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The Palms Inn Garden: Sowing Seeds, Harvesting Hope

| California

Jan 10, 2021

This story was originally submitted in October 2018. Read the updated story! (Original story is posted below the update.)

The Palms Inn Garden: Sowing Seeds, Harvesting Hope (Updated November 2021).


Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa has supported garden revitalization efforts at a local housing site, providing residents with hope and purpose in addition to the fresh grown produce. The garden has already transformed the lives of several residents, and it is only getting started.


Saddled with historic drought conditions and mandatory water restrictions, many Sonoma County residents are reassessing the value of their gardens this year. The gardening excitement wrought by COVID-19 in 2020 has gradually waned, and when required by government officials to reduce water usage by 20%, gardens were often the first to be sacrificed. Having witnessed firsthand the therapeutic benefits of community gardens for shelter residents, however, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa (CCDSR) knew that the gardens’ value could not be reduced to a matter of dollars spent on water versus dollars saved on harvested produce. If that were so, the most economically conscious decision might be to abandon these plots of land until a more promising year of rainfall. The mental, emotional, even spiritual impact of gardening on the lives of our most vulnerable residents, however, cannot be overstated, and with that in mind, CCDSR’s CalFresh Healthy Living program was committed to revitalizing the community garden space at the Palms Inn in Santa Rosa. 


CCDSR CalFresh Healthy Living program staff began by clearing the beds that had since been overgrown with weeds and preparing them for planting. Wanting as much buy-in from the residents as possible, the team surveyed the Palms Inn residents, all of whom were previously homeless and many of whom are veterans, in order to gauge what they would be most interested in growing. Having received their input, staff were then able to leverage their volunteer relationships at another food assistance site and receive vegetable starts they had grown. The residents planted these starts themselves, and with beans, tomatoes, and other vegetables soon prolifically growing, they put in requests for herb starts as well in order to enhance their cooking. CCDSR program staff happily obliged, thrilled that this meant the vegetables were truly being put to use, and that residents were rediscovering, or discovering for the first time in some cases, an interest in healthy home cooking. Finally, staff brought in some drought-tolerant flowers, in part for pollination purposes, and in part because we have seen that when it comes to the emotional and mental benefits of gardening, making the space beautiful is as important as making the space useful.                                                                                               

The impact of this garden has been multifold: Not only do residents have access to fresh, nutritious produce a few steps away from their doors, they also have access to the numerous therapeutic benefits gardening has to offer. It affords them a reason to step outside into the sunshine, which, for some suffering under the weight of mental illness, is the only reason they can muster up to leave their rooms at times. Residents who did not previously know their neighbors are now finding a source of connection through a newfound shared hobby, and those with gardening experience are taking pride in being able to share their knowledge with others. Even those who have not yet taken part in gardening can still walk the grounds and take in the beauty. It is a humanizing space to pause, reflect, ground oneself, reconnect to nature and its rhythms, and find purpose.   

pictures of flowers and plants in a garden

Sustaining Success

Under the lead of a couple key residents, Marshall and Taylor, the Palms Inn garden is primarily being sustained by those who live there, and the role of CCDSR CalFresh Healthy Living program staff is already beginning to diminish. Program staff is there to support their efforts, provide guidance when needed, and leverage resources and partnerships to occasionally provide materials. More and more, however, the residents have taken genuine ownership over the space. The hope is that as more residents are inspired to become involved, the role of program staff will be further reduced to simply coming by to admire their work, and perhaps even learn from them too. 

“This garden has been a complete game-changer for me. I used to hardly leave my room for months, let me tell you, I’m out here nearly every day now. I’m happier, my mind is clearer, and these plants are even giving me a new spiritual energy.”

– Taylor, a Palms Inn resident

Framework Indicators
ST5, MT5, ST6, LT10

State Contacts:
•    Elisa Pehlke
•    Natalie Lanning
Local Contact:
•    Jocelyn Farrell

Original Story (submitted October 2018)

SNAP-Ed staff at Catholic Charities Santa Rosa (CCSR) is helping to make the healthy choice the easy choice at The Palms Inn!

The Palms Inn is a Permanent Supportive Housing residence. Several facets combine to make it a healthy environment, including: 

  • On-site garden
  • Cooking demos
  • Nutrition workshops
  • On-site food distribution of fresh produce and healthy pantry items 
garden in front of apartment building

Jose is one of the residents at The Palms Inn. He was living in a temporary shelter before a space opened at Catholic Charities Palms Inn Permanent Supportive Housing. Jose regularly participates in the weekly food distributions as well as the bi-weekly nutrition education workshops. In an informal interview with staff, Jose shared some of the changes he has made since moving into the Palms Inn and participating in SNAP-Ed activities: 

  • I have reduced my consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. From 3 – 12 packs of soda per week, I now drink 1 glass of O.J. or cranberry juice per week and water only. 
  • I put 1 tsp. of sugar in my coffee instead of almost ¼ cup of sugar. 
  • I stopped eating fatty foods. Foods high in saturated fat and trans fat like carnitas tacos and French fries. 
  • I eat steak tacos and more vegetables. I put half my plate of vegetables where before it was just meat and tortillas.
  • I eat more vegetables because I tried vegetables like broccoli through the food samples. Also I tried different forms of protein like beans and black eyed peas, and enjoyed the black-eyed pea coconut stew. 
  • I make sure I eat a rainbow of vegetables throughout my week. 
  • I slowed down on junk food especially chips, from 3 big bags of chips per week to 1 bag every 2 weeks. No more candy bars. None at all. 
  • I feel much better now that I eat healthier and have lost significant amount of weight which feels better.
jose with vegetables
Juan Torres promotes healthy eating at our Food Distribution at the Palms Inn - a permanent supportive housing site for veterans and previously chronically homeless individuals.

Jose isn’t the only resident making healthy changes. Pre-post evaluation (using the Food Smarts evaluation instrument) of 50 participants has shown a significant:

  • Increase in eating fruits and vegetables
  • Increased use of MyPlate to make food choices
  • Increase in using unit price when shopping for food
  • Increase use of separate cutting boards for ready to eat foods and raw meats
  • Decrease in eating fast food

In addition, nearly 100% of participants stated that they gained knowledge on how to be healthier and nearly 100% of participants have made at least one healthy change since participating in SNAP-Ed activities.

At the Palms Inn, the garden is maintained in part by residents and benefits up to 140 low income adults and older adults.  Residents attending the nutrition education classes also received Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes from a local farm. The nutrition education workshops feature the Food Smarts curriculum as well as food samples that highlight foods that are distributed that week.  Combining access to healthy food with nutrition education helps people living at The Palms Inn to cook food they received in a healthy way.

This article was submitted by Catholic Charities of California, a SNAP-Ed Agency. For more information, please contact Elisa Pehlke

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