Community gardening is an activity which brings many benefits to its participants. Our local organizations, such as Grassroots Gardens, Massachusetts Avenue Project and others, organize and support the formation and maintenance of gardens as sources of nutritious foods and sustenance for our neighbors in need. One of the many benefits resulting from community gardening is the ability to create an activity which brings people together for a common cause. As a result, there is a great opportunity for an important, and often overlooked, requirement for human health and well-being. That is connection. Storygardens emphasize this need.
The example of a storygarden, (image above right), shows a built-in row of seating designed to support small groups toward health and healing. The practice of gathering for healing is an ancient universal practice. The concept is based upon the belief that when one member of a tribe, society, or community is ill, the community itself needs healing. No one is alone – we are all part of one another. Within this particular storygarden, the patients and their families could gather to share their information, experiences, and, if they chose, their heartfelt stories. This design is for a small to mid-sized group of people with a common issue to learn from and support each other. This concept supports the work of Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of “Kitchen Table Wisdom” and Director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness in Northern California.
A community garden can also serve multiple purposes while gathering children, youth and adults for a common interest. The storygarden provides a place of respite during a laborious day in the garden and also serves as a central venue for education, information exchange, or even seed exchanges to occur. Adults can bring together the youth of their community to teach them their culture, to talk of life’s challenges, to share their wisdom. Within these nurturing surroundings there is inspiration – the garden literally providing a sense of groundedness. I recall the late Dr. Ann Wigmore who brought the concept of commercial sprouting to America from her home of Lithuania. She learned the practice of sprouting from her grandmother who used the plants to heal soldiers during the war. Having the honor to visit Dr. Wigmore, I learned that the practice of harvesting the sprouts was just as important as growing them. Our small group would sit together, each of us with a handwoven basket on our lap, removing seed hulls while Dr. Wigmore taught us about the importance of freshly grown food for our bodies. She had created this simple activity as an opportunity for the exchange of information and stories.
Medicine today is recognizing the impact of narrative within the health disciplines, that is, the importance of allowing patients opportunities to speak and to be listened to. The incorporation of storygardens into our community gardens will provide an opportunity for all people, of all multicultural practices, simple venues which will aide in the advancement of social and health initiatives.