For over a decade, the community garden at our College Street campus has provided nourishment for the spirit and the body, for both neighbors and volunteers alike; but last year it began to offer a new purpose and importance for UMC programs.
As the recreational therapist for our SABER (Substance Abuse Education & Recovery) program, Laura McCarthy helps men in the 90-day outpatient treatment program form habits of daily self-care through exercise (YMCA), stress management (Yoga One), and hobbies (community garden). While keys to the SABER program include housing and abstinence with frequent drug testing, it’s the coping skills offered to the men which make them ultimately successful at maintaining their sobriety. The garden has come to play a role in that success.
Every Tuesday, led by Ms. Laura, SABER mates are responsible for getting to the College Street campus to give back. They plant, weed, nurture, and harvest the vegetables available to everyone. The produce they grow is important, but the gardening itself helps their recovery. “It has given me hope that I too can grow into a valuable thing in life”; “it helps me get outside of myself”; “it shows what you nurture in life is what will flourish”; “I am doing something useful and productive with my time”; are all comments we’ve heard from the SABER mates describing their time in the garden.
Neighbors visiting the garden can pick anything they like, but every Tuesday when the produce is harvested, it is donated to The Bulb, a nonprofit mobile market founded by social worker Alisha Pruett in 2016. Alisha had noticed that when she reached out to farmers to support the families she was working with, her caseload stabilized. People were more successful in housing when they were well fed. Now her mobile market serves 30+ neighborhoods around Charlotte weekly, another 15 on rotation, and even the transit center during the summer, providing FREE produce to food-scarce locations. She stops at Moore Place every other Monday.
Tenants living at Moore Place, our 120-unit permanent supportive housing complex, rave about her visits. Moore Place tenants are typically on a fixed disability income with very little or no SNAP (food stamp) support. Alisha likes building community and making people “smile over lettuce,” but in talking with Moore Place tenants we learn why they value Alisha and the market so much. Kenny reports local grocery stores are expensive and do not offer quality produce. Jonovia explains that some of Moore Place’s tenants are physically disabled and not having to go out to get produce is a huge help. And Terry (pictured left with Alisha) likes that Alisha is consistent in her visits and the produce offers healthy choices for people who have health concerns like his own diabetes or blood pressure issues.
Laura, our SABER mates, many volunteers, and our partnership with The Bulb have all helped add new purpose to our community garden. We are grateful for the relationships the garden has helped grow and strengthen, and we look forward to more nourishment, healing, and harvests to come.
This story first appeared in the FY18 Annual Report for Urban Ministry Center.