Garden Program Provides Life Lessons for Residents

June 1, 2018

“Gardening is learning, learning, learning. That’s the fun of them. You’re always learning.”

Teachers and residents caring for The Barry Robinson Center’s vegetable and fruit garden likely would agree with this comment from actress Helen Mirren. The Center’s Garden Program is well underway this spring, with new plants and new opportunities for learning.

The program began last year on a limited basis. Over the fall and winter, staff cleared a larger area and built raised garden beds. Now, they’re looking forward to developing creative ways for involving as many residents as possible in the operation.

Garden Program Coordinators

Under the direction of teachers Christine Kennard and James Rainey, the Center’s garden beds are blossoming with all kinds of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Several varieties of tomatoes and peppers, beans, zucchini, carrots, asparagus, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and watermelons line the beds in neat rows. And, many of these items will find their way to the cafeteria’s salad bar for residents to enjoy throughout the summer.

Barry Robinson Garden Coordinators
James Rainey and Christine Kennard

“We want our students to think about where food comes from and what it takes to produce fresh food,” Kennard said. “It’s about awareness. Kids will see the process from seed to harvest.”

Kennard is in her second year of teaching middle and high school science at the Center. With experience working at a garden center, she brings a solid background to the program. She’s also passionate about sustainability and non-chemical pest control.

To date, some of the Center’s residents have been helping primarily with planting and weeding in the garden.

“The kids ask about the garden daily. They’re always so excited, and they show a real sense of pride in their work,” Kennard said.

Development of these kinds of “soft skills” is another aspect of the gardening program. It’s more than learning about plant growth, she explained. Working in a garden offers many benefits, both mental and physical. Tending a garden can help mood and reduce anxiety. Children and teens can also gain a sense of responsibility by caring for plants. In time, they will better understand their connection to the natural world.

Summer Plans for the Garden

During the Education Department’s summer enrichment program, Rainey will be teaching an agriculture class where gardening takes center stage.

“We’ll study home and industrial gardens and take field trips to local farms,” he said. “We’ll also be picking vegetables and doing some cooking lessons with the residents.”

Tomatoes and peppers are growing well

Rainey teaches middle and high school history and is finishing his first year at the Center. He also moonlights as a landscaper and helps tend the greens at two local golf courses.

Corn and pumpkins are two more crops coming to the garden. Rainey has corn plants started at his house that they’ll move to campus very soon. And, they’re preparing to till and prepare a large area for a pumpkin patch.

Another summer project related to the garden involves the Center’s Boy Scout troop. The Scouts will build picnic tables to be located near the garden. Residents and staff will be able to use these tables during future cookouts on campus.

Looking ahead, Kennard and Rainey are brainstorming ways for every resident to be involved. They’re considering a project to decorate pathways among the beds, which residents can help with.

“The garden is a work in progress,” Kennard said. “We’ll find a way for every resident to contribute and leave their mark on the garden.”

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