Grow Well-Being this Summer by Volunteering at Mason’s Greenhouse and Gardens

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Coordinator

Grow Well-Being this Summer by Volunteering at Mason’s Greenhouse and Gardens

Grow some more fun and education in your life this summer by volunteering in Mason’s greenhouse and gardens programs, such as the President's Park Greenhouse, the Innovation Food Forest, and the Potomac Heights Vegetable Garden, run by the George Mason University Office of Sustainability. You and your friends and family can enjoy free garden produce, as well as hands-on training and valuable work experience growing food using hydroponics, gardening, and permaculture techniques.

President’s Park Greenhouse volunteers said their experiences there have sown valuable seeds of well-being in their lives.

Inside the greenhouse earlier this academic year, volunteers carefully pruned basil plants, snipping off green and purple leaves and placing them in a large container. The basil would soon go to Ike’s dining hall, just a short walk away. There, students could enjoy eating it in their meals. The process illustrated the shared well-being values of Mason students, faculty, and staff committed to taking good care of both their health and the environment.

Abby Haverty, a junior majoring in environmental science, said she enjoys taking care of the plants while they’re growing in the greenhouse and eating them later in the dining hall. One of her favorites is fresh basil with spaghetti. “You know it’s fresh, and you know it’s grown in the most environmentally friendly way possible,” she said. “You’re getting the most nutrition out of it when it’s fresh, and it tastes better than food in the grocery store that was harvested a long time before it reaches people.”

Another junior majoring in environmental science, Melissa Wilson, said her volunteer work at the greenhouse has enriched her academic studies. “I’ve been able to apply what I learn in the classroom by volunteering here,” she said.

Working in the greenhouse teaches valuable lessons about the well-being process, said Margaret Lo, director of Mason’s Office of Sustainability. “The great aspect of the greenhouse is, you see immediately the result of your work by the growth of the plants. There is purpose there, and strength. You’re growing something healthy.”

Greenhouse and gardens specialist Donielle Nolan said that when students open up to her about their well-being concerns, she encourages them to learn from the gardening process. For instance, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is like pulling weeds to promote healthy plant growth. “These ‘weedy’ thoughts are most often negative beliefs about ourselves,” Nolan said. “… In order to feel well you must forgive yourself for not being perfect (and for having those thoughts) and encourage yourself with your own self-talk to be the person you want to be. [It’s] just like removing unwanted plants in the garden to better grow the ones that you do want.”

Just like caring for plants in a greenhouse involves lots of wise management – such as adjusting temperature and humidity – so does the process of people caring for their own well-being.

Chelsie Kuhn, project coordinator for the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, volunteers at the greenhouse and appreciates how it promotes good nutrition. “If I had to pick a few key factors to manage for strong well-being, I would say sleep, nutrition, and exercise,” Kuhn said. “… these three building blocks allow me to manage the other things that come up in my life. These needs, like the definition of well-being, vary depending on the person.”

Nyla Milleson, head coach of the Mason Patriots women’s basketball team, said that volunteering at the greenhouse inspired her to change her diet. Growing up, she didn’t like the taste or texture of the processed vegetables she tried, so she never developed the habit of eating vegetables. “I’ve just never been a veggie eater,” she said. “This experience will inspire me to give it a try with fresh veggies.”

Milleson said she was even more excited about the greenhouse’s benefits for students. “This is such an incredible thing that Mason does for environmental sustainability, and to give students a chance to put what they’re learning into practice in hands-on ways,” she said.