VA Boston Healthcare System
Veterans Greenhouse and Gardens Program: The Healing Properties of Dirt
Beyond wheelchairs, waiting rooms and wards is a healing center not afraid of a little dirt, especially if it helps heal the wounds of combat Veterans. Unlike other therapy centers at VA Boston Healthcare System, the Veterans Greenhouse and Gardens Program at the Brockton campus, offers the kind of therapy not found in groups, stored in tubes, or administered through needles.
The greenhouse and surrounding gardens, boast a new Koi pond and are brimming with house plants, tropical flowers, cut annuals, vegetables and herbs, all cultivated from start to finish by program staff, patients and volunteers. Jeff Munsell, a Navy Veteran who works in the program explains that the therapy involves watering and feeding, transplanting and propagating, outdoor gardening of flowers and vegetables, landscaping, flower arranging and seasonal horticultural projects such as seed starting, pumpkin decorating, poinsettia growing, holiday craft making, container painting and herb and flower drying. Munsell works as the program’s farmer, planning and designing the commercial vegetable and flower garden section and he shares his horticultural skills with the other Veterans.
Munsell sees firsthand the benefits of getting patients out of the mainstream medical environment, and back to nature. “Just watching folks bask in the sun, take in the fresh air and interact with others in this environment is amazing. It’s like planting a seed in a pot, watching it grow in the greenhouse mid- winter, and transplanting that seed outside when the time is right. It’s one of nature’s miracles.”
Other Veterans work in the program up to five days per week. Some work in the Incentive Therapy Program receiving a stipend and horticultural therapy in a peaceful, green work environment. Some work in the Compensated Work Therapy Program, where they are paid at least minimum wage. Veterans from both programs gain valuable skills that may transfer into civilian employment. Lewis Kalesnik, a Veteran and U.S. Postal employee paralyzed from the chest down due to an accident, has been the greenhouse top-seller for its commercial wares for the past ten years. “Working in the greenhouse keeps my mind clear, I get out and meet people, it keeps me active,” he said. “It beats sitting in my room by myself.”
Other volunteers at the greenhouse are retired Veterans coming to stand side by side with those less fortunate, people from the community and some students from nearby colleges and high schools.
From veggies, cut flowers and arrangements to special order holiday items, the Veterans Greenhouse and Gardens Program works year round to bring their harvest to market while helping our Veterans grow at the same time. Open to shoppers Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., the greenhouse has annuals, perennials, exotics and tropical plants for home or yard. Purchases can also be made during the week in the lobby of building 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., offering competitive prices and personable customer service.
The program also grows plants for different holidays such as shamrocks, geraniums, mums and poinsettias. Special flower arrangements and plants can be ordered in advance by calling the greenhouse.
Independently funded, all greenhouse proceeds go back into the program to purchase seeds, soil, pots, gardening tools, and all other items necessary to keep the program alive, and our Veterans flourishing.
For more information, or to place an order call (774) 826-1687