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Program uses farming to help mental illness

Wakulima is a non-profit targeting east African communities through farming and helping them grow vegetables that remind them of their native countries.

DES MOINES, Wash. — This summer’s hot, dry weather has been especially challenging for farmers, but one group is trying to find healing life lessons in the challenging weather. 

Wakulima is a non-profit targeting east African communities through farming and helping them grow vegetables that remind them of their native countries. They use farming as a way to tackle issues around mental health.

David Bulindah is both a farmer and a trained therapist who helps run the non-profit.  

“The joy of watching a plant grow from a seed into this is just renewing it gives a lot of hope especially for people with depression and anxiety,” he said.

This summer's record heat has tested that work, they installed a drip irrigation system last year to help. 

“You have to come early in the morning or late in the evening, we've been facing some crisis of water,” Farm Manager Dickson Njeri said.

They worried the heat would ruin their crops, but instead, they’re using it to help those they serve.  

“How do we help to not make that crop die?” Bulindah explained.  “We deal with a lot of people with suicide ideation so how do we protect that person, that crop, that plant into bouncing back to life and that's the joy that we get from this farming."

Maura Kizico participates in the program and works with young people who come to learn about growing vegetables.  

“It's nice to see vegetables grow like this, and it's organic, and it's healthy and it's our hands that did that job. It's pleasing to see that,” she said.

The food they grow goes to food banks, is sold at farmers' markets to support the program, and goes home with those working the land. They grow many crops that are widely available in Africa but are not always found in local grocery stores.

They've got two donated pieces of land but they'd like to add more so they could help more people with the program.