Patients keep market garden going

Elsa Michaels, occupational therapist technician at Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital pictured with a patient, working the soil.

A recent development of Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital’s Spring Foundation is a market garden, where the public can buy organic produce.

The Plainsman visited the 1.2 hectare market garden on Wednesday January 25 and saw a quarter of the land sprouting vegetables – spring onions, kale, leeks, lettuce, beans, beets, broccoli, tomatoes, sweetcorn, sweet potato, carrots, chillies, sweet basil, herbs, cucumber, turnips, cauliflower, baby marrow and brinjal.

Market garden farmer Brian Joffin said they supply two small wholesalers and that in three years’ time the garden needs to be self-sufficient.

At the moment, about 20 patients, mainly forensic patients who will be at the hospital for a long time, work in the garden from Monday to Thursday, which forms part of their treatment.

They were tasked with clearing the land, preparing it with compost, making the soil viable for growth, planting, seeding, weeding and harvesting.

Mr Joffin said the patients have asked to work on a Friday also, to be out in the garden and work with the soil.

A patient, 37, who could not be named because of confidentiality, has been working in the garden since February last year.

“At first I did not know what to do but since I’ve started I have learned how to plant, grow, harvest and sell vegetables,” he said.

He said when he gets out, he can start his own garden, show his family his skills and feed them.

“Dit is lekker vir my om te sien die groente groei,” he said.

Occupational therapy technician Elsa Michaels said the holistic benefits of gardening for mentally disabled patients were endless.

She said cognitively, patients learned planning and sequencing, physical skills, emotional investment, it promotes engagement and responsibility; stimulates curiosity, and if sustainable, it supports healthy eating, exercise, elevation of mood and social engagement.

“The health and wellness benefits associated with gardening include reduced stress, improved attention, improved physical capacity, a greater sense of self-satisfaction, diminished aggressive behaviour and improved positive social interaction.

“Community gardening supports resilience, reduces isolation and increases social connectivity,” she said.

Ms Michaels said gardening supports belonging and inclusion, creating opportunities for interpersonal connections – increasing health and well-being.

These are sentiments which Dr John Parker, director of The Spring Foundation, psychiatric head of the hospital’s outpatient unit and senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town (UCT), echoed.

The foundation is also his brainchild, which was started in 2012 in a bid to green Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital.

It is his dream to make the hospital the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden of the Cape Flats.

He wants people who enter the institution to smell the “geur” (scent or flavour) of “lente” (spring).

“Spring is about rebirth, hope and regeneration but it is only true if we as humans believe we are part of the cycle of nature,” he said.

In 2012 a little garden was cultivated close to hospital wards in an attempt to change the perception people had of mental illness.

Dr Parker said the old model of these institutions were seen as prisons, removing people from society and people who were seen as “irrational” or “unreasonable”.

He said while it was the birth of individualism, it impacted on people’s sense of community and impacted their need to be part of something.

Dr Parker said the societal breakdown happened a long time ago and it was time people returned to nature (“Hospital gets stroke of urban greening,” Plainsman, April 4, 2012).

“We want to bring back that gees, the smell of spring, aroma and essence of rebirth back to the Cape Flats, back to its name Lente (spring) Geur (scent),” he said.

The first phase of The Spring Foundation was a little vegetable garden, called the Bee Hive, at the hospital’s occupational therapy centre in 2012; a danya growing project; and a lot of little gardens at wards.

Dr Parker said the market garden was unique as it was at a psychiatric hospital and could be used for rehabilitation.

“It brings to the fore that recovery happens in community, that it happens with that connection to the community and that a fundamental understanding of recovery is that it forms part of a whole,” he said.

The Spring Foundation has several other projects in addition to the market garden which includes art therapy, a workshop where patients repair and service fellow patients’ wheelchairs, fund-raising to replace lost identity documents and ward gardening, among others.

“Metaphorically, spring is about a return to life, a rebirth of hope after the long darkness of winter. This however can only be meaningful for us as human beings, if we understand that we are part of the natural cycles of nature.

“Thus the underlying philosophy of The Spring Foundation is about the rebirth of hope through re-connection,” said Dr Parker.

Anyone interested in buying produce from the market garden should text their name and cellphone number to 072 380 1526 to receive a weekly WhatsApp broadcast message detailing the availability of produce.