We hear much about how happy and healthy we are in San Luis Obispo. It seems we can’t go a couple months without landing on another desirable destination list. Those of us who live here know our quality of life extends far beyond the weather, waves, and wine. This is a caring community; reflected by the more than 1,000 non-profit organizations in SLO County. This many non-profits come with a plethora of volunteer opportunities to keep us busy, healthy, and yes- happy. According the Corporation for National and Community Service, those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. So let’s get to it!
Depending on your commitment level, you will first want to decide whether you’re looking for a long or short-term opportunity. Organizations like CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Hospice SLO County, and RISE, offer volunteer training programs and priceless rewards. However, you can also make a difference in a few hours if you suddenly find yourself with time on your hands (and want get those hands in some soil). With as little as a day’s notice you can put in work at Growing Grounds Farm Wholesale Nursery, a program of Transitions Mental Health Association.
This incredible program nurtures both plants and people, as most employees are referred by San Luis Obispo Community Mental Health Services. All staff are paid and receive horticultural therapy, vocational training, opportunities for job advancement, and a safe space for socialization. On a typical day, staff out number volunteers and on this sunny Wednesday I was lucky to have two employees show me the ropes.
Stephanie*, who has worked at the farm for almost 3 years, lead me on a tour of the impressive facility. She explained which plants prefer sun vs. shade—they have awesome cactuses right now–before we stopped by the plum tree for a snack and got a peek at the neighbor’s colorful and vociferous parrot. Stephanie taught us (me and a new hire) how to prep plants for delivery, demonstrating how to look for weeds and other undesirable features like holes and burnt leaves. The pretty prepped plants were then loaded onto the truck and delivered to local shops like Farm Supply and Miner’s. When shopping at local businesses for your greenery, keep an eye out for the TMHA- Growing Grounds logo, as 60% of the farm’s budget comes from plant sales.
Later during my three hour shift I pulled orders, selecting the best looking plants with employee John*. We pulled four types of lavender and I learned that John’s favorite species of all is the night blooming cactus. I also witnessed first hand how Growing Grounds farm is about much more than plants- they indeed provide Hope through Horticulture. You can support this program by volunteering, or purchasing THMA Growing Grounds plants at shops around the county. Learn more at growinggroundsfarm.org.
*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
Courtney Haile is writer and fitness instructor living in San Luis Obispo.