Year in Review & Looking Ahead to 2024

Dear friend of Root in Nature,

December in Canada naturally inspires reflection, with the beautiful first snowfalls and the quiet serenity they bring. As someone who thinks more about the future than the past, I find the changing of the calendar year an invigorating time full of new possibilities and ideas. Those closest to me are subjected to my old-school vision boards on New Years Eve each year!

And each year I share with you my reflections on Root in Nature in a year-end letter. In my 2021 letter I shared:

The path of a new business is not linear; in fact it feels like a roller-coaster at times! This journey of testing and correcting, exploring and trying, will go on for another while before we settle into the long-term future of Root in Nature.”

Now, as we are entering our third year, I feel that we have settled into that future direction. Let’s delve in!

At the beginning of 2022, a Toronto-based Horticultural Therapy Practitioner on our team, Alejandra, relocated to BC. She had been running successful programs at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).  I could not find a replacement for her in Toronto and I realized that Root in Nature, and the Horticultural Therapy field as a whole, had a problem. There were too few horticultural therapists in Canada and the US to expand our services and impact the way we had planned.

After Alejandra’s departure we were approached by recreational therapists and social workers at CAMH seeking training to continue these sessions. We were also building organizational assets, including a robust database of categorized activities, that I felt could benefit practitioners outside of our team. I had been observing a dire lack of practical support and connection opportunities in this burgeoning field.

This launched Root in Nature into a new direction: to serve as a support system, growth platform and training hub for professionals in this sector. We embarked on this new direction in two ways:

  1. by creating an Intro to Therapeutic Horticulture course that is immersive and comprehensive, but also accessible in terms of time and investment, so that a wide audience of allied health professionals can receive this training; and
  2. by developing what is now the GrowTH (Grow Therapeutic Horticulture) Community, a place that builds connections, provides resources and professional development, as well as a robust and sortable Activity Database.

Both initiatives launched to the public on June 28, 2023. The GrowTH Community has since burgeoned to nearly 100 members spanning all continents (excluding Antarctica!). We have just signed an agreement with Therapeutic Horticulture Australia (THA) offering their members discounted access to our community as part of their membership benefits. We aspire to form similar partnerships with HT/TH organizations globally. We’ve been been grateful for the support of horticultural therapy pioneers and leaders like Dr. Diane Relf, who shared: 

“The GrowTH Community is one of the most exciting things to expand the growth of horticulture as a therapeutic tool that I have seen in recent years. Professionals from many fields working together with volunteers will bring this valuable tool to many more people.”

Katie and I are humbled to bring together leaders in this field from such a diverse range of backgrounds and geographies. Who’s Katie? Let’s take a moment to appreciate the phenomenal team behind Root in Nature who drive and inspire what we do, and who make Monday morning one of my favourite times of the week:

🪴Katie McGillivray is our Courses & Community Lead. She is a Horticultural Therapist, an educator, a facilitator and my trusted advisor on all things Root in Nature. 

💚 Sarah Shapiro, our Horticultural Therapy Lead, continues to provide her steady, warm and wise guidance to our strategic direction. 

🧑‍🌾 Andrea Butt and Skyler Dale are our fabulous horticultural therapy practitioners delivering engaging sessions for children to seniors in Ottawa.

If you’ve noticed an improvement in our marketing and communications, we have Aoife Rafferty to thank. Aoife is our Marketing Coordinator & Content Creator, and she brings our newsletters, blogs, courses and video content to life. 

📚 Dr. Owen Wiseman, Sarah Mackay, and Jennifer Neate are our dynamic and brilliant partners in course development.

🙏 My stellar Virtual Assistant Lani Balaoro makes everything look effortless.

💲 And last but not least, the wonderful and patient people who help keep our finances in order – Lei Han and bookkeeper Mary Yang.

Andrea and Skyler led our in-person work this year, including Garden Club, summer programs with children at Lotus Centre, and weekly sessions with long-time client Veterans’ House Canada. 

They also provided therapeutic horticulture sessions in seven Ottawa Community Housing buildings through the Aging in Place program. In 2023 we will continue in-person HT/ TH services in Ottawa and bolster our virtual therapy practice.

One of our goals this year was to raise awareness about therapeutic horticulture. To achieve this, I went on a bit of a speaking tour, which included presentations at Therapeutic Recreation Ontario and the American Therapeutic Recreation Association conferences, teaming up with Katie to speak about peer reflection and support at the American Horticultural Therapy Association conference, and promoting TH at an invigorating International Council on Active Aging conference. We will continue to champion our field in 2024 and support others doing the same.

In November, Dr. Owen Wiseman and I launched our second course called Nature at Work, which we are exploring licensing to companies for employee well-being in 2024. We are at various stages of development on four additional courses that will launch in the new year, including Advancing Skills in Therapeutic Horticulture, Peer Reflection for Professionals, Coping with our Changing Planet and Intro to Therapeutic Horticulture for Children & Youth. 

Our accomplishments this year wouldn’t have been possible without financial support from the Investment Readiness Program, delivered through the Ottawa Community Foundation, as well as an interest-free loan and coaching from Coralus (formerly SHEO). These opportunities enabled us to produce high-quality eLearning courses and build a strong foundation on which we can support and uplift our field.

My heartfelt gratitude goes out to the generous volunteers who have supported us this year, including our Strategic Advisory Board and Marketing & Communications Advisory Board members, listed below.

And finally, thank YOU! You who have cared enough about our work and its impact to follow along and engage. I’m deeply grateful to you for supporting us on this journey to connect more people with plants and nature and strengthen human health.

Sincerely,

 

Alexis 

Strategic Advisory Board:
Anjali Dilawri
Karine Dion
Terri Govang
Elena Iacono
Shelley Pelkey
Owen Wiseman
 
Marketing & Communications Advisory Board:
Shannon Elliot
Sandra Oey
Vanessa Schwarz
Riddhima Sharma