Gardening offers a range of health benefits for people with disabilities, such as physical, social, mental, emotional, and sensory benefits. For mother and daughter Judy Hummel and Hannah Hummel, gardening together has strengthened their bond and created a program that everyone in our Stillwell IRA can enjoy.
“When Hannah moved to Stillwell, I saw the yard space, and I started thinking about ways I can get involved, but most importantly, how would it benefit the residents. For example, if we created a garden, it had to be wheelchair accessible,” says Judy.
In 2019, Judy discovered vegetable beds that would accommodate people with disabilities to create an accessible and pleasant gardening experience. “I came from a family of farmers—fresh fruits and vegetables have always been a staple and an essential part of our health. I wanted to share this experience with Hannah and create an activity that the residents can enjoy,” says Judy.
With the help of the staff at Stillwell, the vegetable garden came to life. Over the years, the garden has produced various crops, including peas, carrots, cilantro, tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, strawberries, radishes, and much more. “It’s like a mini farm-to-table,” says Judy.
The staff at Stillwell have also seen how the garden has influenced the residents. “Stillwell garden has inspired all the persons supported living there a sense of community and belonging, especially during the quarantine period of the pandemic. It has motivated them to eat healthier, work together as a team, grow their own produce, and watch nature take its course. This is all thanks to Ms. Hummel,” says Sita Boodram, Coordinator of Operations for Stillwell IRA and Overnight Respite.
Judy also sees how engaging in gardening activities has helped Hannah. “I saw the difference in Hannah’s personality. She enjoys the details and science of gardening. For example, how plants grow and how to keep the soil healthy. Hannah also has a bird feeder and gets excited every time she learns something new about the birds that visit,” says Judy. The bird feeder was a gift to Hannah from Judy’s manager, Patricia Underwood, and her husband, Jon Moynihan, who have been supportive over the years. The feeder impacts the entire Stillwell campus by attracting different birds year-round, residents and individuals from our Respite, Children, and Adult Education programs can admire throughout their visit.
The rising interest in gardening at Stillwell has inspired Gardening Day, which encourages residents to get involved by going to Home Depot to get supplies for their mini gardening projects. Each participant would then receive a certificate for their achievements.
Judy is grateful for the continued interest in the garden by staff and residents. “Throughout the lockdown period of the pandemic, I was unable to visit Hannah. But when I got the opportunity to visit, I realized that the staff and residents planted peppers and tomatoes. This made me happy. I did this for the people at Stillwell,” says Judy. She is excited about the upcoming harvest of peas and strawberries and hopes to continue sharing her knowledge and love for gardening with Hannah and other residents of Stillwell.