Garden Mentoring Program Brings the Community Together

Oftentimes, the thought of making the transition to a nursing home can seem intimidating. Individuals may be worried about losing the sense of a “beautiful home” or “social connectedness.” However, Healthy People Lincoln County has been working towards addressing these concerns by implementing a Community Garden Mentoring Program at Pine Crest Nursing Home. This person centered program gives individuals the opportunity to beautify the environment around them while engaging in a beloved hobby, or taking up a hobby they always wanted to try. Taking place at the Pine Crest Nursing Home’s courtyard, the program meets every Thursday morning during the summer. Pine Crest residents and community members who volunteer as mentors participate in various gardening activities such as planting flowers, tomatoes, herbs and strawberries, as well as tending to the garden.

“The residents love using the raised bed gardens as they are easy to plant, water and maintain. They also help make gardening accessible to everyone and allow for easy viewing of what is growing,” says Ann Stoeckmann, Grant Assistant and Master Gardener for the Lincoln County Health Department.

By gardening with mentors, residents of all abilities and gardening experience are able to enjoy partaking in an activity that research from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s “What Works for Health” has shown to improve mental health and social connectedness. Research in garden therapy has also shown that gardening can stimulate memories through the sights and smells of the plants, which can help with dementia. Additionally, gardening has the health benefits of helping to lessen depression, increase movement, improve attention and sleep cycles, and reduce chronic pain and the risk of falling.

Gardening can even help increase bone density though increased vitamin D absorption due to spending more time outside exposed to sunlight.

Brianna VandenHeuvel, Recreation Director at Pine Crest Nursing Home has noticed these benefits of garden therapy in the residents saying, “This program is encouraging more and more residents to spend time outside. It has also really brought people together as the residents love to reminisce and share memories of their own gardening experiences with each other and their mentors.”

While garden therapy promotes many health benefits, it also provides residents with a sense of responsibility. Participants work together at every step, from planning the layout of the garden, to planting and caring for the plants and then watching as their hard work grows. Now in its second year, interest in the program has continued to grow with many residents expressing that the garden has impacted them in a positive way.

“I enjoy coming because it gives me the opportunity to talk with others and share my knowledge of gardening,” states one program participant. Another says, “I am very proud of all our hard work put into the garden and I can’t wait to see what it grows into.”

The Community Garden Mentoring Program is made possible by the effort from Live Sustainable Lincoln County, Lincoln County UW Extension and the Lincoln County Health Department. Funding has been provided by UW School of Medicine and Public Health. However, increased support and more volunteers are needed in order for the Garden Mentoring Program to continue making a positive impact on the community next summer. If you are interested in getting involved you can contact Ann Stoeckmann at 715-539-1254 or astoeckmann@co.lincoln.wi.us

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