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Gaining ground under their feet: Assisted gardening at Echinos e. V. for individuals with mental health issues

The Echinos Association, Buchenbach (in the Freiburg im Breisgau area) empowers people with mental issues, as well as those in biographical crises, through assisted work opportunities in the field of biodynamic vegetable and herb cultivation. Social group integration and a well-defined daily schedule serve to aid personality development, enabling program participants to go back to taking good care of their own lives. In order to accomplish this, Echinos makes good use of various forms of encounter with nature. “When working in the garden, we are working the foundation that supports and nurtures us. Anyone working the soil gains ground under their feet and creates a little bit of homeliness”, it says on the website of the initiative. Besides undertaking gardening work, program participants make plant observations, go on walks aimed at learning more about wild herbs, and gain valuable knowledge about a healthy diet and the effect of medicinal plants. They learn gardening skills and pick up practical abilities to help with everyday life, are involved in a meaningful day-to-day framework and can inform themselves about potential job prospects.

The Association, which was founded in 2014 and originates from the environs of the Friedrich-Husemann-Klinik, a specialist anthroposophical hospital of psychiatry and psychotherapy, is currently set to take a key step towards further increasing the professionalism of operations, SAGST Project Manager Wilfried Schneider explains: “Echinos has so far been supported by the major personal commitment of individuals. Considering that the Association seeks to set itself up in the area as a provider of part-time in-house support services that give a meaningful framework to program participants’ daily lives, you will find that moderate growth and a sustainable staffing and financial background are needed.” The planning pipeline includes additional opportunities for program participants to earn a certain income in sales or as housekeeping staff, setting up a communal lunch facility and an occupational therapy practice. “Echinos makes a substantial contribution towards supporting and guiding people with mental health issues in the Upper Black Forest. We fund this project to give this charity the tailwind it needs, so that they can extend and diversify their services and put them on a firm, economically viable, basis.”