There is little debate that mental health struggles are becoming a bigger problem among youth. But as the North Bend City Council learned Monday, the answer could be in the dirt.
Yes, in the dirt. Mia Bryan with Anotomia Ed made a presentation to the council, urging the council to support a proposal to place community permaculture plots in the region.
Bryan is working with the Oregon Coast Artisan and Trade Education Collective to push the idea, with both groups saying community gardens are proven to improve mental and physical health.
“Our community is facing the same needs as communities across the county, which is a crisis of mental health,” Bryan said. “Students are not only behind academically. Now teachers are trying to catch them up on top of their social-emotional problems.”
Bryan said in these trying times, especially coming off a pandemic, there needs to be an effort to find solutions for children that involve communities and schools.
And dirt may be the answer.
“There’s some really awesome research about the power of dirt,” Bryan said. “After one month, just the ability to put their hands in dirt improves the immune system.”
And, Bryan said, there is no better way to get in dirt than gardening.
“It can be that simple – more green spaces, more dirt and soil for people to put their hands in can improve mental health,” she said. “This helps bring up test scores, life skills, social connections. Just having a garden can dramatically change our youth’s future.”
Bryan said her organization and OCATEC want to lead an effort to put permaculture gardens throughout the community. She said the idea is to take any space that cannot be used for development and turn it into the gardens. She said gardens improve water quality, air quality and soil quality.
The permaculture gardens will not be used for vegetables, with the emphasis instead on gardens that only need to be planted one time.
“What we’re envisioning is any space we have a garden will be uniquely designed for that space,” Bryan said. “We’d also like to add a little library with seeds for people to take home.”
As for North Bend, she said the city can assist the effort by locating and providing property, no matter the size.
“I want you to consider when you’re planning for the future of North Bend, one, saving some community space for these green spaces, and, two, consider using the space for mental health,” Bryan said. “If there are any unusable or surplus city lands, consider donating or using them for garden spaces.”
Bryan said she would be willing to help get the gardens up and running because she believes in the value of them.
“It’s a great time for your presentation,” Mayor Jessica Engelke said. “We are moving into our strategic planning at the end of this month, and we so have some properties that are surpluses.”
Engelke said what she learned from Bryan highlighted things she has heard much of her life.
“We’ve always heard anecdotally that gardening is healthy for you, but I love hearing the science about how having your hands in the dirt improves your immune system,” she said.