Photo provided

Plant Power

The Medical University of South Carolina’s Urban Farm’s horticultural therapy services are enhancing an intensive treatment program for local children with behavioral challenges, helping kids ages 6-17 stay active outdoors with garden-based projects.

“That’s been amazing for them,” said Rebecca Daffron, clinical coordinator for MUSC’s STAR Children’s Day Treatment Program, which aims to stabilize, treat, assess and reintegrate children and adolescents. “Fresh air for everyone is therapeutic, but then there’s also the grounding techniques and being able to grow something outside.”

Photo provided. Carmen Ketron

The farm, a half-acre plot located on Bee Street, grows vegetables, fruits, herbs, citrus and grains under the direction of educator Carmen Ketron.

Children and adolescents enrolled in the day treatment program — a less costly alternative to inpatient care — spend each Friday with Ketron at a patient-specific satellite farm in North Charleston, where they engage in garden-based activities in small groups.

Most of the program’s intensive daily treatment is completed in the classroom with clinical therapists, nurses and social workers, but MUSC’s shift toward overall wellness is placing an emphasis on the outdoor programming.

Ketron uses MUSC’s Urban Farm to help the kids use the skills taught in the classroom. One week, groups of four children worked together to build scarecrows; another, they planted eggplants, green beans and sunflowers.

“The problem was that all of the plants were getting eaten by something, so we were working on problem solving skills because some of the kids were getting frustrated,” Ketron said. “A lot of the time you’re trying to retrain your brain, and we provide a space where they can practice in a garden setting.”

Ketron hopes to eventually bring this horticultural therapy to the newly constructed MUSC Children’s Hospital, which has a rooftop garden filled with plants native to the Lowcountry.

“When it was being built, one of the main focuses was we wanted a place for children to be children,” Ketron said. “It seems so simple, but when you’re a patient, you’re denied a lot of the things that make up your childhood.”

The Urban Farm’s staff is responsible for the upkeep at the garden’s Children’s Dreamscape. Ketron and her staff will have the opportunity to help out with future programming, which is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, MUSC’s horticultural therapy will be an important part of patient care at the Children’s Hospital when the time is right, McMillion said.
“Sunshine and light is just so important to everyone, but when you’re in the hospital staring at four walls, having the ability just to breathe fresh air and see sunlight and green is just super important to a child and their mental health,” she said.