She walked onto the farm wearing a bad day on her face. The day was hot but she wore winter clothing. Only her eyes were visible, and those eyes were not happy. Her name was Rose*, one of the youth brought to Veggielution by EMQ Families First. We tried to connect with her and bring her into the days activities, but each time we were shut out. She suffered from a lot of trauma in her life and had put up barriers to protect herself from being hurt again. We hoped that the garden would help her to heal.
About 4 months ago, Eric Oztochane Walther, Family Specialist at EMQ Families First, approached Veggielution wanting to bring a group of eight youth from his program to the farm. EMQ offers mental health treatment, foster care and social services that help families recover from trauma, abuse and addiction. Eric believed that if these youth had the opportunity to spend time at Veggielution, they would be able to disconnect from the stresses of their realities, at least for a few hours. By working on the farm they would gather life skills that could be applied to other aspects of their lives, and let nature help them in their healing.
The families that are served through EMQ have dealt with some intense situations. Sometimes more than traditional therapy is needed to heal soul wounds. Sometimes a flower, some garden work, or a chicken named Oscar can hold the same therapeutic space. I was assigned as the project lead from the Veggielution team. With Eric, I designed and implemented an eight week program for these EMQ youth. Each Wednesday afternoon they would participate in therapy sessions, focusing on a variety of farm chores as a central part of their experience.
There was a different guiding principle related to the task for each week; tending and nurturing while being in the greenhouse, sitting with the beginning of things while harvesting seeds, or recycling and a chance for renewal while making compost.
On week three we were working in the greenhouse, and finally we were making some progress with Rose. She entered the humid space filled with baby plants. Her guard was down and a smile grew on her face. The rest of the afternoon she helped move the work along, continuously checking in to see what else could be done, all the while sharing stories of a beloved family member and his gifts with soil and seeds. When she opens up, she blows us away with her words. Rose holds a lot of insight about plants and life in general, a strength she didn't fully realize was in her.
The Green Dome, a living dome of wisteria near the middle of Veggielution, became a major focal point for the group. The Green Dome was the place we congregated for a check-in at the beginning of each session. Each week the youth reflected on the Green Dome, watching it’s changes, translating its growth into symbols for their own lives. When they first arrived in February it was bare, a bunch of seemingly dead branches wrapped around pieces of rebar. As the weeks passed, the wisteria vines began to flower, and sprout new leaves. We saw these youth begin to believe in the magic of nature, as the vines grew, tendril by tendril, leaf by leaf.
The seed of hope and love has been planted, in the meantime we sit and look at the Green Dome as our guide in the cycles of life. Even if sometimes it just looks like “dead branches,” they still hold the potential to blossom into sweet smelling flowers or nurturing food. The sessions are ending, but we hope that Rose and the other youth will continue moving forward in her healing. Memories of her beloved family member and the knowledge he holds in relation to the land have been stirred. May she hold on to those for strength as she navigates the world she lives in. May she know that she holds it within her to create change and transform her surroundings.
Lydia Zulema Martinez Vega is our Outreach Coordinator as part of the 2013-2014 AmeriCorps Program. She holds a degree in Expressive Arts Therapy (NFTI) and brings an Indigenous Psycho Educational framework to her work in therapy.
* The names and details of youth were changed to protect their privacy, but the essence remains the same