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A Garden of Goodness

GreenWerks Garden's raised planters made possible by a generous donation from Tbaytel
GreenWerks Garden's raised planters made possible
by a generous donation from Tbaytel

Date: 2020-08-18

A patch of earth, a philanthropic partnership and a vision of giving back results in a remarkable garden project at St. Joseph's Care Group (SJCG).

The idea took 'root' in a small garden located on Lillie Street near Hogarth Riverview Manor, Sister Leila Greco Apartments and Sister Margaret Smith Centre. With the care and efforts of client members of GreenWerks, a branch of TeamWerks Co-operative, that small garden quickly grew a little bigger, blooming into a favourite place to visit and reflect.

"We saw even more potential," said Doug Dowhos, Recovery Supports Supervisor with SJCG. "If we could somehow expand the gardens, we knew that we could help more to clients in their recovery and improve quality of life for people residing in supportive living and long-term care." It was important that the gardens could be enjoyed by many, and input was sought from clients who use assistive devices like wheelchairs or walkers, as well as from clinical staff. The resulting idea was to lift the gardens using raised planters.

Enter St. Joseph's Foundation, who facilitated a partnership with TBaytel to provide the funds to 'grow' the gardens. "Tbaytel is always looking for ways to give back to the community and be a good neighbour," says Jamie Smith, Communication Coordinator at TBaytel. "When St. Joseph's Foundation approached us, we jumped at the chance to help out and meet a community need. Any opportunity to create a healthier, stronger community in Northern Ontario is certainly something we love to be a part of."

It was a team effort. WoodWerks designed and built 40 raised vegetable planters which were installed this summer, and GreenWerks looked after the planting and care. "It is fantastic to see clients enjoying the gardens," says Dowhos. "People who have balance or mobility issues can safely use the raised planters." The gardens are also a popular spot with clients from SJCG's medium and high support housing for people living with severe or persistent mental illness.

This year, romaine and leaf lettuce as well as bush beans are growing in the planters, and the ground-level garden has red and russet potatoes, beets, bush beans, carrots, yellow and red onions, radishes, green onions, lettuce and garlic. Half of the produce will go to the Regional Food Distribution Association, and the balance will be enjoyed by residents of Hogarth Riverview Manor and Sister Leila Greco Apartments, as well as customers of the GreenWerks Café located in Victoriaville Centre.

A "path to wellness" trail with seven more raised planters and benches connects the garden area where visitors can pause to sit on a bench, pull a weed or two if they like or simply admire the flowers, herbs and produce. "I think there's an ability to nurture relationships between different demographics, different generations and different needs that extends to all of us," says Gail Brescia, Executive Director of St. Joseph's Foundation.

The garden also incorporates plants that are traditional medicines in Indigenous cultural practices, such as sage, cedar and sweetgrass. Brenda Mason, an Elder and SJCG staff member, has helped guide the creation of a Healing Circle near that garden that includes large stones and amethyst. Plans are in the works for educational plaques to explain the significance of the traditional medicines and other meaningful aspects of the space.

Dowhos says the feedback from clients is about feeling a sense of ownership, fulfilment and pride. "I think that giving back to the earth and the environment really means a lot, not just those who may have some challenges with respect to addictions and mental health, but everybody."

Quick Facts

TeamWerks is a social enterprise and co-op that provides job training and employment for people recovering from mental illness and addictions challenges. It's supported by St. Joseph's Care Group's Employment Options program.

  • Located at Victoriaville Centre inside St. Joseph's Health Centre South, TeamWerks operates a number of business ventures including WoodWerks, ShredWerks, RagWerks, PieceWerks, GreenWerks, and LabourWerks.
  • For more information about TeamWerks, call (807) 346-3694.


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