Hydroponics helps youth through Alaska Seeds of Change

A local organization provides youth with job and life skills, developing personal goals, and has on-site mental health support.
Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 3:58 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When one thinks of hydroponics and mental health, they seem completely different, but Alaska Seeds of Change is combining the two to offer formal support to youths in a trauma-informed environment.

The front of the Alaska Seeds of Change building.
The front of the Alaska Seeds of Change building.(Lexi Yelverton)

The youth involved in the program have a way to connect with peers and sustain healthy relationships.

“One of the unique things about Alaska Seeds of Change is we don’t just focus on hydroponics, but we do also focus on building up skills for youth just to be happy and successful individuals as they transition to adulthood,” said Gretchyn O’Donnell, the lead greenhouse grower.

“I never thought gardening would be mixed with mental health incentives,” said Hannah Kim, a participant in the program. She explained that the hydroponics reduced her stress while she was working and she was then able to focus on all her work by feeling a sense of belonging in the space around her. “I was able to learn about how to save the environment. But also produce fresh produce and also take care of my mental well-being at the same time.”

A variety of plants being grown in Alaska Seeds of Change.
A variety of plants being grown in Alaska Seeds of Change.(Lexi Yelverton)

The building is set up to allow youth to focus on building up different skills and to be successful individuals.

“We share space with some clinical staff, which is fantastic because not only does that provide some formal clinical services, but it also just adds to an atmosphere of support. So young people can seek out encouragement and support and like however they need it” O’Donnell said.

Seeds of Change partners with Alaska Behavioral Health to provide these on-site resources.

Overhead of the hydroponic towers set up for irrigation..
Overhead of the hydroponic towers set up for irrigation..(Lexi Yelverton)

To another participant, at first, he joined simply because he loved gardening, the smell of plants and outdoor work. Later it became a way to conquer the challenge of a basic skill that he had been facing in life.

“It helped me overcome one of the biggest challenges, which I’ve struggled for many years with, and that was just simply talking,” Andrew Rizea said. “I struggled for so many years and I actually used to be one of the most quietest students especially in class. And with this place, it has made me build confidence in myself to know that I will be able to succeed also in the future.”

The program employs and empowers local youth ages 16-24 by promoting community growth and self-reliance, all while growing fresh produce and a variety of plants. Seeds of Change also works with students for school credit, as well as apprentices who are paid through partner programs.

To join the program head over to akseedsofchange.com.

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