Therapy and better eating

YMCA of Boulder Valley and Growing Gardens offer seniors organic gardening classes

Jaime Redick of YMCA and Annie Sweeney of Growing Gardens
Photo courtesy of YMCA of Boulder Valley

Boulder-area seniors are soon gaining another way to get involved with the community, eat better and improve their quality of life: taking organic gardening classes.

The YMCA of Boulder Valley and Growing Gardens have partnered to create a new six-week series of organic gardening classes for seniors.

“Personally, I find gardening to be very therapeutic,” says Jaime Redick, associate program director of teen programs at the YMCA. “It’s that whole growing something that you can then eat, being out in the sunshine and then, particularly for these classes, being able to develop community around gardening.”

Staff members at the YMCA and Growing Gardens share similar goals for the senior population in Boulder County and the community’s involvement and knowledge about gardening, according to Annie Sweeney, program director of Growing Gardens.

Growing Gardens is a nonprofit organization that tries to raise awareness about growing food and organic gardening techniques.

“Food, healthy produce and healthy living is one of their goals that [the YMCA’s] working on, so it was a natural fit for us to come in and help start some gardens at their Arapahoe Center and offer programs at their site and our site,” Sweeney says. “This [series] is a first step, because it fills a need that both of us are hoping to meet.”

The series will be a part of Growing Gardens’ horticultural therapy program, which serves seniors and people with disabilities. Seniors will attend six educational classes where they will tend to and eventually harvest the produce in the gardens while learning about different gardening techniques and their background. Each class in the six-week series will have a specific educational theme, such as organic pest control techniques, the importance of pollinators in gardens, water conservation and soil fertility.

Sweeney working in the raised beds, which allow easy accessibility for seniors. | Photo courtesy of YMCA of Boulder Valley

The focus on organic gardening is a standard for Growing Gardens’ programs, and Redick says she believes the organic techniques taught  during the class will add another element to the series that standard gardening might not offer.

“I’m excited about it because it’s just so much better for what you eat, for touching things, and it’s better for the environment,” Redick says. “I think you have to learn a lot more about the relationship between humans and plants, insects and plants, birds, bees, all of that.”

“Growing Minds: Evaluating the Effect of Gardening on Quality of Life and Physical Activity Level of Older Adults,” a study in HortTechnology, found that seniors who garden reported higher life satisfaction and physical activity levels than non-gardeners.

The gardens are in raised beds made for school gardens from the Kitchen Community, a local nonprofit aimed at connecting children with their food, to allow easy accessibility for the seniors. Everything in the gardens will be edible, including the flowers. The seniors can take home the produce they grow or prepare different recipes with it as part of the class. During the last session, the seniors will have a potluck celebration, using the food they grew.

Redick says she hopes the YMCA will later expand the organic gardening programming beyond seniors classes, involving more of the community in the series.

“Eventually, we don’t want it to be just seniors classes,” Redick says. “We want everybody to interact with the garden.”

Staff at the organizations are currently discussing teen organic gardening programming for the fall. After-school classes at the YMCA are free for high school students, and a gardening program aimed at teens could expand awareness about organic gardening as well as Growing Gardens.

The two gardening sessions will start in mid-June. The first begins at 9 a.m. June 17 and will take place every Monday for six weeks at YMCA of Boulder Valley’s Arapahoe Center, 2800 Dagny Way in Lafayette. The second begins 9 a.m. June 18 and will take place every Tuesday for six weeks at Growing Gardens, 1630 Hawthorne Ave. The sessions cost $60 for Y members and $80 for non-members.