Upon arriving at Growing Grounds Downtown it appears like many other plant shops filled with dozens of different varieties of plants and flowers but its unique background in service makes the shop one-of-a-kind.
Growing Grounds Downtown is a store run by Transitions Mental Health Association. Its main focus is horticultural therapy which involves the clients of the program working both at the 956 Chorro St. store location and Growing Ground’s farms in San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria, where the majority of plants sold at the store are grown.
“People have found and studies have shown that working outside and working with your hands and working with plants and getting that physical activity really has a lot of good results,” said Transitions public relations coordinator Hannah Brown. “It really does help people manage what they are going through and channel their energy in a creative and good way.”
The store site is well hidden in a space that was once a driveway for the building next door. Growing Grounds Downtown sells more than just plants; a wide variety of locally made products such as olive oil, honey, herbs and teas are also available.
“We have stuff to accommodate those who are looking for gifts or people that have been gardening for years that just want one more thing to add to their garden,” said assistant coordinator and philosophy senior Shannon Todd. “People usually come in and say that it’s just a really soothing place and it’s kind of a breath of fresh air.”
The sounds of birds chirping, blowing of wind chimes and the trickle of fountains create a tranquil working environment. Some of the mental illnesses that Transitions works with are bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder and depression.
Clients fulfill tasks around the store such as helping open the store and putting out plants as well as acquire customer service skills by helping customers, teaching them about plants and working the cash register.
“Our goal is to help people recover; a lot of people think that mental illness is like a destiny, once you’ve been diagnosed that’s it and that is really not true,” Brown said. “People recover all of the time.”
Transitions’ vocational service programs match interests of clients with jobs that include more than just Growing Grounds. Clients can choose to work other places in the community with the help of Supported Employment which aids with counseling, job preparation and the job search.
“It’s hard to find a job in normal life especially for someone who has a mental illness or gap in their resume that makes it even harder,” Brown said. “Our programs help people redevelop that sense of self-worth that comes with work and to reenter the community.”
Annually, Growing Grounds helps serve over 100 clients. This year marks two special anniversaries for the Transitions organization. It is the 30th year of Transitions Mental Health Association as well as the 25th year of the Growing Grounds San Luis Obispo farm.
To celebrate there will be a special event from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, June 26 at the San Luis Obispo farm, 3740 Orcutt Rd. The event is meant to be a thank you to all the people who have volunteered throughout the years and will feature three bands, grilled foods and booths from local organizations.
Promotional coordinator for events and fundraising Lesta Travis said Cal Poly students have always been a great help with volunteering. Many campus organizations and clubs have come to the farm and cleaned up or painted, whatever needed to be done, she said.
Growing Grounds Downtown will also take part in Art After Dark on June 5. Ceramics craftsman Charles Varni is the featured guest. He will also be giving a presentation from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday, June 6 as part of Growing Grounds Downtown spring lecture series.