The gardens of St. Louis Park nourish in more ways than one
During the growing season, a group of women plants, maintains and harvests a collection of garden plots in St. Louis Park.
Christa Golden is one of them.
But for Golden, gardens have become more than a summer hobby. It’s a place of calm, a place where she can reflect on how much her life has changed over the past two years, when she had no place to live and was struggling with an addiction.
Managed by Perspectives, Inc., a social service agency working with women emerging from homelessness, the gardens are part of a mission to promote healthy living. It turns out that they provided food in more ways than one.
“It had a major impact in my life,” Golden said. “Before that, I didn’t like gardening. I wanted to eat healthier. I learned a lot and it will be good for me and my children. My daughter is now starting to ask things like a pinch of parsley about things that ‘she eats.”
Families in the program come from emergency shelters in Hennepin County. Through Perspectives, apartments are provided to them according to a two-generation model which aims to bring mothers and their children towards stability.
The gardening arm of Perspectives began about eight years ago in partnership with the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteer program and the Untiedt vegetable farm.
The master gardeners talk to the women to find out what they and their children like to eat. The budding green thumbs then receive seedlings and have mentors who help them maintain and harvest their produce.
To further experience the benefits of nature, Perspectives Registered Dietitian Kay Guidarelli and Health and Wellness Case Manager Erin Gresham offer recipe ideas and host cooking evenings.
A week can be a tutorial on how to make basil with sea salt to sprinkle on zucchini, cucumbers or fresh tomatoes. Other weeks women can make salsa, dried herbs, and pesto. Non-food items are also created, such as herbs and flowers made into lotions and sage sticks.
“When we started the program, it was mainly a simple community garden. We have found it beneficial for the women to have their own private plots, ”Guidarelli said. “I’m here to see what’s in it for moms. They’ll tell you things like their goal is to get their kids to eat more vegetables. We’re discussing what they want to do with their produce when they’re ready. . “
Children also have the opportunity to get involved. Through the Minnesota State Horticultural Society’s Garden-in-a-Box program, kids water, weed and maintain six garden boxes in the playground. The children also help Donyelle “Donnie” Williams, Perspectives’ Cargill Kids Cafe program director and instructor, prepare the fruits and vegetables that are made into meals for them.
“We’re trying to make it a multigenerational program, from 2 year olds to moms,” said Lisa Day, Director of Giving and Engagement at Perspectives, who nominated the program for the Star Tribune Beautiful Gardens contest. .
The gardens have also become a place of healing. In an era of social justice, members of the Perspectives community dedicated a garden to George Floyd and invited members of the St. Louis Park Police Department to participate in the event.
Salvage specialist Yolanda Farris is a key player in the gardening program.
Farris, who has battled drug and alcohol addiction, arrived at Perspectives in 2013 and graduated in 2016. As a staff member, she is passionate about providing emotional support to residents, who need to stay sober and are encouraged. adopt a healthier lifestyle and take advantage of educational opportunities to find work and establish financial security.
“We’re all recovering and we all need each other,” Farris said. “This gardening program has been a huge part of my life. You come here and find serenity. It is so peaceful.”
For Jennifer Larson, premium gardening and cooking has now become a tradition for her family. They munch on cherry tomatoes while picking peppers, eggplants, kale and green beans, then head to their apartment and cook a stir-fry.
“I definitely eat more nutritious with our garden around. I love to cook with my kids so I try to teach them how to cook,” Larson said. “It gives me peace of mind to be in the garden. I can reflect, have gratitude.”
Larson said she would be forever grateful for the Perspectives program.
“The outlook changed my life. I was battling drug addiction and went from inpatient treatment to outpatient treatment. When I was done I had a place to go with all the essentials provided,” he said. she declared. Before that, “I had lost my children and it gave me the opportunity to put down roots and get them back and move forward in my life. And here we are making zucchini bread together tonight.”
This feeling of brotherhood is one of the less tangible but essential benefits of gardens.
“At first I had a lot of animosity with people who were just trying to help,” Golden said of his early days at Perspectives.
As she became more involved in gardening, she began to look forward to the regular gatherings in the gardens.
Golden said she had become a devout Christian, now had her children with her, and was working on her marriage and starting a small business.
“I hope I buy a house when I leave here,” Golden said, “with a garden.”