- Associated Press - Sunday, June 15, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A community garden run by the Kansas City Municipal Court has become popular while also offering a therapeutic break for those going through city court programs.

The garden, which is used by participants in the city’s drug, mental health and veterans’ treatment courts, started last year and has become so popular it was expanded this year to a 40-by-50-foot plot.

The court’s presiding judge, Joseph Locascio, sometimes works in the garden. The idea, he said, was to offer participants a therapeutic, healthy activity, The Kansas City Star reported (https://bit.ly/SziirL ).

“Many participants reflect back to childhood here, back to gardening with their parents or grandparents,” deputy court administrator Stephanie Boyer said. “For the judge and us as a staff, this is a time to work alongside them, and it helps our relationship.”

Some participants are ordered to work in the garden as a “light sanction” for missing curfew or a meeting. But most gardeners volunteer to work there while going through their court programs.

“Many who go through our courts have experienced trauma in life and are looking to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope,” Locascio said. “Things like gardening are a different way to escape. There’s something inherently good about getting back to your roots, if you pardon the pun.”

Located in Freeway Gardens, a part of Kansas City Community Gardens, the two court plots are growing tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, basil, lettuce and other vegetables this year. Participants get to take the harvest home.

“To see the look on their face that they’ve produced this and now they get to eat it, that’s incredible. It’s a simple and powerful way to feel alive and happy,” Locascio said.

Community gardens are sprouting in juvenile courts and domestic violence shelters across the state, said Donald Frisch, coordinator of therapeutic horticulture at Missouri Botanical Garden.

“The sense of responsibility that develops when taking care of plants is important in many therapy goals,” Frisch said. “It’s a stress reliever, and learning the new skill boosts confidence.”

A nonprofit group called Friends of the Kansas City Problem-Solving Courts rents the two plots for $25 each.

Ericka Thomas, a drug court participant, plans to continue volunteering at the garden this summer.

“Gardening again is a new experience in this stage of my life, but that makes sense, because I’m leaving behind what I used to be,” Thomas said. “I think next week I’ll bring my grandbaby to the garden, too.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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