Gardening for Food and Mental Health

The CMHA Grey Bruce Experience: Community Gardening as Part of the Therapeutic Process and to Provide Employment


There are many different types of community garden. They can be large or small and come in many shapes and sizes — whether a small herb garden, an accessible raised vegetable garden, or a garden plot at a community agency, church or park. Each garden will be as unique as the community tending it.

There are many potential benefits for mental health consumers participating in a gardening program. Growing your own food is a great way to improve personal food security. Garden produce can provide extra fruits and vegetables for agency meal programs or be given to a local food bank. Gardening is also a way to help build a sense of community, promote active living and encourage people to work outdoors. For consumers, gardening can reduce stress and improve mental health, increase social interaction and help to break down stigma.

An online survey of community mental health agencies in Ontario, conducted in February 2010 by the Canadian Mental Health Association for the Minding Our Bodies: Eating Well for Mental Health project, found that several respondents had experience with community gardens, although none had documented their program. Gardens were generally implemented as a way of increasing the amount of healthy food available for consumers, but many other benefits were observed. This manual has been prepared by the Minding Our Bodies project to capture the experience of one such program and share it with other organizations that may want to start their own community garden.

The Grey Bruce Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association has developed and implemented two gardening programs for different groups of consumers. A successful garden project has been running for several years in different forms through CMHA’s Leisure Links, a group social recreation program. Most recently, their garden is located at a rented plot in a Community Allotment Garden. One staff person and several consumers visit the plot weekly during gardening season to maintain the garden. The food is used by participants at home and in their community kitchen. Any surplus is donated to the local food bank.

The second gardening program, called Let It Grow, was developed as a support to therapeutic treatment for consumers participating in a group for individuals with serious mental illness and addiction issues. Participants discuss healthy exercise habits and strategies to decrease substance use, including smoking, as part of the program, both informally and during planned sessions. These discussions also occur as part of individual counselling focused on recovery. The Let It Grow program evolved from this group to become a source of employment for consumers, who receive benefits through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

The Let It Grow program provides information on healthy eating, plus exercise in the form of gardening and processing of garden vegetables.

“Gardening for Food and Mental Health” is a “case study” that describes the CMHA Grey Bruce experience in creating the successful Let It Grow garden program. This document also includes basic information to start you thinking about what type of garden project would best suit your agency. Additional community garden resources are listed in the appendices.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Why Create a Garden?
  • Gardening as Part of the Therapeutic Process
  • Gardening as an Opportunity for Employment
  • Organizational Challenges in Starting a Garden
  • Consumer Challenges
  • Program Evaluation
  • A Few Planning Questions to Get You Thinking…
  • Appendix 1: Sample Participant Feedback Form
  • Appendix 2: Sample Job Description — Garden Workers
  • Appendix 3: Sample Job Description — Garden Workers Coordinator
  • Appendix 4: Container Gardens
  • Appendix 5: Resources and Manuals
  • Appendix 6: Organizations and Websites
Gardening_for_Food_and_Mental_Health.pdf2.59 MB