Today, I volunteered at wholesale nursery Growing Grounds. Growing Grounds cultivates and sells Mediterranean climate flowers, trees, grasses, herbs, succulents, fruits and vegetables. They have three main clients: Landscapers, local nurseries and land conservancies. Growing Grounds is part of Transitions Mental Health Association. The nursery serves as a stepping stone for people with mental illnesses seeking to re- enter the workplace, said Wayne, the organization’s supervisor.
Most people have a lot of preconceived notions about mental illness, said Wayne. In many patients, mental illness is so acute it can barely be noticed. It may be marked by brief spells of hysteria or mental breakdowns, but most of the time, you can’t tell a patient even has a problem, said Wayne. My group and I worked with Greg, one of the employees. He knew way more about plants and horticulture than we did. He was really upbeat, and great teacher. I didn’t think it polite to ask about his “condition”, but I did wonder about it. He seemed pretty normal, even nicer than the average person.
I wish I knew more about the work that goes into horticulutre and farming. From high school English classes, I know a bit about the history of farm workers in America. In California, it seems, first there were Indians. Then there were Okies. And then there were Mexicans. In my two short hours at Growing Grounds, I got outside, got fresh air, and accomplished a lot more than I do at most normal jobs. I don’t know if local nurseries rely primarily on immigrant labor or not, but it seems like a job I’d be happy to do for minimum wage in the summer. It’s a heck of a lot more interesting than some of the other jobs I’ve been paid minimum wage for.
Wayne talked about how hiring people at the bottom of their game seemed like a backwards business model. He said that by working at the nursery, people get leadership experience, teamwork skills, and communication skills: things that are valued in the modern workplace. If most of the employees have to instruct city- slicker college students, like the ones in my group, I can definitely see where they would get leadership experience, communication and teamwork skills. But it made me wonder: What about working at a nursery makes it not a “real” job? Why is only acceptable for Mexicans and mental patients to do farm work, when without them, our whole country would starve? When did we decide agriculture was worth so little?