The Foundation’s Building Bridges department is harvesting abundant results from its exploration of care farming. Its programme brings local adults with learning disabilities to Cullerne Gardens where they join gardeners and Building Bridges staff for co-creative gardening. This practice, of using farm and garden work for therapeutic purposes, is called care farming, and receives governmental support, which the Building Bridges team has been able to obtain.
A successful six week (one day a week) pilot programme beginning in April 2015 has led to a permanent group coming to the gardens each week since. Cullerne gardeners gave the group a large space in one of their polytunnels (formerly known as Raven) for growing food and over the summer they raised an abundant crop of veggies in its lush humidity. Following permaculture principles, they intermingled their crops, raising kale, radishes, spring onions and lettuces on large horseshoe shaped mounds of compost.
Building Bridges’ Edward Fitsell notes that the care farmers have enjoyed Cullerne’s tea breaks, famous for providing not only the Foundation’s most complete selection of edibles but also for their tendency to evolve into impromptu musical revelry. They have the opportunity to experience the Foundation in different ways as well. During some programme days, after gardening in the morning care farmers participate in afternoons of activities including singing, dancing and exploring different areas of The Park. Each week participants are also able to take home some of the vegetables they helped produce, providing an edible reminder of their week’s love in action and an intimate way of enjoying their co-creation with nature.
Sharing space and the food they helped to grow with the community during lunch in the Community Centre is another important aspect of the programme. Most of these adults face social exclusion in their daily lives, and their participation in the routines and rituals of the Foundation’s daily life sends a clear message of acceptance. Building Bridges staff and Cullerne gardeners work, laugh and experience nature alongside each other. The morning tune in, where gardeners, Building Bridges staff and participants all hold hands in a circle, share about how they are feeling and join their intentions, sends an unambiguous message of inclusion. Programme coordinator Rosie Faith also notes that working outdoors and dancing improves participants’ fitness, and the Community Centre meals appears to be improving their awareness of nutrition.
Buildings Bridges lived up to its name as it developed the programme in close cooperation with the Moray council. In order to work together, Building Bridges had to fulfil certain training and education requirements, but Edward Fitsell and the rest of the Building Bridges team have handled the meeting of two very different organisational styles with the same grace and patience they brought to the rest of the project. Their success is now enabling them to consider expanding the programme, possibly borrowing some of the abundance of the garden they co-create with.