Healing with Gardens at Merritt House

In Virginia, Minnesota, is a place of healing known as Merritt House. A part of Range Mental Health Center, it offers intensive residential treatment to those who need a more restrictive living situation. The program at Merritt House is designed to develop and enhance psychiatric stability, personal and emotional adjustment, self-sufficiency and skills to live more independently.


Merrit House garden box

Marigolds, herbs and vegetables fill the Merritt House planting boxes.

Thanks to grants from the federal government’s SNAP-Ed program and assistance from the University of Minnesota, Merritt’s nutritionist, Chris Strand has been able to provide a variety of nutrition programs for residents, including Garden in a Box. Since 2008, MSHS has provided garden boxes, soil, seeds and plants, and education to schools and low-income people to teach and encourage gardening. In 2019, 545 garden boxes were distributed and more than 3,500 people were involved in the program.

Building Skills and Connections

At Merritt House, some clients had never planted anything or experienced gardening. Garden in a Box has provided many opportunities for learning about food and gardening and the joy that comes from growing your own food.

“A garden in a box is a great way to supplement a cooking class,” says Chris. “There’s something special that happens when some or most of a recipe’s ingredients were harvested minutes before they were used. The food is fresher, healthier and cheaper. I’ve seen Merritt House clients really thrive in my classes, regardless of cooking experience. They learn to make a meal as a team and then eat what they’ve prepared together in a group. Often people who are seemingly very different find a new common ground when sharing this experience.”

Clients have enjoyed making smoothies daily with the Garden-in-a-Box harvests, and all staff
help with the maintenance and watering of the gardens. Not only is gardening a great addition to Range Mental Health programming, but it gives clients skills to use in their own lives when they graduate from the program.

“This program is amazing for people in recovery,” says Judy Anderson of Range Mental Health. “It teaches responsibility and pride in being able to successfully grow healthy food. I hope we are lucky to have this grant again next year and hope we continue to have access to this program for years to come.”

Please Support Garden in a Box

Merritt House signThis October, a long-time MSHS supporter has challenged us to raise up to $5,000 to support gardening programs for youth and adults, especially Garden in a Box. The donor will match donations up to $5,000 dollar for dollar, so you contribution will go twice as far!

Garden in a Box provides an opportunity for children and families in need to experience the benefits of gardening: food equity, outdoor activity, sustainable education and both personal and communal building. It specifically offers childcare providers, community program coordinators and teachers the chance to incorporate hands-on learning experiences into their programs. MSHS partners with an array of non-profit organizations to distribute these kits; including Habitat for Humanity, Southside Community Health Services, Range Mental Health –
Merritt House, Appetite for Change, Urban Ventures Farm and Hallie Q. Brown Community Center and many more throughout the state. Many of these organizations either set their garden boxes on site or distribute them to families to grow at home.

Of course, the program could not reach nearly as far as it does without our many partners, including Garden Circles, which provides the boxes; CreekSide Soils, which provides soil; and Sustane, which donates its Natural Compost Tea Bag fertilizer. A selection of vegetable plants suitable for small-space gardens are donated by from Wagners Greenhouses and Seed Savers Exchange provides seeds!

—Maria Brosofske


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