Earthtones Associate Director Kate Bodin is a grounded woman. No matter how busy she is, when you talk with her you feel heard. She always has a laugh in her voice or a smile on her face. It’s easy to see how she thrives as a horticultural therapist. Kate says, “I have a passion for plants and growing things, working in the land, and helping people.”
What drew you to horticultural therapy?
I started working academia in the early 90’s and before that I was a greenhouse grower, garden designer and professional gardener. While working in academia I really honed my people skills. When I found myself at a crossroad in my career, I asked myself that age old question “What would I do with my life if money was no object?” I did some soul searching and that’s when I found horticultural therapy. It’s the perfect blend of my passion for plants, gardening and people.
How did you become a horticultural therapist?
I’d already earned a MEd in Creative Arts and Learning, and a BFA in Visual Arts. I returned to school in order to fulfill the remaining academic requirements for becoming a Registered Horticultural Therapist with the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA). I took horticultural therapy, horticulture, and gerontology classes and completed the required internship with Teresia Hazen at Legacy Health in Portland. When I joined Earthtones, I combined the best components of that internship with the rigor of the music therapy internship at Earthtones, and created the unique horticultural therapy internship at Earthtones.
How did you become connected with Earthtones (EMTS)?
Jodi [Winnwalker, EMTS founder and CEO] had come to present to our horticultural therapy class so that we could learn about music therapy. During my internship, my supervisor Teresia Hazen sent me to Jodi to learn the Earthtones business model. We met for tea and I had 3 questions for her. After an hour of talking I still hadn’t asked her my 3 questions– We discovered that we adored each other! Actually she says that we loved each other! [laughs]. She said, “Come work for me instead!” You can imagine the grin on my face as I drove away from that eventful meeting!
You do so much to make sure Earthtones runs smoothly! Tell us about a typical day for you.
I love my job! I don’t think there is any typical day, but over the course of the week I spend time working with the horticultural therapists, interns and residents, and on developing the horticultural therapy program. It’s a lot of fun contacting and working with clients, and I spend a lot of time working with Jodi directly. I do pro bono work, and a lot of presentations on horticultural therapy for classes and clients, at both the national and local level. I have clients I see on a continuous basis and I also do one-time retreats and specialty sessions. I’m also currently managing our client information system. I’m teaching a class at PCC this fall on nature, music and end of life therapies. I think that’s it – where is my job description?
What has surprised you the most about your work?
I would actually call myself a bit of an introvert, although I’ve learned over time how to compromise for that. However, I am so fulfilled when I’m working in a session and with clients that I become the opposite. I thrive on meeting new people, meeting their needs and their goals. I rarely feel intimidated by a new group or situation. It doesn’t matter what the population is or who the people are. And of course I’m just the facilitator for the plants and gardens! People are people, regardless of their strengths and challenges. I feel completely at ease in that setting — this is obviously what I was meant to do.
What populations do you work with?
I’ve worked in mental health, with older people in memory care, the whole gamut of elder care really. I actually work with a lot of administrators in my presentations. I haven’t worked in hospice but I have worked with people who are dying. I’m really intrigued by that work and would like to do more of it. It’s something that we don’t talk about culturally and people typically are really uncomfortable with death. I feel that I can make that process more comfortable for people–both the client and their loved ones and caregivers.
Tell us a little bit about Weaver’s Tale
Weaver’s Tale is a non-profit organization with the mission of connecting elders to nature. It was “on hold” for several years before I became the executive director late in 2015. I came to it with my passions for gardening, food and for creating community – and a vision for reviving it.
Think about the City of Portland and its wonderful neighborhoods. There are many people that are “aging in place” and they may have grown apart from their support network and either do not want to move into a retirement community, or cannot afford to. They’re potentially living on a fixed income and may no longer have family involved in their lives.
I realized that many neighborhoods have houses of worships and other non-profit organizations that own big chunks of land that aren’t being used to their full potential. What if we created accessible raised beds for older persons living in those neighborhoods with horticultural therapists on site and classes on gardening and nutrition? We could literally be creating community for these folks, helping them live healthier and more connected lives. We have just created a partnership with the Friends of the Portland Memory Garden and their adjacent community garden beds and have several other proposals in the works that will support this vision.
You can learn more about Weaver’s Tale at their website, weaverstale.org
Finally, what is your favorite plant?
It changes– if not on an hourly basis then certainly a daily one! If I went out to my garden, what would I be captivated by…? The lavender! The lavender is amazing this time of year. Lavender and Ladies’ Mantle – stunning color combination!