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New garden serves homeless veterans at Jefferson Barracks

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - 9/13/2018

Sept. 13--Tending to a garden is part of the recovery process for a group of homeless veterans at the Jefferson Barracks VA health care campus.

About 100 veterans each year will plant and harvest vegetables while learning about healthy eating through the Boots in the Dirt program.

The garden is about "celebrating what we have accomplished and remembering what we have yet to do in our life," said Erin McInerney-Ernst, program manager for the Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans in the St. Louis VA Health Care System. "It's supposed to evolve and grow like our folks in recovery."

The Domiciliary Care program is a six-month residential treatment program for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction or other setbacks that have left them homeless. The first half of the program focuses on recovery, and the second half allows the veteran to prepare a resume, search for a job and find permanent housing.

There are five raised beds in the garden that have already produced peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and okra. St. Louis Composting donated a soil mixture and Home Depot provided lumber for the beds.

Future plans include a butterfly garden and a canopy for climbing vegetables. Extra produce will be donated to the food pantry at Jefferson Barracks.

A co-founder of the Boots in the Dirt program said she wanted to share the benefits of gardening with fellow veterans.

"Without gardening I don't know that I would have done as well," said Linda White at a ceremony Wednesday in the garden. "Gardening is very therapeutic. It's good for exercise. It helps combat loneliness."

Replacing a grassy lawn, the garden has become a gathering spot and brings "purpose and meaning and beauty out of something that feels barren and purposeless at the beginning," McInerney-Ernst said. "It's veterans giving back to veterans. In the recovery model, when you reach recovery, then it is expected that you give to the person who is not quite there yet."

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(c)2018 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com

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