Canaan, CT – At Mountainside treatment center in Canaan, CT, people dig deeper within themselves to overcome addiction as they participate in counseling, 12 Step groups, and even gardening. At the Mountainside farm, clients can heal from the pain of their past addiction through a horticultural therapy program.
Located just across the street from the treatment center, the Mountainside farm includes a colorful pollinator garden as well as an orchard brimming with apple, pear, and peach trees. It also boasts a 12,000-square-foot vegetable garden, where clients harvest carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, corn, peppers, and herbs. The fruit and vegetables are transported down the road to the Mountainside Café, where they are later incorporated into delicious meals.
“Some of our clients have never visited a farm before, so they enjoy being outdoors and doing something outside of their comfort zone,” says Doug Palmer, Grounds Manager at Mountainside. “Through horticultural therapy, many of them start to embrace change and build confidence knowing that their actions have had a positive impact on the environment and in the community.”
Clients enrolled in Mountainside’s Residential and Extended Care programs assist with the entire harvesting process from start to finish. By nurturing plants, they develop accountability and patience. Clients are filled with pride and purpose as they watch the fruit and vegetables sprout. Because participants have the added opportunity to visit the café and enjoy the same food that they previously harvested, they are left with a tangible reminder of their accomplishments.
Horticultural therapy has proven beneficial for individuals struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. Gardening acts as a natural mood booster, raising serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. It can similarly improve memory, cultivate social skills, reduce stress, and strengthen motivation.
“When people in recovery immerse themselves in nature, they’re reminded that they are part of something larger than themselves,” says Sheree Surdam, Wellness Program Assistant Manager. “They can raise their self-esteem and learn healthy coping strategies, which can be life-changing for those who have struggled with addiction in the past.”