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Newport Academy’s horticulture program spurs growth in recovery

January 31, 2017
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Environments for Recovery

The leadership team at Newport Academy, which provides mental health and substance abuse treatment for teens with residential, outpatient and day school programs, has always taken pride in serving healthy and delicious food.

Now, however, Newport Academy’s philosophy on the role of good nutrition is extending past the dinner table.

“We started thinking about other ways the food program could be part of the recovery and not just a service or an amenity of the facility,” says Jeffrey Zurofsky, the academy’s culinary program director.

From there, an idea sprouted: Allow those in treatment at Newport Academy’s facilities to have a hand in growing the food they eat through the creation of a horticulture program. Although it is not a formal part of therapeutic treatment, the horticulture program is a supplemental activity that gives residential patients the chance to grow some of the vegetables they will eventually eat.

At the academy’s Newport, Calif., location, crops can be grown outside year-round, thanks to a mild climate. Such is not the case in New England, though, so greenhouses were constructed at Newport’s Bethlehem, Conn., campuses to endure the winter months. The first greenhouse was constructed in the spring of 2015. A second unit was put up late in 2016 and will put to use starting this spring.

The greenhouses each measure 18 feet by 30 feet and were relatively easy to construct, says Zurofsky. The greenhouses do not have automation capabilities, but they do feature hydraulic vents to let in air and regulate temperatures as needed. An irrigation system ensures regular watering, but program participants also water crops during the day.

To facilitate continuous growth, a system was developed to make plants easily transferable from the greenhouses to outdoor growing locations, both on raised beds and in the ground. Carrying over an idea from his time working for a Manhattan restaurant with a large urban farm, Zurofsky uses milk crates lined with landscaper’s fabric, which holds the soil but allows water to drain out. In addition to being ideal planters, the milk crates are easy to stack, so crates holding plants can be placed on top of empty crates, which helps air circulate and prevent plants from overheating. Depending on the crop, each crate can hold between one and eight seeds, Zurofsky says.

Given the healthy participation levels in the program, Zurofsky hopes to construct two more greenhouses on the Connecticut campus and begin taking steps to give the program a more formal structure, as its early incarnation has shown success in fitting with Newport Academy’s broader themes on treatment and recovery, he says.

 “When these kids are planting something and the crop won’t be ready to harvest until after they leave,” he says, “the concept of planting something and leaving it for someone else to receive as a gift or a pay-it-forward really anchors them and creates something for them to think about past themselves, which is an underlying key element of the recovery program at Newport.”

Tom Valentino is Senior Editor of Addiction Professional.

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