Ashes and Growth: Planting Ceremony at Freedom House


A resident agreed to share the writing on her paper before burning the paper and burying it in the soil.

This past Monday residents planted at Freedom House created a ceremony and planted the beginnings of the grief and healing garden. (If you’d like to know more about this project, go here or here). Please note that due to confidentiality agreements we can not show identities of the people in these photos.

The Seeds of Change garden at Freedom House will serve as both a literal and metraphorical space for growth and healing through food and flowers. All of the plants came from regional gardeners and were chosen for their health benefits, ease of care, and ability to draw butterflies to the garden space.

Mixing in the compost

Mixing in the compost

We began the workshop by filling the second garden bed and mixing in compost and talking about soil health. We also talked about how compost is made of dead matter. Yet when the leaves begin to break down and decay the soil itself is in a process of growth and actually provides life to plants.

We talked a little bit about each of the plants in the garden and where they came from and passed out a garden manual that details the care needed for all the plants. Residents chose words they wanted to write on piece of paper (some were stories, others a few phrases), and then they set fire to them, letting the ashes fall into the soil. On top of the ashes each resident planted a herb or flower that they picked out from either the seedlings they’d started or from one of the many donations we’ve received from area gardeners.

Words going up in flames, adding ashes to the soil.

Words going up in flames, adding ashes to the soil.

Some residents chose to share what they had written and others decided kept the words private. They spoke of difficult pasts–abuses suffered and mistakes made–and the desire for a new future. Three women decided to work together and burned their papers in the same place, letting the ashes fall together before putting a large yarrow plant on top. Yarrow is known for its resilience and ability to thrive in all kinds of situations. It also draws butterflies. Other residents chose lavender, a calming plant; oregano, a herb loaded with health benefits, and zinnia, a flower that butterflies love. One of the outpatient residents chose a bright red yarrow, which will add so much color and health to the garden bed.

We gathered around the garden beds as each person burned their pieces of paper. Residents cheered, hugged, and celebrated the new beginnings.  It was a really beautiful and powerful day.

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, call Freedom House at 479- 968-7086. Freedom House is a partner of ARVAC. McElroy House is a community partner helping to create and implement this program.





Garden Project Partnership with ARVAC and Freedom House


Wildflowers. Photo by Saira Khan.

You’ve probably been hearing us talk a lot about our partnership with ARVAC and Freedom House in recent months. Below is  a short write-up all about the project!

We’ll be posting regular updates as the work moves forward. We’re really excited about the community partnerships we’re developing, including a recent one with Debe Hudson of ABC (Awesome Botanicals of a Celestial) Nature GreenHouse and Herb Farm! 

If you’re a gardner who has heirloom plants you’d like to donate to the project, please let us know. We’d love to cover the grounds in heirlooms, wildflowers, and plants from right here in central Arkansas.

ARVAC/McElroy House Garden Project

Written by Meredith Martin-Moats and Marie Williams for the McElroy House in partnership with Stephanie Ellis, Audra Butler and Caitlin Connor of ARVAC. Copyright 2014

Background and Description: For the last two years the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources has been working on the Garden Book Project, an online and print media project documenting the stories of regional growers to learn more about who is out there, why they grow and why they think it matters. In connection with this we have also focused on the importance of bringing pollinators to our yards, biodiversity, and issues of sustainable living.

ARVAC will partner with the McElroy House to reinvigorate their Garden Project, a free garden seed program for people in their nine service county region whose income falls below the poverty guidelines. To help build up to a sustainable garden, we will begin with a small healing/grief/and hope garden on site at Freedom House in Russellville, including mixed use gardens that utilize preexisting garden beds on site at Freedom House. McElroy House will host workshops on site and will complete their Garden Book in connection with this project, documenting the process along the way and including creative input from Freedom House residents and other community members.

Zinnia seeds growing in recycled planters made from newspaper for McElroy House seed sale.  You don't need pots to start seeds! Recycle your newspapers!

Zinnia seeds growing in recycled planters.

We will begin with the creation of a peace and healing garden (final name to be decided by Freedom House residents) located near Lake Dardanelle, which will include a few heirlooms and blueberry plants. This will allow the counselors, who already use the space, to engage residents in interfaith meditation and group therapy in a beautiful and useful space. As the garden grows we will add installation pieces from local craftspeople. The preexisting garden beds around Freedom House will contain mixed use gardens with heirloom flowering plants and a few tomatoes, peppers, and a few annuals grown by Freedom House residents. These plants will be donated via local growers or purchased from local nurseries.

The first year the garden will be small, but the goal is to grow over the years, moving at a pace that is sustainable and takes into account the work schedules of counselors maintenance crew, and residents. We will work to develop sustained community support for the garden and create lasting community partnerships while also helping to break down walls between Freedom House and the larger community, encouraging dialog around issues of addiction, poverty, and community engagement.

McElroy House will complete our final version of our Garden Book, a local publication for use by Freedom House but also accessible to everyone in the community who is interested in the importance of gardening and developing connections across communities. We intend for this booklet to help spur and sustain long-term conversations about the importance of growth, community health, and community connections.

Important Dates:

These have been updated to reflect rescheduling due to inclement weather!

January 9, 2015: Garden Dreaming/Planning Workshop at Freedom House

March 6th , 2015: Groundbreaking

March 2015: Everything Starts as a Seed Workshop: Seed Starting with newspapers, annual seeds, and discussion of seed starting.

April 2015: From Seed to Soil Workshop: A workshop placing the seedlings in the ground in the garden beds near the residential halls.

May 2015: Vegetable Workshop with area growers

Ways to Get Involved:

  1. Lend regional gardening expertise to workshops.
  2. Make financial donations, or donations of heirloom plants, to the garden. (A donation wish list is available upon request!)
  3. Become a garden mentor for the project. Talk to the McElroy House to learn more! Send an email to Meredith at or call 477-957-0551.