Mental health professionals have maintained that gardening has multiple benefits.
It is a form of exercise, improves diet, allows for time in nature, and creates opportunities for social connection.
North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) CEO Davlin Thomas said this was the objective in mind when the NCRHA started its Agri-Wellness Initiative at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex during the covid19 pandemic in 2021. Progressively, the project expanded to include more local fruit and vegetable produce, which in turn would be used to supplement and aid in the provision of organic meals for patients.
"The move, thus far, has seen tremendously positive results. Not only has it encouraged community and camaraderie amongst staff, and enhanced levels of respect and care for biodiversity and our connection with the environment; the project has been an empowering signpost to members of the public in highlighting the importance of growing your own food and making healthier food choices," Thomas said.
“This project is in keeping with the Ministry of Health’s Trinidad and Tobago moves initiative, established to encourage healthy lifestyle habits such as drinking water, exercise and dieting, and eating fruits and vegetables, in effort to reduce the high incidences of non-communicable diseases in our society and also empower citizens to proactively pursue health seeking behaviour."
He said the NCRHA's research has also identified that that such activities promote a sense of belonging and social inclusion. The NCRHA’s first crop, which includes produce such as dasheen, bananas, plantains and breadfruit, Thomas said, are low maintenance and have required little human resource intervention.
“We are about wellness and the wellbeing of our people…not just in the recovery sense, and treating with illness but developing and encouraging the lifestyle behaviours in our communities and families that would prevent and/or reduce the risk of disease. The implications are incredible...We have intentions to engage our
psychiatric patients, through our specialist here to include gardening and occupational therapy as part of their rehabilitation process. We have always adopted a holistic approach to wellness.”