'Put Your Hands In Some Dirt': Rooftop Garden Delivers Food, Improved Mental Health

London's Youth Opportunities Unlimited uses garden to enhance cafe meals, create a tranquil retreat

A rooftop garden in the heart of the city is allowing London's Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) to supply its successful street-level café with fresh herbs and vegetables.

The You Made It Café at Richmond and York streets is a social enterprise where young people can acquire skills in customer service and food preparation.

But the garden also provides therapeutic benefits, according to executive director Steve Cordes.

"You can get out of your own head space, your own challenges — even learning and training can sometimes be a challenge," says Cordes. "In a gardening space, your guard is down, you're more relaxed. You're in a beautiful outdoor space and you can just be yourself."

The project has been so successful that this year YOU hired a dedicated gardener to oversee the project. Megan Papadakos calls her working space a community-based garden because it includes the contributions of youth in the café program and others in the city including, the Alzheimer's Society.

The garden consists of separate vegetable and flower zones. The flowers help deter pests but the two zones have to be kept apart to ensure safe food handling in the café.

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