Nature's therapy embraced at Baldy Hughes Community and Farm

November 24, 2020

Most of us have experienced nature’s therapy. Whether we are a dedicated green thumb, have a single potted plant on our balcony, a flower bed in the yard, or have planted vegetables in the community garden – tending to these plants brings a little piece of escape. Similarly, when we strap on our hiking boots and hit the trails, we experience nature’s relief.

Therapists know well about the benefits of communing with nature. At Baldy Hughes Therapeutic Community and Farm in Prince George, they are delivering innovative treatment programs through horticulture therapy. The therapy is offered to people recovering from addictions.

Before this facility became a place of hope and recovery, it was a post WWII military radar base. However, a group of citizens from Prince George and Metro Vancouver felt a need to do something meaningful with the property. The group took it over in 2007 and turned it into a therapeutic treatment community. Today, the facility is owned by BC Housing and operated by the BC New Hope Recovery Society. Baldy Hughes is a therapeutic recovery community for about 40 men fighting addictions. The centre offers therapeutic recovery within a community, through counselling and work.

“This centre is unique. It is one of the few places where residents can stay as long as they want, until they feel they have recovered and are ready to go back to the outside world,” says Rob Hall, Director of Operations.

Man sitting in front of a squash plant

“We help them by making sure they attend all the different therapies offered. Some of which get the residents out of their comfort zones. You never know what you are good at until you try.”

One of these recovery programs is Therapeutic Horticulture. The Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association defines it as the purposeful use of plants and plant-related activities to promote health and wellness. 

At Baldy Hughes they decided to bring nature’s call indoors. In 2012, they built a greenhouse to keep the residents busy with their hands and minds. The residents took to the initiative with a lot of passion. They planted many varieties of crops such as cabbage, carrots, broccoli, peppers, corn, and cantaloupe. The crops provide food for the community and therapy for the green thumbs.

One of the residents who has committed himself to therapeutic horticulture is Brendan. He has been at the centre for two years. He cares for the lush plants that are sprouting all over the greenhouse. He is now teaching other residents how to plant, care for and harvest vegetables. Most of the residents grew up in the city and this is their first-time gardening.

Two hands in soil planting a plant

Photo By Kelsea Franzke

"I like caring for plants and watching them grow as it gives me spiritual nourishment. It is like a higher power is working through them. This helps me in meditation, in addition to the sound of water flowing in the pond,” says Brendan. “I am pleased that the residents are proud of my work in planting food that they get on their dinner plates.”

 

Katie McGillivray, Community Programmer for BC Housing’s People, Plants and Homes program, is an expert in Horticultural Therapy. She says that gardening offers positive social links and community building. It allows people of all ages to connect with and learn from one another over a common ground. Learning things like tricks for managing aphid infestations and tips for pruning rose bushes.

“Seeing the joy of someone planting a row of kale seeds for the first time. Digging in the soil. Nurturing and committing to caring for these seedlings. And at the same time learning and growing throughout the process. It is therapeutic," says McGillivray. “The self-confidence that comes with harvesting, cooking and sharing that food with others. Or the learning, problem-solving and reflection that comes with a crop that didn’t work out. It is all very rewarding.” But the residents are not only thinking of themselves. They also give back to the community. Surplus food from their greenhouse is donated to charities, including the shelter at the Association Advocating for Women and Community, St Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and Salvation Army. Being able to give back from the fruits of their labour becomes a genuine source of pride and confidence. The work of their hands is benefitting others in a positive way.

In 2016, the residents and managers built a serenity garden alongside the greenhouse. This has elevated the therapeutic experience. To walk into the greenhouse is a real sense of serenity. It is humid and lush, and the only interruptions are the sound of the fans and heat. And now, there is also the soothing splash of flowing water from the serenity garden.

As the residents of Baldy Hughes Therapeutic Community and Farm go through their recovery journeys, the life skills they gain from working in the greenhouse will help them in their future lives. Once they leave, gardening and vegetables will hopefully bring back positive memories of their time at the farm.