Shaileen Swan understands the healing power of farming.
While she worked as a senior recreation therapist at a psychiatric facility in Syracuse, New York, Swan helped patients grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers in a small courtyard. The sense of community and pride that the garden instilled for patients was enough for Swan to realize she wanted to explore the ins and outs of farming.
In May, she joined the six-month UVM Farmer Training Certificate Program to learn how to drive a tractor as well as grow, harvest, and market vegetables and flowers. At UVM’s 10-acre Catamount Farm, she’s growing everything from squash and cucumbers to sunflowers and marigolds.
“Everything here is new to me. It’s been amazing to go from preparing soil and seeds to maintaining it all and watching everything grow,” Swan says. “The environment here and the staff have been incredible. I’ve never been in a more supportive and embracing learning environment.”
Swan, who studied recreational therapy at SUNY Cortland, worked as a massage therapist before joining the team at Hutchings Psychiatric Center in Syracuse. There she took the lead in transforming a drab courtyard into a beautiful space filled with flowers and food. More importantly, she saw how working in the soil made patients happy.
“There’s some research about properties in soil and serotonin levels, and I saw the sense of community that gardening created for everybody—the patients, the staff, and the doctors. There was a sense of pride we all felt,” she says. “The facility I worked in was a place where people tended to isolate themselves from others. But growing food and flowers brought a sense of community and connection. And I think creating something that gives back or gives joy to others is healing for all of us.”
UVM Farmer Training Certificate Program
UVM’s Farmer Training Program, which runs from May to October, is designed for people interested in immersing themselves in sustainable, local food systems. Candidates include new and beginning farmers, urban and community gardeners, farm educators, and anyone interested in deepening their understanding of sustainable farming systems.
Graduates of the Farmer Training Program gain:
- A Certificate in Sustainable Farming from UVM
- Experience in organic crop production, from seed to market
- A deeper understanding of small-scale farm management
- Entrepreneurial skills to start a farm business
- A network to provide support and guidance
When Swan graduates from the program in October, she hopes to work at a flower farm in Vermont or the Adirondacks.
“My mother loved to garden, but I never had that pull in me until much later. I’ve always had a disconnect about where my food came from,” she says. “One of the biggest takeaways from UVM is learning about sustainable, organic, regenerative practices, and how to be a steward when so much is being taken away from the Earth. As someone who came into this program knowing nothing, I didn’t expect to come away with so much. Now my heart is in the beauty of farming and sharing what I grow.”