Moving from the kitchen to the garden

Eating, cooking, growing: the healthy eating programs of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Grey-Bruce Branch have involved consumers in a number of ways. The “healthy brunch” program offers a hot brunch daily to those in need, as a part of their drop-in program. Donations of food have been received from local grocery stores (food near but still before its expiry date), from farmers at harvest time and from local butchers. Word of mouth and local media coverage have encouraged community donations. With the help of consumers who work in the kitchen, serving and cleaning up, CMHA Grey-Bruce currently provides a meal to 30-40 people per day.

A community kitchen was first developed for the Persuasion group for individuals with serious mental illness and addiction dependence. The group meets weekly to discuss issues of addiction, mental health, group advocacy and community supports while preparing the meal. Preparing and sharing a group meal provided a safe way for people who would not otherwise engage in the group process. Women coping with trauma and addiction are now making use of the format.

After a year, the Persuasion group moved on to garden work, growing fresh produce for the brunch program. Consumers who work on the garden for 13 weeks receive a subsidy. This year, a consumer has also been hired to oversee the garden program. Paid employment is a big motivator for this group, which struggles with structured activity because of their symptoms and addiction.

Working together has functioned as another way to provide counselling support for this group of young men. They have benefited from the phone reminders, welcoming atmosphere, gift-card incentives to complete their hours, and positive feedback from the community. As a result of the program, these participants have been able to take on more responsibility, improve the management of their symptoms, show more insight and eat healthier. One man from the group asked the group home where he lives to prepare healthier meals — a sea change from when he started the group and would not eat a vegetable. CMHA Grey-Bruce has partnered with the City of Owen Sound and United Way Grey Bruce for land. And among other interesting partnerships, local police services have donated grow-lights to head-start seedlings.