retouched_boy.jpgA young boy from The Village at Cataumet tends to the garden as staff, volunteers and clients fill the garden beds with compost and loam. 

You don’t [usually] see people who work at a place put so much care and attention into it. I think it is amazing.” That statement was made at the end of June by Jeff, a father staying at The Village at Cataumet, as he joined several staff members, clients and volunteers from Valley Farm Community Garden filling three newly installed garden beds in the rear of the shelter with a mix of compost and loam before planting an array of vegetables that included tomatoes, peas, spinach, kale, eggplant, squash, beets, cucumbers and herbs.

A little more than two months later, the garden is flourishing. Jeff has continued his involvement, watering the beds every day. And case manager Laura Kiernan is set to teach clients at The Village at Cataumet how to make a dish using eggplant.

“It is going great,” said Paula Mallard, the facility director at The Village at Cataumet. “It’s great that we have some fresh vegetables and fresh food for the clients.”

The garden is the latest of several improvements that have been made at the shelter in recent months; a new floor and refrigerator were installed in the kitchen earlier this year.

This project was spearheaded by members of the Valley Farm Community Garden, including Diane Speers, Carolee Packard, Joe Pacheco and Mike Ryan. As they worked to fill the beds, each measuring 36 square feet, with loam, Mallard spoke about the benefits it will provide for clients. “Gardening can be very therapeutic,” she said. “This can be a way people can relax and garden.”

Cataumet_Garden-8.jpgDiane Speers (from left), a volunteer from Valley Farm Community Garden, Paula Mallard, the facility director at The Village at Cataumet, and Jeff, a client at the shelter, fill the beds with loam and compost at the end of June. 

Among those who have taken to gardening is Jeff, serving as a perfect fit for one who has a landscaping and construction background. “I love helping out and I love keeping busy,” he said, as he helped set up the beds at the beginning of summer.

By then, he had only been at the shelter with his teenage daughter a little more than a week. “We lived with my mother and she ended up in a nursing home,” he explained, as to how he ended up homeless for the first time in his life at the beginning of June. For a short time, he and his daughter stayed in a tent in a friend’s backyard before he sought assistance from HAC.

The situation, he said, has been particularly difficult on his daughter. “I’m taking it one day at a time,” he said, as he looks to get back on his feet and out of shelter.

As they shoveled loam into wheelbarrows, both Pacheco and Ryan said they were grateful to do something to help those like Jeff out. “We’re giving something these people can use to help themselves,” Ryan said.

Packard expanded upon the benefits of the garden while volunteers and clients planted this summer’s vegetables. “When somebody is gardening, they are in touch with nature,” she said. “It also gives them mindfulness, peacefulness and the satisfaction that they have accomplished something.”