It’s early September and the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in the raised vegetable beds near the HART House in Tewksbury, Mass., are ripening daily. This year’s harvest has been bountiful, as is the peace found by mothers and children who live in the recovery home and care for the garden.
HART House, which stands for Healing and Recovering Together, is one of seven family residential programs in Massachusetts. It is contracted with the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and is a Lahey Health Behavioral Services program. The facility is licensed to offer services to up to 15 families, who can stay up to nine to 12 months.
“We began the HART House garden last year right before planting season. We buy the seedlings and plant them as a group. This year we ended up getting two beds and double the amount of fruits and veggies,” said Jessica Bucchio, a recovery specialist who initiated the gardening project.
Planting the Seeds of Recovery
Gardening is extremely helpful for those in recovery, Bucchio said. “They get to see something start from the beginning and see progression. They see that if they work at something slowly and not expect instant gratification that something beautiful and beneficial comes out. I see this as very closely related to recovery. If they work on their recovery, day by day, and keep up with it, something beautiful can happen – just like at the garden. They are physically seeing the change take place, but not overnight. They must work at it daily.”
That gardening can help in healing and recovery is not surprising. In one study, research showed that gardening led to significant improvement in mood and higher levels of involvement as well as better diets and enhanced social interaction.
Just add Sunshine
One client in recovery at the HART House said she has been gardening since she was a child.
“Gardening was an escape for me. It was something that kept my mind and body busy,” she said. “Gardening has helped me in a lot of different ways. It has given me the chance to sit with myself and focus on my recovery from substance use and the trauma I’ve experienced. Gardening is a beautiful, healing experience. I want others to know that gardening is not as difficult as it may seem. All you need are some soil and a few plants with some water and a little bit of sunshine.”
A Labor of Love
In addition to harvesting the fruits of their labor, the women and children also prepare them as a group and eat them.
“They say that the veggies are so tasty and they love to cook with them. This hand-on experience helps the women and children learn about responsibility and togetherness,” Bucchio said.
The unofficial mascot of the HART House garden is the HART gnome, a whimsical figurine of a small humanoid creature. “The kids get a kick out of him,” Bucchio said.
To learn more about recovery programs, visit Lahey Health Behavioral Services.