Bridget Nolan walks with confidence and purpose between four rows of raised vegetable beds lined with students a few years younger than her. They wait, trowels in hand, for her go-ahead. A graduate of Perry Hall High School and fourth generation Baltimore native, whose great grandfather was the Oriole Hall of Fame trainer “Doc” Eddie Weidner, Bridget exemplifies the mission of TALMAR on a daily basis.
She began volunteering at TALMAR a year ago and quickly moved up to work the stand at the Farmer’s Markets due to her passion and dedication and how quickly she learned how to manage the plants. After that summer she returned to college to continue her third year in a Bio-medical degree program. However, this year when faced with a summer internship within her chosen field of study she felt something was missing from her career track. “I didn’t feel I had a direct positive impact on people. I understand that pharmaceuticals can help but I don’t get to see that part directly,” said Bridget.
“Over the two years, Cate and her team have guided us through different opportunities like transplanting, feeding chickens, preparing plants and flowers for events, and even problem solving when chickens began to disappear due to natural predators. They are always patient, warm, and knowledgeable. Being a city family it is wonderful for the girls to have the freedom to explore, be curious, touch, and taste without the restrictive safety precautions that a city sometimes demands. – Julie Lutz, Wyman Park Parent”
She called Cate Murphy, founder and Executive Director of Therapeutic Alternatives of Maryland (TALMAR), to see if there were any summer positions available. Shortly after she became the Education Project Manager where she makes way and organizes, not plants although she does that too, but paths for the most important facet of TALMAR- people.
TALMAR is the brainchild of Cate Murphy a veteran special education teacher, social worker, and certified horticultural therapist. During her decade of service in Baltimore City at St. Elizabeth’s she saw the positive impact gardening had over students that struggled with physical, mental, and/or social issues. Students working in the school’s horticultural program gained a sense of independence and “can do” feeling that left Cate with a longing to expand the program’s reach.
But it wasn’t only young students with disabilities that inspired Cate Murphy’s vision for a horticultural therapy center. Throughout her adult life working in various social work environments with adults who needed additional social and economic support she saw the need for a space to think, be useful, regroup, and be quiet. It was a lesson that took root growing up in Virginia, being her godfather’s shadow in his grounds at the historic Berkeley Plantation, where she first experienced the calming effect seeding, planting, transplanting, watering, feeding, and maintaining plants had on people regardless of whatever labels society placed on them.
For Cate horticulture is the great equalizer. Even for herself, a self diagnosed person with ADD, placing her hands in the dirt and being part of a chain that begins with a seed in the soil and ends in someone’s dinner table is enough to slow life down and at its best make sense of it all.
“Our horticultural programs that we have really change lives,” says Cate.
That is a life lesson that Julie Lutz, a resident of Wyman Park and home school educator to Julia (6) and Han (8), feels is essential to pass on and put to action by volunteering at TALMAR for the last two years as a family. “The benefit of being a part of a farm is that it gives us a pause in our week to take in the beautiful things around us. Quiet time together as a family is important. Not to be in a rush and get caught up in a culture that is always on the go but to slow down even if we have to schedule it.”
Beyond quiet time, her girls receive hands-on lessons that stick. “Their vocabulary has expanded bounds just from identifying, comparing, and contrasting the different names of seeds, plants, and flowers,” says Julie. They also have become more confident in their own abilities to handle different tasks. “Over the two years, Cate and her team have guided us through different opportunities like transplanting, feeding chickens, preparing plants and flowers for events, and even problem solving when chickens began to disappear due to natural predators. They are always patient, warm, and knowledgeable. Being a city family it is wonderful for the girls to have the freedom to explore, be curious, touch, and taste without the restrictive safety precautions that a city sometimes demands.”
At it’s core TALMAR’s mission is exactly that, to provide an environment where people and plants can grow safely, organically, with support in whatever phase of life they need in its ten acres of lush greenness within Cromwell Valley Park in Baltimore County.
For the students at Overlea High School’s Functional Academic and Learning Support program, TALMAR is one of the places to learn and practice occupational skills. They can then apply them in jobs and at home after graduation, helping them be a productive and proud part of their community. Ellen Mullin, thirteen year special education teacher at Overlea High School, who has led the group over the past two years, has seen students gain self confidence not only because they were able to complete different tasks but paramount to their experience was being able to access all tasks equally.
Here is where people like Cate, Bridget, and the rest of the TALMAR team shine. They make sure that there are plenty of adaptive shovels and trowels available and that the paths are wide enough for anyone who has special walking or transport needs to be able to access the vegetable and flower beds, or greenhouse tables. Everything is considered. The way you walk, stand, talk, pick up, hold, and pour. Success is built-in by design.
“Each individual has something to offer and everyone can be successful, if given the right tools to be successful. Our job here is to make that happen,” says the executive director.
If your child is highly independent and wants to work alone or needs support developing mobility, balance, endurance, memory and socialization skills they can do that. If you bring a group of toddlers in for a Spanish immersion class and walk through the vegetable and flowerbeds singing Spanish songs they will join you. If you want to watch the beaver build its dam during the winter you can. If you would like to get the complete seed to sales experience that is also possible.
And that is why when I talk to others about TALMAR they tell me how they keep going back because it fills them with a sense of purpose. Whether you are picking up farm fresh eggs; organic flowers for your wedding; your CSA share; or are part of a school field trip or vocational skills group, the possibilities to be a direct positive part of Baltimore’s organic farm to table community are always in season and open to all.
TALMAR Gardens & Horticultural Therapy Center
TALMAR Gardens & Horticultural Therapy Center is open M-F 10am -5pm. For more information about all ages horticultural therapy, Community Based Instruction, field trips in Spanish & English, internships, volunteering, and more contact them at:
Address: 1994 Cromwell Bridge Road Baltimore, MD 21234
Phone: 410.825.2020 | Fax: 410.321.1466