UIndy promotes mindfulness with community gardening

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Sprouting a garden from a bulb of an idea, the University of Indianapolis will be cultivating an interactive program that serves as a space for mindful gardening for students. Thanks to Staff Psychologist and Liaison for Diversity & Inclusion Alyssa Alonso and Professor of English Kevin McKelvey, who have been helping oversee the planting and overall care of the garden, started the program earlier in September. 

From Sept. 12 to Oct. 10, 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., students can attend the community garden located on Standish Ave. The purpose of the program is to connect gardening with mental health, according to UIndy’s website. Alonso said she will speak for five to 10 minutes about health benefits from gardening, then attendees spend some time practicing mindfulness. Afterwards, 30 to 40 minutes will be spent gardening.

Alonso said she got the idea around three years ago while studying how nature impacts mental health at another university. The program was an inspiration to rectify nature’s health benefits to those who need it and can use it through the garden. Focus and attention spans, exposure to sunlight, mindfulness and stress reduction are all health benefits that gardening can promote, Alonso said.

Staff Psychologist and Liason for Diversity & Inclusion Alyssa Alonso stands in the garden. She said that exposure to nature can restore and replenish a person’s attention.
Photo by Gabe Eastridge

“Attention’s a limited resource, you can only have so much focus at one time. So exposure to nature replenishes that attention, it restores your attention. The theory is attention restoration theory,” Alonso said. “There’s lots of research supporting that idea. So not only does it help your attention, it also helps your focus. It can decrease stress, [and] contact with nature can also reduce depressive symptoms for some people.” 

In addition, Alonso said that volunteers are able to take some of the produce grown and harvested in the garden home. She said that another aspect of mental health is connecting with others, so a community garden promotes a connection to others at the university as well as a connection to nature. Alonso said that anyone on campus is welcome to attend Grounded Gardening. 

“Essentially, what I envision for the program is that it serves as a drop-in group. So people can use it without having to sign up,” Alonso said. “They don’t have to be a client here at the [Student Counseling] Center. They don’t have to have ever been in counseling before, but if they want to improve their attention, they think it’s going to be beneficial for them or it’s just something that they’re interested in and want to check out, they can drop by…”

Photo by Gabe Eastridge A student works in the garden on Sept. 19. Alonso said students can attend Grounded Gardening meetings without needing to sign up or prior counseling. The garden is located on Standish Ave. and students are free to visit if they are interested, according to Alonso.

Garden Intern and Senior Environmental Science and Environmental Sustainability double major Hannah Clere said the biggest benefit students gain from working at the garden is a connection with nature. She said that receiving food grown in the garden also connects students with where their food is coming from.   

“I would say, coming out here to the garden has been most helpful for me in managing my stress,” Clere said. “School is a lot sometimes, and so just being able to come out here and forget about that, but it’s so close too, so it’s not even an inconvenience. It has really helped me to manage that stress and anxiety surrounding everything else that I have going on.”

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