Boys in the Residential Program are growing green thumbs, courtesy of Ron Klemp, occupational therapist.
When Ron started at St. Aemilian-Lakeside, he thought planting a garden would be a great way to work with the boys. Then he attended a seminar on the therapeutic value of gardening and got hooked.
As luck would have it, he learned that the wife of youth counselor Jason Palmatier, Sarah Christman, works for Growing Power, Wil Allen’s urban gardening initiative. Ron brainstormed ideas with Jason, met with Sarah and a partnership was created.
Growing Power helped pick the best area for the garden, at the back of the St. Aemilian-Lakeside grounds, and Ron purchased wood chips and compost from them. Abbie Myers, a youth counselor on the Challenger unit, and a team of other staff jumped onboard with the project.
The boys in the Challenger and Endeavor unit created and tend their own gardens. Some of the boys on Voyager also get involved with weeding, watering and harvesting in an adjacent area.
Ron takes small groups of boys out to work in the garden. He starts by establishing the rules of the group and working with tools and respect for each other and the garden. Gardening helps them with their behavior, he said, because it is relatively heavy work, it involves repetitive activities and it contributes to social-skill building. Abbie also works with the boys in the garden.
“These become bonding, relationship-building experiences, and the boys get a sense of success and accomplishment when things actually grow; they get to see real benefits from their labor,” Ron said.
After spring planting, the garden now sports a variety of vegetables at different stages of growth. They include cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, corn, spinach and basil and cilantro. Marigolds ring the vegetables, to keep animals away. Sweet peas also are grown, and they have become a favorite.
“I don’t think any peas have made it into the building!” Abbie said with a laugh.
As with the other vegetables, the boys mostly eat small quantities right outside. Occasionally things will be brought in for a salad with supper or to store for later use.
“This helps kids make connections with what they eat and gardening; it’s an educational experience,” Ron said. Because the garden has been such a hit, Abbie soon will plant more crops, so that growth can continue into early fall.
“It’s great for the boys, and they really seem to have fun!” she said.