Seeds of Change: Envisioning and Planning the Freedom House Gardens

Photo from the first workshop!

Photo from the first workshop!

This past Friday we hosted our first workshop with residents at Freedom House in Russellville. We’ve been partnering with ARVAC to help envision and implement sustainable healing and food gardens on site that will play an integral role in the curriculum Freedom House offers during the recovery process. The gardens will also serve as a point of connection between the services Freedom House offers and the larger community, including resources for former Freedom house residents. (If you’d like to know more about our new partnership with ARVAC and Freedom House click here to read more about it).  

The gardens will not only help supplement the meals in the cafeteria, they’ll also serve as working and every-expanding examples of how new growth occurs. As we talked about during the workshop, even the large pecan trees that grow behind the Freedom House dorms once began as a small seed.  Residents of Freedom House, and the counselors who serve them, will be the creative force behind the ways in which the gardens are integrated into the recovery process.  The goal of this first workshop was to get the ball rolling so to speak, and begin the process of creating a program that reflects the needs of the residents.

Our first workshop focused on garden dreaming and garden planning. We tend to think of gardens as something that blossom in the spring and the summer. But the key to a successful garden (or any form of growth) is understanding the ever-important concept of dormancy. Successful spring gardening requires starting long before the warm weather arrives. Those January plants may look frozen and dead and the soil dry and cold, but deep beneath the surface the roots are gathering nutrients and preparing themselves for the coming Spring. WInter is the perfect time of year to sit down with a pen and paper, a handful of seed catalogs, and make a plan for spring. It’s all about starting small and planning ahead.

Tomatoes growing in London, Arkansas. Photo by Saira Khan for McElroy House.

Tomatoes growing in London, Arkansas. Photo by Saira Khan for McElroy House.

During the one hour workshop we began by gathering our resources, so to speak, and taking stock of what’s available. We talked about the importance of learning from regional growers and how we can tap into the long-standing tradition of local small kitchen gardens to help central Arkansas residents gain access to affordable, healthy, fresh food. We want to ensure this project is sustainable over the long haul and connects to larger themes of sustainability of cooperative partnerships popping up around the nation. So we also touched on inspirational examples of gardens in Arkansas and beyond, including Tri-Cycle Farms in Fayetteville, the juvenile detention gardens in downtown Russellville, and successful community-based gardens in places like Detroit Michigan, Jackson, Mississippi and Portland, Oregon.

One of the most exciting things about this project is that, in many ways, it’s the first of its kind. Working with the residents to envision a way to connect the recovery process with food and flower gardening is a model we hope may be of use to others both near and far.

One of the best parts of the workshop was getting to learn more from the participants. Many of the residents of Freedom House had gardened before and offered a wealth of information and ideas for getting the garden started. We talked about the veggies we wanted to grow, the importance of having good soil, implementing raised beds, and also touched on the importance of planting heirloom flowers and milkweed to help support butterflies and bee populations. We also talked about the ways in which gardens can play a role in the grieving and healing process. This a core theme we will return to again and again as we learn from residents about the ways in which the garden can speak to the multi-layered recovery process.

Front entrance

Front entrance

The most exciting part of the workshop is when we talked about the names for the garden. After several suggestions residents unanimously agreed on the name “Seeds of Change.” You can check out the photo above to see some of the other ideas.

Residents have already began incorporating these discussions into their artwork and we’ll share some of those pieces soon. In the near future we’ll begin working on the garden beds, installing raised beds for blueberries and getting the flowerbeds ready for the milkweeds and heirloom butterfly and bee attracting flowers that will grow near the residential buildings and counselors offices. We’ll also be working with pecan experts to have the existing pecan trees surveyed to increase yield. We’ll be hosting a community-wide workshop on pecans, so be on the lookout for that. The official groundbreaking will take place on February 20th. This is a community-wide event and we hope to see you there!

We’re so excited about working on this program and can’t wait to see where it all leads. We welcome volunteers and donations of all kinds. Be sure and click here to read more background about this project. If you’d like to donate plants, labor, or other resources please contact Audra Butler at ARVAC or Meredith Martin-Moats at the McElroy House at 479-957-0551.  Thanks so much to Debe Hudson of ABC Greenhouse for her consultations on this project!

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