important as commercial interests, answering a call for fresh, organic farms take to city plots and rooftops. And more and more of those rooftop farms are growing organic.
The idea of “downtown gardens” is catching on. Low-income, community agriculture training is providing food and occupation. Even entire cities are looking to urban gardening for help in saving the community and becoming produce sustainable.
We can’t help but feel optimistic when we see this kind of coming together of commerce, education, and social interest. The demand for fresh, local, organic produce from restaurants, farmers markets, and families is growing, as is the opportunity to involve the community with training and horticultural therapy.
Farming — this time urban farming — might again become a growing source of jobs rather than a loser. And those farms might provide comfort and therapy as well as jobs for the impoverished, the physically impaired, and the mentally (and spiritually) challenged. We’d say that part of our shared future is bright.
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.