Addiction is not a choice, says Carolyn Seaman, director of development for the Richmond Behavioral Health Foundation, “it is a powerful disease.”
Seaman said no one chooses to compromise his health or lose his livelihood and home due to substance abuse. Nor does anyone choose to alienate family or place children in harm’s way. But these are the realities of addiction, as are emergency department visits and deaths from overdoses. Richmond knows the consequences all too well: The city has one of the highest rates of death from heroin overdose in the state, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Organizations such as the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, as well as state and local governments, constantly pursue treatment options because what helps one user may not work well for another. Seaman said every resource is considered as a potential avenue for long-term recovery — even gardening.
RBHA’s North Campus, formerly operating as Rubicon Inc., provides residential substance use disorder treatment. As many as 186 men, women and children live at the organization’s campus in the Highland Park neighborhood. The RBHA recently added gardening and outdoor programming as a treatment component with the hopes that more residents not only achieve but maintain long-term recovery.
“We established the Kitchen Garden at our residents’ request,” Seaman said.
On Oct. 3, Hands on Greater Richmond, Ginter Urban Gardeners and 60 Altria volunteers upgraded a tiny vegetable garden with four raised garden beds and a 20-tree fruit orchard. Nearby, they built a pergola.
“Therapeutic horticulture is an intervention that uses nature- or plant-related activities to improve physical, psychological and social well-being,” said Theodora Appiah-Acheampong, RBHA program manager at the Men’s Residential Treatment Center. “As part of our daily schedule, evening gardening and social settings help residents learn to work together and focus on solutions to their emotional needs.”
Whether watering, planting or pruning, residents practice teamwork and conflict resolution. They exercise responsibility and initiative, which develops pride. Therapeutic gardening is a relaxing distraction, so it also helps addicts sustain sobriety.
The Kitchen Garden dovetails into another RBHA initiative launched last summer.
A four-week culinary arts program is based on the farm-to-table concept. RBHA participants earn a food preparation certificate after completing training in food production, preparation and presentation. They use the fresh vegetables when preparing meals, which further supports their good health.
“Every day, countless individuals struggle — noticed and unnoticed — to fight this disease” of addiction, Appiah-Acheampong said. “Too many die ... but treatment can work, and recovery is possible.”
The RBHF is pursuing funding opportunities to expand the therapeutic horticulture program at North Campus. Funding would subsidize an on-site therapeutic horticulturist and programming needs, as well as a greenhouse for year-round involvement.
“We hope to develop a horticulture certificate program, too,” Seaman said. “The grounds would become the classroom.”