Rieder always had a passion for gardening as she found it to be very therapeutic and thought it could benefit the clients in the group homes. The idea of a community garden was to help clients feel they could try something new and be successful at it.
“Having such a diverse population, many of our clients were interested in gardening, some had never done it before,” she said.
The overall goal of introducing a community garden within the homes, besides the fresh food, was to instill self-worth and pride in the clients’ ability to commit to a task and succeed at it.
“Our clients are experiencing mental illnesses for the first time and [it can be] very devastating for them, so any amount of success they can experience helps them feel that they can still thrive with their new reality. A lot of our clients feel like mental illness is a death sentence and give up trying new things.”
In CMHA Calgary’s group homes, clients receive coaching for development of independent living, social and coping skills. Clients are encouraged to engage in community programs as their skills and abilities allow. Group living allows for intensive assessment of clients’ needs and functioning on a regular basis.
“There is something about the taste of fresh tomatoes picked from the vine or the smell of fresh flowers on your deck that brings light into your day and a smile to your face.” – Karey Rieder
The group homes grew tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, kale, lettuce, rhubarb and numerous herbs.
The food harvested was used daily in cooking and those who had extra herbs and produce shared it amongst the other homes.
The homes only had a four-by-two plot which restricted what and how much they could grow. Despite garden sizing issues, Rieder says the gardens are only as successful as the staff and clients who worked together on them.
Alongside giving clients a sense of fulfillment and purpose, the garden taught clients community building and social skills, knowledge of plants and herbs, insight and skill to cook with fresh produce, construction around building the garden and confidence in new abilities.
Rieder and the group homes look forward to beginning yet another successful year of gardening come spring 2018.