Four days ago, Darrie pulled me aside at work and gave me what felt like an impossibly hard task. I was to write my story of how I got here and how the program has benefited me, and share it with you tonight. I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t know what to say. My story is one of unfathomable suffering. On the flipside, my experience here at the Homeless Garden Project is one of indescribable joy. How could I possibly present these two extremes in a safe and comfortable way, let alone in just five minutes? Fear gripped me as I attempted to grapple with my experiences and the immense power of words. Then, I thought about the Garden and the wondrous power it holds. Surely it can hold space for whatever I have to say. And in that space, the words began to flow.
Growing up, I was subjected to severe, long-term traumatization. It was brutal, horrific and grotesque. At eighteen, I was miraculously freed and proceeded to throw myself as hard as I possibly could into recovery work. I spent days at a time journaling, meditating, praying and seeking outside guidance. There were, however, very few people I felt I could trust. My post-traumatic stress made it extremely difficult to form lasting relationships and impossible to work a regular job. I was in a rocky financial situation and terrified of becoming homeless.
When I arrived at the Homeless Garden Project eight months ago, I was shy, timid, and shut down. I couldn’t volunteer for more than an hour at a time without becoming overwhelmed and needing to stop. There was, however, a magic here that kept me coming back and in two months’ time, I was hired as a trainee. Immediately, I felt layer upon layer of fear and shame melt away. Organic farming, twenty hours a week, with safe and supportive people. Here was finally something that I could do. Not only was I struck by the beauty of my surroundings, but by the quality of the people who work here: Darrie, the Executive Director, in her quiet, ethereal wisdom; Lindsay, the Training and Education Specialist, in her extraordinary patience and compassion; Chris, the Farm Manager, in his gentleness and humility; Angie, the Retail Manager, in her sharp wit and skill; and Mike, the Production Lead, in his quirky, blunt humor and incredible passion for his plants.
At first, as a new trainee, I struggled, but with the everlasting support and guidance of these amazing people, I began to thrive. A new sense of direction and purpose flowed through my life and internal barriers that once seemed impenetrable gave way. For the first time in my life, I felt open, free and capable. In the loving space of the Homeless Garden, I have become free to express myself and grounded in my choices. I have found stable housing and am working to become a tutor, teaching math to underprivileged kids. The friendships I have made here and the intimacy of the bonds I have formed are indescribable. I have a sense of security and peace now, a foundation upon which I can firmly stand.
I am not, however, the only recipient of these miracles. As my dear friend and former trainee, Laurie Soderman, puts it, “The soil at the Garden oozes with love.” I am but one of countless individuals whose life has been monumentally transformed by the power of the Garden. Whole families have transitioned out of homelessness into stable, secure homes. Alcoholics and addicts have found the courage they needed to get sober and clean. People like myself, who came from the worst of the worst, have found safety, empowerment and self-worth.
The thing I love above all else about this project is that whether you are a volunteer, a staff person, a trainee or simply a friend, there is a place for you here. No matter what it is that you need, there is a sentience in this Garden that will call it forth and manifest it in your life. All it asks is that you be open to receive.
– Kathleen Groves, 19, Homeless Garden Project trainee
From a talk presented at our Sustain Farm Supper, July 30, 2016. And here is Kathleen’s poem that inspired the name of this post:
The sweat pea stands
Her twisting vine
Shields the bud
Yet to unwind
In the end
Her petals slip
Into the Earth’s
In darkness shroud
The bud emerges
All things are born anew