Promoting mental wellness one plant at a time

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn

Tucked in behind the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Queen Street campus in downtown Toronto’s west end lies an unexpected oasis of fruits, veggies and flowers. A partnership between FoodShare and CAMH for nearly 20 years, the Sunshine Garden is Canada’s first ever market garden on hospital grounds.

Every year, more than 30 CAMH clients sow seeds, water plants and harvest produce at the Sunshine Garden. In the spring and summer months, folks grow, compost, cook and preserve their harvest as well as selling their treasures at the weekly garden market. During fall and winter months, clients raise seedlings in the nearby greenhouse and learn a variety of skills via workshops.

Natalie Bourstead, Sunshine Garden Coordinator explains the benefits of the garden in a video tour released this week by FoodShare. She describes how it’s become a place where people can “come and hang out and be not only nourished through food, but also get that kind of therapeutic element of what gardening provides and what nature connection provides, which is really special.” 

The act of gardening has long been known to have positive effects on mental health. Russell, one of the garden’s longtime volunteers, can attest: “It’s therapeutic. I love botany, I’ve loved plants my entire life, and I feel happy working here. It’s fulfilling.”

Beyond the restorative effects of gardening itself, folks get to connect with others at the weekly market. There are also plans in the works to turn some of the crops planted in the garden into “value-added” products, such as body oil made from the vitamin E-packed calendula flowers, giving gardeners the opportunity to see the fruits of their labour in more ways than one.

COVID-19 may have shut down all indoor activities—including those which would have taken place inside the greenhouse—but there’s always a silver lining, as Natalie explains: “It’s actually nice for us to take a break right now, and to do that deep pest management. So next year we know we’re gonna be pest-free and disease-free in that greenhouse, guaranteed.”

WATCH: Soak up the Sunshine Garden virtually below.

This is the third in a series of four videos that will give you a behind-the-scenes look at FoodShare’s programming. Get a 360-degree view of the FoodShare warehouse, pop in at a Good Food Market, and stay tuned for the final video and blog…

Programs like the Sunshine Garden are made possible by donations from supporters like you. To continue FoodShare’s food justice initiatives, consider making a donation today.

Keen to learn more about the mental health benefits of gardening? Watch this webinar led by our CAMH Therapy Garden Coordinator and Community Gardens Lead, Natalie Bourstead.