It’s been over a year since local nonprofit Integrated Community Services (better known as ICS) reached out to partner with us and their garden-based job training program for adults with disabilities in Marin County (GEM). Read all about our partnership here. GEM harvested chamomile, calendula, rose geranium, lavender, borage, and yarrow for Botnia in 2021. This year, we’re adding arnica, sweet annie, and meadowsweet to the harvest! We could share a million reasons why GEM is so special to us, but we’ll start with the top three.
Gardening provides participants with skills they can use in the world
In GEM’s Program, participants get to interact with nature, learn the natural cycles of the seasons, and be outdoors. Doesn’t that sound like a dream job? GEM participants develop interpersonal skills: interacting with other clients and staff, working on a task together, and helping one another. They also learn tactile farming skills like digging, potting, sowing seeds, planting, and installing irrigation. Each week, tasks are written on an organized whiteboard that’s checked daily and assigned to different team members. This helps each participant see how each of their tasks contributes to a greater goal! Some of the participants’ favorite parts of gardening are: “Working with other clients,” “Helping other clients,” “Demonstrating leadership,” and “Being outdoors!”
Some of the relatable challenges GEM participants face on the job are dealing with anxiety, managing frustration, and building self-confidence. The leaders and graduates of GEM solve these challenges with real-world solutions to help in the workplace and beyond. On the job, when faced with anxiety, participants learn relaxation and mindfulness techniques that help them persevere even if thoughts or emotions are getting in the way. Slowing down and concentrating on the task at hand helps manage frustration and gets them to focus on one thing at a time. Self-confidence is built by allowing each participant to take ownership of a task and become comfortable with making mistakes. They learn to understand that work is difficult but that it feels good to have worked hard on something that contributes to their community.
When finished with the program, GEM participants move on to working in school garden programs, restaurants, grocery stores, other nonprofit organizations, and sometimes even become leaders at GEM! (In fact, the majority of the current GEM staff are former program participants!)
Harvesting botanicals is extremely therapeutic
Nervine plants like chamomile are so wonderful to work with, especially for people prone to high anxiety. Its calming scent helps restore balance and supports the central nervous system while picking the flowers off the plant. GEM’s participants appreciate how easy flowers are to harvest and love that: “They smell good, and they’re pretty.” One participant in particular “like(s) harvesting flowers more because I don’t like to eat vegetables.” We understand that sentiment, especially when it comes to eating and harvesting strongly scented brassicas!
Two stand-out flowers are popular among participants. “All of them are pleasurable to work with in their own way. But calendula and chamomile have to be my favorites. Chamomile because of the lovely scent that pervades the air when you’re harvesting; calendula because their bright orange color brightens up every day,” says Josh Milstein, director of the GEM program. He believes “that flower farming is a better introduction to horticulture than vegetable farming for GEM participants. It’s generally easier to propagate and harvest medicinal flowers than vegetables. I also think that working with the flowers has a very tangible positive effect on the clients.” It makes the participants excited to know that their hard work is being used to make products that are beneficial for their community.
Hand-picked with love
This year’s batch of Rose Geranium Hydrosol is extremely special to us because of the care and hard work that GEM puts into practice. The plants are cared for and handpicked by our local community as they learn to build the skills they need to interact with the world. Knowing that this process has helped heal people even before we turn these raw ingredients into skincare just warms our hearts so much. We hope that when you use this seasonal hydrosol, you can feel the love that went into your bottle.
We can’t wait to see how bountiful GEM’s garden grows this year and we’ll continue to watch its participants bloom as well! Check back with us in the spring when we tour their garden in May!