Gardening Cultivates Hearts and Minds
Senior Organic Gardeners
As lead volunteer with Senior Organic Gardeners (SOG), Margaret Tourond-Townson, a remarkable woman of 75, works with other seniors to create and maintain food gardens where they live. Her experience makes one thing clear: for many seniors, food gardening is welcome therapy. “It brings them pleasure, hope and connection,” she says. “They like getting their hands in the soil and harvesting the food. Most of all, they like socializing with other gardeners.”
The purpose of the SOG program is to help seniors living in apartments, retirement residences, community housing and long-term care facilities improve their health and quality of life by growing organic vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. An initiative of the Ottawa- St. Lawrence-Outaouais chapter of Canadian Organic Growers, the SOG program launched in 2012 with about 10 seniors participating in two residences. By 2014, it had blossomed to nine locations and nearly 60 seniors.
Whether participants are seasoned or novice gardeners, they benefit in many ways. “They’re motivated to eat more locally grown vegetables in locations where they do their own cooking,” says Tourond-Townson. “Gardening also engages them in low-impact activity, and gives them opportunities to learn, connect with one another and build pride in their community.”
All SOG gardens are set up in containers or raised beds with organic soil to avoid potential contamination. Support for new gardens includes planning meetings with residents, organic gardening workshops, and resource materials. Program staff and volunteers visit regularly during the growing season for plant care and, later on, for harvesting, winterizing and feedback from residents. In 2014, SOG added non-growing season activities, such as get-togethers with residents to talk about topics of interest - gardening traditions in other parts of the world, for example, or cooking, nutrition and shopping.
“We work actively with a residence for three years and try to recruit a local volunteer from the start,” Tourond-Townson explains. “After the third year, we provide advice, but the goal is to have the garden operating on its own.”
The program partners with seniors and residences to make sure that the needs of all participants are met. SOG’s project manager is a horticultural therapist and is able to tailor activities for those residents who have some form of disability. For participants unable to garden outdoors, SOG plans to introduce small mobile gardens that would bring the plants to residents. In locations where many residents are new Canadians and speak a language other than English or French, a translator is brought in to assist during discussions and workshops.
Looking ahead, SOG wants to expand to the Outaouais and aboriginal settings, and to strengthen its connection with children and youth gardening programs in the region. Another goal is to create a training template, including videos and other materials, for other organizations to use in setting up their own garden programs.
Tourond-Townson is clearly passionate about SOG’s work. “This is a program with lots of depth - it goes to the roots of peoples’ hearts and minds.”
Certified Organic Growers
Senior Organic Gardeners Program