Young mothers at Florence Crittenton are using the garden to help them teach their children about exploration.
Maureen Shaughnessy is the home’s health and wellness coordinator and garden guru. She also oversees the food program at the home for pregnant and parenting teens.
“Part of my job is to make sure we have good nutrition,” Shaughnessy said. “The garden is a big part of that.”
About nine months ago, Lindsy Nix moved in the home, and for the past two weeks she’s been watering the freshly planted flowers and vegetables until the drip system is installed.
“My mother taught me how to garden,” 19-year-old Nix said.
What she recalls about gardening with her mother was the time being hot and long, but said today it’s paying off because she knows how to care for the plants.
Not everyone was as eager to play in the dirt.
Shuneka Christensen, 17, grew up in the city without exposure to growing flowers and food.
Christensen lived in the home last year at this time, but didn’t participate in the garden.
“I wasn’t up for getting my hands or clothes dirty,” she admitted.
Christensen feels differently this year.
“What changed my mind was wanting to let my daughter explore and be in the garden at an early age,” she said. “It teaches her how to be cheap with food and helps her learn about different textures.”
Residents are an integral part of the garden’s designs as well as what is planted.
The original part of the garden is designed in the shape of a women’s uterus with a baby inside. The new addition will be raised beds in the shape of a mother’s hands holding a baby.
Each teenage mother gets to pick out the plants.
Nix picked out mint, because she says its good not only for tea but for flavoring other foods.
“I let the girls have a lot of say and because of that it’s a little bit of a hodge-podge,” Shaughnessy said. “It’s a learning experience.”
For example, this year, watermelon was requested and it now rooted in the garden. Shaughnessy says she doubts the plant will produce much fruit in this climate, but it’s all about learning through the process.
Beyond getting dirt in their nails from weeding, the garden is also just a peaceful place for residents to be still.
“We encourage the girls to come out when they are upset or just need a break from the home,” Shaughnessy said. “It’s real therapeutic.”
The garden was planted four years ago and recently got a boost as one of 100 programs across the nation to receive a 2010 Youth Garden Grant from the National Gardening Association. The grant included a Home Depot gift card which helped purchase deer fencing.
“Having a well-planned program was one of the reasons we were selected,” said Barbara Burton, the home’s executive director. “The garden teaches our mothers how to stretch every dollar.”
The Helena community has pitched in too.
GardenWerks donated and delivered the dirt for the new portion of the garden, and Valley Farms donated all the plants.
“I told them to take whatever they wanted … anything to help those young ladies out,” Valley Farms’ owner Dennis Flynn said. “That’s a great organization, and we like to encourage gardening.”
The home got some help with labor too.
For three Sundays, members of the Headwaters Covenant Church have helped with the garden’s planting, weeding and expansion.
Pastor Matt Randles said the church does a community service project the fourth Sunday of every month, and typically they only spend one day at any given site.
“We wanted to go deeper with an organization,” Randles said about why church members have been back now three times.
Randles said they wanted to do more than just plant or weed and then be gone, so they are helping with construction of the expansion.
“We believe in empowering people,” he said. “This is their project and we are just here to help make it happen. We don’t invent the projects … we come alongside people.”
When the weather changes and cold air brings growing season to an end, the residents will learn about harvesting and cooking, and, as a new endeavor, will be taught canning and preserving.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org