Coming home to food

I wrote the following article for the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association’s summer newsletter, in anticipation of my presention on Day 1 of their upcoming annual conference – Branching Out: Nurturing Connections and Community, on September 16-18, 2021. This year’s online conference features topics ranging from sensory engagement with nature to vertical farming, guided nature walks, wildlife photography, and indigenous healing tools. It’s an amazing line-up! I hope some of you can join us.

Home is in the garden: Starting over during unprecedented times

We all long for connection, whether we spend our lives deeply rooted or like to spread our wings. Join Dawnn in a multimedia journey as she highlights personal and professional connections to edible gardens, food justice, and the rapidly evolving field of healthcare. We’ll also explore the nature of home – where it is, what it looks like, and how true belonging grows over time.

CHTA’s mission is “to promote the use and awareness of horticulture as a therapeutic modality.” Learn more about this volunteer-led organization, receive updates on horticultural therapy news, or register for the conference by visiting the CHTA website.

My 5th birthday in NYC

Growing up, I cherished mealtimes with my grandparents. We’d gather around their small dining table for roast chicken or spaghetti, followed by my grandfather Nate’s evening entertainment – tales of protests, travel, and beloved dishes from his old neighborhoods in New York City. Such stories shaped who I am and what I eat and what I care about – and how I’ve spent my life.   

Over the past two decades, I’ve taught psychotherapy clients the ancient Buddhist practice of mindful eating (check out two seminal texts here and here), which connects us to our bodies and one another, and cultivates “inner wisdom:” the recognition of appetite cues like hunger, taste preference, and fullness. These mindfulness skills provide an essential foundation for savoring, defined as the awareness of pleasure as it unfolds in the present moment. Savoring might focus upon current experiences (for example, with food and nature) or, as in my grandfather’s case, beloved memories from the past, which are shared repeatedly with loved ones.

Therapeutic horticulture similarly engages the heart, mind, and body, and enhances well-being, through interaction with plants and plant-related activities. Growing food (whether a simple herb container or a full-fledged backyard garden) is the perfect complement to mindful eating. It’s what I like to call the “full meal deal” of mindful living.

In addition, food bridges many gaps and helps us navigate difficult transitions. This past December, our family moved from a rural farm outside Portland, Oregon, to a densely urban neighborhood in Seattle, Washington. We re-homed our flock of chickens, gave away or sold most of our belongings, and made the long drive north. When Seattle’s cityscape revealed itself against the nighttime sky, we gasped in equal parts relief and exhilaration. However, our joy was bittersweet; sometimes saying yes to new things means letting go of those you love.

Yet in recent months, I’ve discovered that home is all around me.

Home grows in the new edible garden I’ve sowed in containers, which we hauled up to our townhouse rooftop. Home blossoms in the many community garden plots (or “p-patches,” as they’re known here) scattered throughout my new city. Home is educational organizations like Tilth Alliance, Seattle Audubon, and the Master Gardener Foundation of King County. Home finds me while I’m weeding the Kesher Garden at Stroum Jewish Community Center or watering the Cesar Chavez Demonstration Garden at El Centro de La Raza. Home shows up on my social media feed, in the posts of horticultural therapists, gardening enthusiasts, food justice activists, and small farmers.

These days, one of our family’s favorite hangouts is the Wednesday afternoon farmers’ market in South Seattle. We stroll through aisles of booths piled with fresh fruit and vegetables; throngs of diverse shoppers; and political signature gatherers; and I’m reminded of those messy, animated meals around my grandparents’ dinner table.

If home, as one definition suggests, is the place where we flourish, then those of us who engage in the growing and celebration of food will always know where to go.  

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