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12 Dec 2017

Applying permaculture in the recovery process of people with mental illness

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Gardening has been found to have a positive effect on our mental health and well-being, with the use of gardens as a therapeutic intervention becoming a more common practice. Research carried out at Harvard University shows that people living in green areas have improved physical and mental health, while GPs in London have started prescribing gardening to patients for its physical and mental benefits. The European project Permind now hopes to explore how the gardening method of permaculture can be used in the recovery process of people with mental illness, with an objective of creating an educational curriculum about the method and to spread it through a digital platform.

Permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient, and is a popular gardening method in North America. The method follows the natural cycle of the environment and balances all elements involved; the soil, the water, the plants and the animals. In Tenerife, Spain, the Permind Project partner Asociación para el Desarrollo de la Permacultura Finca El Mato has found permaculture to be an effective method of helping people with mental illness in their recovery process.

– Permaculture lets people with mental illness feel that they are a part of this ecosystem. The human involvement needs to balance with everything else in the garden, to help it grow. With permaculture, it’s more than just using gardening, it’s engaging in the balance of nature. Permaculture is a more analytical form of gardening, that starts with feeding the soil, and then having that effect the result of the cultivation, explains Irene Poggi at Changemaker, one of the coordinators for the project in Sweden.

Permind is an educational project with partners from four different European countries, Spain (Fundacion INTRAS and Asociación para el Desarrollo de la Permacultura), Greece (Society of Social Psychiatry and Mental Health), Sweden (Changemaker) and Slovenia (SENT), working in the mental health field. Permaculture applied in the recovery process of people with mental illness is a two-years initiative financed by the ERASMUS+ programme to develop innovation in the adult education field.

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– The objective with Permind is to create a training course for trainers working with adults with psychic discomfort, hosted in an eLearning platform and supported by an app. For the trainees implementing the curriculum, the goal is also to help them develop key competences to improve their quality of life and their employment opportunities, explains Irene.

Permind will be a one year training course testing the curriculum, spreading across all four seasons to explore how to work the garden during spring, summer, autumn and winter. Moreover, Permind aims to promote the entrepreneurship spirit of the trainees by promoting the creation of ecological social cooperatives. The ecological vegetables grown will be sold by the trainees their neighbors, thus giving a positive picture of mental illness and fighting against the stigma attached to it.

– There are not many high-level learning opportunities for adults with disabilities today. The project wishes to explore how permaculture could be an education that could help people recovering from mental illness to improve their technical knowledge about a concrete topic and also to improve their social abilities and transversal competences. It’s about helping them with the rehabilitation of mental illness, while giving them opportunities to new employment and ideas, explains Irene.

In March of 2018, all the trainers involved in the Permind project will go to Tenerife for a five-day education. The trainers will then implement the course on a local level during a one year test of the curriculum. Permaculture gardens will be implemented in all four partner countries to teach permaculture to people with mental illness at a local level.

Changemaker will be in charge of the development of the digital tools to make the curriculum and learning process accessible to all partner, consisting of an eLearning platform and a didactic app fed with photos, videos and tips from the trainees. For Changemaker the motivation to be part in the project is connected to the educational movement Foodmaker in Sweden, focused on urban development and food production.

– We view permaculture as a new way of thinking about sustainable food production. It’s a long process, from feeding the soil to seeing different improvements in the plants. We want to boost the use of permaculture in urban environments, explains Irene.

The eLearning platform and app will be accessible for all partners over the two-year Erasmus+ project, giving everyone involved access to the educational curriculum. After the project is completed, the platform along with information, experiences and inspiration will also be made accessible for the public.

– The goal is to bring around social change around permaculture, and to introduce it more in Europe. We hope to make permaculture as a methodology for gardening more used and common. After the project is completed, the platform will be open and accessible for everyone. It will help create a long-term impact and ensure that more people with mental illness are given the opportunity to apply permaculture in their recovery process, says Irene.

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