Despite remarkable progress being made in changing people’s perceptions of mental health disorders, mental health patients are still stigmatised in their communities and often avoid seeking treatment as a result. Meanwhile, those that do seek treatment are often admitted into underfunded government-run mental healthcare facilities that lack adequate resources to effectively rehabilitate them for the better of their communities. This broken system unfortunately perpetuates the myth that once a patient enters a mental health facility they are never to be seen again.

A new initiative born out of Lentegeur Hospital, a psychiatric facility located in the poverty stricken township of Mitchells Plain in Cape Town, aims to change this negative perception of mental health patients by introducing a new green rehabilitation initiative that enables patients to positively give back to their communities, both during and after their healing process.

Green therapy

The Spring Foundation, a registered NPO and PBO, launched the Market Garden initiative at Lentegeur Hospital to promote psychosocial rehabilitation by actively involving patients in growing, harvesting, packaging and marketing the gardens organic produce.

The project is the first of its kind in the Western Cape and uses organic farming techniques and borehole water for irrigation.

The Spring Foundation employs two farmers who provide patients with practical, hands on training on how to grow, harvest and sustain the garden. A core group of 30 patients are involved on a regular basis, with approximately 80 patients having benefitted from involvement in gardening activities to date.

“Patient participation in Market Garden activities is strictly voluntary and specifically open to longer-term inpatient Forensic and General Adult Psychiatry patients. Patients are first screened for suitability by members of the Occupational Therapy (OT) Department. If they are able to complete less-challenging OT activities, they are then encouraged to participate in the Market Garden initiative,” explained Psychiatrist at Lentegeur Hospital and Director of The Spring Foundation, Dr John Parker.

Dr Parker added that patient participation in the garden has had a profound impact on their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

“Our team have noticed that patients are more motivated and less temperamental. They showcase improved teamwork and interpersonal skills. A further benefit is educational development, which improves the prospects of future employment after discharge,” said Dr Parker.

Produce grown by the patients – including cauliflower‎, green beans‎ and peas, beetroot‎, carrots‎, onions‎, tomatoes‎, cabbage‎ and potatoes – is sold via organic markets, or directly to Lentegeur staff and members of the public. Additional produce is also available to participating patients, who are guided on how to prepare healthy and nutritious meals for their own enjoyment.

Each patient is paid a regulated stipend for their participation. With the assistance of the OT team, patients are taught how to manage their money and be financially responsible.

“All proceeds from the selling of produce are ploughed back into the Market Garden project. We are also meeting with other local producers about creating local produce markets as a way of addressing food insecurity in the Mitchells Plain District,” said Dr Parker.

The Market Garden forms part of the various psychosocial rehabilitation initiatives at the facility.

All rehab activities are overseen by the OT Department, who focus on promoting personal recovery, successful community integration and satisfactory quality of life for patients at the facility.

“In the future we would like to encourage discharged patients to start their own gardens in their communities,” said Dr Parker.

Support means growth

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille recognised the potential of the Spring Foundation’s Market Garden project back in 2016. The Office of the Premier at that stage sponsored R745,000 through the South African Urban Food and Farming Trust to assist in developing the initiative.

“With the addition of other major sponsors, Janssen Pharmaceutica and The Rupert Foundation, the Market Garden project has now expanded to a 1.2ha organic vegetable and flower garden. Our partnership with the Spring Foundation is not only a source of hope and recovery for patients, but also a source of healthy food for the community,” said Premier Zille.

“Psychiatric hospitals are required to focus on assisting patients to develop the emotional, social and intellectual skills required to live, learn and work in their communities, with the least amount of professional support. This is what the Spring Foundation and Lentegeur Hospital are achieving through the Market Garden initiative,” concluded Premier Zille.

The continued success of the project is dependent on the buy-in of the community. As such the project is open to volunteers, sponsors and partners. More information can be found on their website:

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