Platform of Collaboration
Climate change and Horticultural therapy? This topic and many others were on the minds of the collaborative virtual symposium in late October. The American Horticultural Therapy Association-AHTA, joined with the International People Plant Council-IPPC, and the International Society of Horticultural Science-ISHS to examine “The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-being and Social Development”. This collaboration provided a platform where educators, researchers and practitioners could observe, learn, and benefit from their peer’s critical work of using horticulture as a therapeutic modality. Although meeting virtually is never as good as meeting in person, offering the symposium in a virtual format, did include some unforeseen benefits. Over 300 participants from 28 countries attended this event.
The Community Forum
Over the course of 3-days, the symposium offered live and pre-recorded oral sessions. A poster session and virtual garden/program tours highlighted work that is taking place worldwide in the field of horticultural therapy. A community forum was made available to attendees, where one could post questions and topics to engage others in conversation. All attending the symposium had the opportunity to enter any of the posted conversations. This option seemed to be quite popular. Topics ranged from practicing HT with different populations to climate change and much more. Out of the 61 topics posted, four attracted more attention than any others. Those four topics are Climate Change, Using Only Native Plants, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Virtual HT.
Climate Change and Horticultural Therapy
With the COP26-UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, having just wrapped up in Glasgow, Scotland, climate change and the actions necessary to protect the planet are once again in the forefront of global conversation. The question posed in the community forum asked how garden design and HT programming has and will be affected by our changing climate. Those participating in this conversation came from India, Sweden, the US, and many places in between. Food forests appear to be of global interest. Even though cultural differences broaden the definition of what a food forest is and what it accomplishes, everyone engaged in the conversation spoke enthusiastically of this practice. The attraction to building food forests is derived from it being a sustainable practice, one that feeds the human population but also supports beneficial insects and enriches the soil. Instead of creating a vegetable or flower garden, with a food forest you are creating an ecosystem.
A participant from Peru states that she includes a discussion on climate change with the children and youth involved in her HT practice. It is her desire to empower children to be “agents of change” regarding our warming planet. Participants also shared wonderful stories of their personal interactions with elders in community gardens and the challenges of adapting to changing climate as it affects their growing season.
Using Only Native Plants
Another well attended discussion post focused on creating gardens and HT programming using only native plants from your own region. These conversations were connected to the climate change conversation as it was noted that using native plants not only supports indigenous wildlife species, prevents soil erosion but would also withstand climate change better than non-native plants. Another participant expressed how native plants provide meaningful cultural metaphors in HT programming.
Several participants voiced their frustration about the difficulty they have in identifying and sourcing native plants. The National Wildlife Federation’s website may provide at least part of the solution. This site offers a useful tool, the Native Plant Finder. By entering your zip code, you will discover the best plants, native to your region, that will attract beneficial insects, birds, and wildlife. This vital information is based on the research of Dr. Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware and in partnership with the United States Forest Service.
Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion
The AHTA created a Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Task Force in April of 2021 to incorporate DEI efforts as part of the associations mission. The question was asked, “What actions can an association take to assure equity and inclusion, and to increase diversity in its membership?” It was noted several times how critical yet uncomfortable this conversation can become. Building diversity within the governing board and taking the time to listen to all voices were identified as foundational and impactful actions. Even though HT/TH is delivered to individuals from a wide range of culture, race, age, and social status, our practitioners, students, and volunteers are a less diverse group. The conversation acknowledged this as an issue. Removing barriers of entry into the field was seen as a course of action to initiate this necessary change.
Several links were posted in this discussion to help us all become more aware of the dimensions of diversity and the current work being done to make organizations more equitable and inclusive.
Civil Eats is a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system. They publish stories that shift the conversation around sustainable agriculture to build economically and socially just communities.
Black Creative Arts Therapy– this organization does not include HT (yet) but is doing the work of reaching out and featuring other therapists who are building DEI into their organizations.
An Overview of Diversity Awareness– Penn State Extension-This publication provides an overview of cultural diversity and can help you become more aware of the dimensions of diversity, your cultural identity, and your attitudes and perceptions.
All the participants who contributed to this conversation applauded the AHTA for creating this task force, as it is seen as vital for growth and sustainability of the association.
Virtual Horticultural Therapy
This discussion post, as you might imagine, was the most visited conversation on the community forum. There were two types of responses, those who wanted more information on how to conduct a virtual program and those who are doing the actual work of bringing virtual HT to their clients.
Types of programs discussed included an eight-week program for those with dementia and their care givers, weekly sessions for adults with hearing loss and sessions at an Alzheimer’s Day Center. One participant has created 6, 10 and 20 week sessions for school age children. Some practitioners used cellphones to film their sessions, while others used more advanced video equipment. It was mentioned that using two cameras (one on the activity and one on the practitioner) was much more efficient and produced higher quality video. Most sessions were live and delivered by Zoom but others were pre-recorded. There were benefits to both delivery methods.
The challenges are, of course how to keep your clients engaged during a Zoom session. One participant from Hong Kong stated that the effectiveness of his virtual HT sessions really depends upon the individuals motivation. Other HTs spoke about how they make an effort to talk directly to each client during sessions. Taking a video tour of the raised bed garden to show growth and progress of the plants was a hit with an HT who works with special needs adults.
The length of the session is also important. One practitioner keeps her videos to 4-6 minutes each. An HT who has had great success with her virtual sessions limits the instructions to 6-10 steps. She also receives feedback from her clients via phone calls, emails and social media.
This is just a small sample of the great conversations that took place on the Community Forum. One other worth mentioning was a multi-national conversation regarding the term “nature-based therapy”. It was enlightening to understand how this term is perceived and defined by those who are doing the same type of work in other parts of the world. It is hard to say what the future will bring. If in 2022 we will attend this conference in person or if COVID-19 will continue to dictate how we conduct such meetings. Regardless, lessons learned from this unique virtual symposium will surely carry over in one form or another.