Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Gardening access must be addressed in Mon County and all of West Virginia

by Shannon McNicholas 

Summer is a time when everything is blooming and growing. It is a time to be around friends and enjoy the outdoors. For me, that means gardening and playing in the dirt. Gardening has many proven mental health benefits, physical health benefits and creates an atmosphere of comradery and hands-on education. 

 While the physical activity provided by gardening clearly has many benefits, my interest lies more in the mental health benefits of gardening. As someone who sometimes struggles with their mental health and also someone who studied mental health in their Masters of Social Work program, I find that I feel much better when I am outside with my hands in the dirt. Imagine my surprise when I learned that microbiologists have actually studied enzymes in soil called Mycobacterium Vaccae, which are scientifically proven to improve mental health.  

A study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences published in March of 2023 states that Mycobacterium Vaccae found in soil can help in situations involving, “Inflammatory conditions, such as allergic asthma, and conditions in which inflammation is considered a risk factor, e.g., stress-related psychiatric disorders including anxiety disorders, mood disorders and trauma- and stressor-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” This bacteria found while gardening can improve both physical and mental health in so many ways.  

Beyond the science of it all, the comradery formed through gardening can be extremely influential to mental health as well. People with similar interests around gardening often come together to discuss their common interests. One group on Facebook does exactly this. Morgantown Plant Society has over 2,100 members who discuss plants every day. Imagine if we had a place to discuss plants in person around the Greater Morgantown Area.  

Imagine if we had a place in the Greater Morgantown Area where people could garden and learn together. This is exactly what West Virginia Garden Collaborative is trying to do in the City of Westover.  

West Virginia Garden Collaborative runs classes and a Free Little Seed Library at Westside Senior Center. We provide a space where people can discuss their love of gardening in person. Westover is also home to a large park with some open space that would be great for gardening. This space could provide a necessary gardening place for citizens of Mon County.  

West Virginia Garden Collaborative will be presenting to the Westover City Council on June 21 at 6 p.m. to propose the use of a piece of land in the park for a community garden. Come join us.  

According to a 2021 article in U.S. News and World Report, “Nearly 19% of West Virginia adults reported their mental health was not good for at least 14 days in a month, and nearly 1 in 4 Medicare beneficiaries in the state suffered from depression.” If we could do something, anything about this, why wouldn’t we? 

Shannon McNicholas is a graduate of WVU’s Masters of Social Work program and also the executive director of West Virginia Garden Collaborative, a nonprofit striving to bring gardening resources to people of all backgrounds in north-central West Virginia. To learn more about the project, please visit