Through a long-standing partnership with 13th Street Nursery, Oregon State Hospital patients are learning what it takes to seed, nurture and deliver an inventory of plants for sale in the community.
Oregon State Hospital (OSH) staff recently delivered about 400 young plant starts to the nursery where Salem-area gardeners seeking healthy vegetable starts can select from buffalo steak, sun gold, San Marzano, and beaverlodge slicer tomatoes, zucchini and basil grown by OSH patients.
Scott King and his wife, Dianna Brainard, owners of 13th Street Nursery, say the partnership reflects the nursery’s commitment to serve the community.
“It’s a great program,” King said. “Gardening does wonders for stress and it’s therapeutic. I saw it as a way to help the program and they’re great plants, so it helps the customers. It’s a win-win all the way around.”
The greenhouse program is one of several job sites at OSH that provide patients a wage while they learn and develop skills that will help them transition back into their communities.
Aside from learning the science and care involved in seeding, nurturing, harvesting and propagating plants, patients learn other valuable skills, such as working as a team, showing up consistently for work, socializing with others and taking and following direction.
Michael Taylor, OSH Greenhouse program training and development specialist, approached 13th Street Nursery about five years ago with the partnership idea.
“I knew Scott and Dianna were creating a community-centered business and knew it would also benefit patients to learn more about the supply side of working in a greenhouse,” Taylor said. “While they may not be able to work off-site at the nursery, 13th Street can be an anchor to their work. It’s an opportunity for them to see a project through planning to delivery. They do everything, even labeling the plants to get them ready to go out the door.”
There are also other added benefits, Taylor noted.
“It gives them the chance to know that their work is out in the community and for the community to be more aware of the work we do here,” he said.
The OSH plants are easy to spot in the store. Hospital patients who work in the woodworking shop helped build OSH-branded wooden shelving to showcase the plants.
Patients work in the greenhouse year-round overseeing seasonal gardens and a wide variety of houseplants including succulents, aloe, begonias, ferns, snake plants and other varieties. Seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs are used in the hospital’s kitchens and patients also help plan and organize plant sales held twice a year for OSH employees.
In the summers, the OSH kitchen menus are supplemented with OSH-grown tomatoes, zucchini, basil, garlic, greens, beans, watermelon, Swiss chard and kale and in the winter, radishes, chard, kale and onions are common. Overhead screening and shade cloths help create microclimates in the greenhouse to experiment with different plants and grow them out of season. The experiments spark conversation and interest as patients learn how light, different soil mixtures and other factors affect growth and development of plants.
The interactions spark growth within patients, too. “You can see the pride they take in the work they do,” Taylor said.
In addition to the woodshop or greenhouse, patients can apply and interview for other jobs available within other hospital departments, such as the coffee shop, market, kitchens, groundskeeping, environmental services, library and basic assembly or bench work.
Kate Barnes is an occupational therapist who supports patients employed in the greenhouse and bench work areas. As part of her work, she may adapt schedules or duties based on a patient’s abilities or provide guidance to OSH staff to help them.
“The biggest thing is providing them the supportive environment and fitting challenges – or new skill development – to meet their needs, so they’re successful,” Barnes said. “We learn a lot from mistakes and failures, but we can also learn from success. These jobs help provide a safety net so we can help them work through skills and get feedback so they can build those skills they’ll need to be successful in the community.”
On a recent visit to the greenhouse, a few patients excitedly shared the visible success of a recent propagation – a small, bright green shoot jutted out from the stump of a philodendron selloum or tree philodendron.
“I’ve learned more about plants that I didn’t know before. It’s been therapeutic, too, because at the end of the day, these plants are counting on me to water, give them soil – to survive,” said one patient. “I’m learning how to be more responsible in this job.”
And that’s the goal, Barnes said.
“Many of them talk about how they enjoy what they’re doing and that this is the thing that gets them up in the morning. It’s a purpose,” she said. “It’s also motivating for them to know that something they’ve touched, something they’ve curated or grown is being sent out and will be utilized and bring enjoyment.”