A woman holds a watermelon in a garden.

Vietnam Veteran Susan Ides holds a watermelon she grew at Asbury Community Garden.

Once a week, Veterans in the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System Psycho-Social Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC), spend time outdoors planting and tending to a variety of fruits and vegetables at Asbury Community Garden in Tulsa.

The PRRC, an outpatient multidisciplinary treatment program for Veterans who suffer from severe and persistent mental illness, began a new Horticulture Therapy Program last spring to take advantage of the therapeutic benefits of gardening.

“Gardening teaches patience,” said Dr. Alyssa Rippy, a psychologist and the PRRC Coordinator. “You have to wait for the plants to grow and it’s something you have to take care of. It takes concentration. It’s calming and soothing. I think there are so many therapeutic benefits to it.”

The Veterans have four raised beds at the community garden, which is operated by Global Gardens, a non-profit organization.

In two of the beds, the Veterans plant and grow food for themselves. In the other two beds, the group works together and uses the food in their PRRC Cooking Class.

“They can literally eat the fruits of their labor,” said Semone Thompson, Horticulture Therapy Coordinator and PRRC Social Worker.

Persian Gulf Veteran Brian Davis, who is one of approximately 10 Veterans in the program, said gardening has helped him cope with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

A man in a cap picks tomatos

Persian Gulf War Veteran Brian Davis prunes a tomato plant.

“Gardening helps relax me,” said Davis. “It gets us out and gives us something to do. You see the rewards of planting something.”

However, the program is about much more than just growing plants and vegetables. The Veterans also give back by maintaining the community mulch pile, and attend social events such bonfires, cooking classes and gardening workshops.

“Not only are they getting the therapeutic benefit of gardening but they’re getting it in the larger community,” said Rippy. “They’re working with Global Gardens and that helps them to become more integrated members of the community which is our goal.”

About the Author/Photographer: Nathan Schaeffer is a Public Affairs Specialist at the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System.

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Published on Dec. 30, 2015

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