Robert Bornstein Explains Horticultural Therapy

We can't quite remember how we heard of horticultural therapy but we'll admit we had no freaking idea what it was. Did these people talk to plants about their issues?

Horticultural Therapist: "So plant, how are you feeling today?"

Plant: "Well, doc, this lack-of-rain thing is really bringing me down. Plus I lost a few of my citrus friends last week because of that cold snap, so I can't stop wilting."

Okay, so that's not really the case. But we still had no clue what these folks do, so we Googled around until we found one. And, it turns out, food is a big part of what Robert Bornstein does.

New Times: So what does horticultural therapy involve?

Robert Bornstein: It improves the mind, body, and spirit with the use of plants and plant-related activities.

So you aren't sitting any potted plants on the couch and giving them Freudian analysis?

Everyone makes that joke. No. It's like physical rehab, or occupational

rehab, or musical therapy, or art therapy, then they understand plant


How many are there locally?

There's a few of us running around who are registered with the American

Horticultural Therapy Association and there are a few who aren't

affiliated with any national organization. Unfortunately, it's not a

billable service, so it's not reimbursed by insurance.

Who would call on you?

I have to knock on doors for business 'cause nobody knows what the hell

I'm doing. I started the business in 1994. I went to activity directors

at nursing homes, independent living facilities and assisted living

facilities and built up a clientele. Some of my original clients I'm

still working at. I also work at places like the Renfrew Center, which

was a woman's eating disorder program and I worked at Memorial Hospital

in their psych department. I started at a mental health facility in


Is this a full time gig for you?

Yes. But I'm doing a lot of other things. I want to segue into helping

the world with horticulture as a therapy, not just people in rehab. I go

to numerous places throughout Miami.

Do you work with kids?

I'd love to work with the school system, but there's no money. Every

place should have horticulture therapy. Every place should have gardens,

because kids have problems with eating vegetables and eating properly.

It's proven if they grow their own food, they're more likely to try the

vegetables and stuff. So it promotes better nutrition. They go home and

say, "Mommy, I want carrots!" and "Daddy, I want lettuce. We grew it at

school and I want it at home." Then it gets the families to eat better.

It's really, really important because our kids are really sick right


And seniors are eating so poorly. So many age-related illnesses are

nutrition based. It's frightening. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, a

lot of it goes back to nutrition.

It's not necessarily because of these facilities that they're eating

poorly. It's the way they ate their whole lives. Their grandparents ate

healthy, but each generation is getting sicker and sicker. When I first

started in nursing homes it was all old people. Now it's people in their

forties and fifties with their legs cut off from diabetes. And I see

people in their 40s and 50s with strokes. It's really bad. They say this

generation, the new kids, they're going to be dying before their

parents. It all goes back to food. With these two families working, they

stop off at [a fast food place], they're too tired to cook. These

children have diabetes and poor cholesterol. A lot of stuff I do has to

do with plants, but it also includes nutrition.

Tomorrow we'll talk about prisoners, honey, getting Baker Acted, and the fruit that keeps you regular.

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Riki Altman