Like all farms, GrowGood is a busy place. There always is some chore that needs doing. So it might seem out of place to hear these words among the native plants: “Be still. Just be still a moment and listen to our breaths and the birds.”

The speaker was Millie Huer, a naturalist and mindfulness teacher. The moment was the mindfulness class held each week for Bell Shelter clients in a clearing. That and other classes are part of GrowGood’s Food for Life program. Think of it, perhaps, as a companion to growing food, this one growing people to live their best lives.

On this particular warm Thursday morning, 15 people gathered to hear Huer's calm insistent voiceHer session is a combination of quieting the mind, learning to sit still to pay attention to “what grounds us to the Earth,” and movements that stretch the body and prompt us to feel more flexible. She counts the breaths, a beat of three to inhale, a beat of four to exhale. She reminds the group to hear the sounds of nature, feel the heat of the sun. When someone’s phone goes off, Huer counters: “Disturbances come and go and try to get your attention, just like that.”

Esteban, a client at the Bell Shelter for the last six months, says the Food for Life sessions have broadened his mind. He had never heard of mindfulness, but it's had a deep impact on him. “It was so quiet, really serene. I couldn’t believe the peace there was,” he says. He’s now more attentive to his breathing and able to calm himself to focus better.

In the native garden, the only possible silence can be interior, not only because of phones or birds. GrowGood is surrounded by busy freeways, truck routes and plane paths. And not everyone feels inclined to move much; not everyone stretches their arms toward the pure light blue sky or the mulch-scattered ground when Huer directs them to.

But that’s OK. She seems to get everyone on board to repeat her words: “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be free of suffering and all the things that cause my suffering. May I have a feeling of well-being.”

Viviana Vallin, another teacher who comes to GrowGood from the Relational Center in Culver City, says her goal is to integrate movement with nature. On one rainy day, when class is held indoors, participants talk about the meaning of happiness; they mention serenity, being at peace, contentment. 

Vallin has brought some wet sages and bark in from the farm to pass among the participants to make a connection to the aromas and feel of the natural world even indoors. She says she thinks of the rain as nature taking care of itself. “We all need self care for survival,” she says.

Jayne Torres, an original GrowGood employee, runs the Food for Life program. Torres has organized speakers and discussions on a variety of topics, including resume writing, acupuncture and nutrition.

David Butler, a clinical therapist at the shelter, says he has learned a lot from Food for Life and uses the mindfulness ideas in his therapy sessions. “And I know it’s helpful being in the garden,” he says. Those classes, he says, can help prepare clients to be in the world.

The native garden was planted in 2014, with more than 300 plants. It’s become a playground for GrowGood’s chickens. The meeting spot was helped by a donation of benches from The Salvation Army. Now the “classroom” is an appealing spot even to sit alone and read.

by Mary MacVean