In today’s digital world our busy lives have become increasingly stressful and mentally exhausting. This was the case for Jeremy Gehl in his corporate role as a graphic designer but after realizing his career was harming his mental health he discovered the benefits of gardening. Now, after a dramatic career change, Jeremy is a member of Langdon Hall’s grounds team and has embraced a new lifestyle surrounded by nature.
Jeremy grew up in Kitchener with his parents and younger sister. As a teenager, he was passionate about the arts and was accepted into Eastwood Collegiate high school for drama and film. Unlike most high school students, Jeremy’s extracurricular activities included being a film extra with Hollywood stars such as Robin Williams and John Travolta.
“I’ll never forget being on set for Man of the Year with Robin Williams,” recalls Jeremy. “He would perform his standup routine between scenes and give us all a personal comedy show.”
After being a dancer in the 2007 film Hairspray and watching Elton John produce It’s A Boy Girl Thing, Jeremy discovered that he really enjoyed the process of making films. However, it wasn’t until his parents suggested graphic design that he applied to OCAD University in Toronto.
After university, Jeremy moved back to Kitchener and in the fall of 2008 he joined the internal communications team at BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion. This was an exciting time in his career and he went from designing signage to becoming the personal graphic designer for some of the top executives.
“One day they asked me to create a video to show staff how all the hubs around the world work together,” explains Jeremy. “I guess they liked what I did because after that I became the main creator of their promotional videos.”
It was only a few years earlier that Apple introduced the iPhone to the world so RIM was working hard on their new smartphone leading Jeremy into executive meetings about app developments and interface designs. These new challenges were exciting for him but mental stress and exhaustion were slowly creeping up.
“After working 48 hours straight on one video I would say I was definitely becoming a workaholic,” recalls Jeremy. “Things weren’t slowing down either, I ended up working on three different teams and creating app icons for the new BB10.”
However, RIM’s fanfare eventually gave way to the realities of the competition and as the company’s profits tumbled layoffs began. Jeremy made it through two rounds of layoffs before he was let go at the end of 2012.
“This could have been a time for me to slow down but instead I joined the marketing team at Cineplex and began designing their new concession stand screens and touch screens for malls,” explains Jeremy. “But the reality was I was exhausted and completely stressed out.”
The time came for Jeremy to start focusing on his mental health so in 2014 his left Cineplex to take the summer off. “To be honest, I was stuck in a type of depression and I needed to find a way out,” recalls Jeremy.
It was through research that Jeremy discovered the mental health benefits of gardening so he gave it a try and fell in love. “There is something incredibly soothing about digging your hands into the soil and watching your plants grow,” explains Jeremy. “It wasn’t a difficult decision to turn my new found passion into a career but I still had a lot of learning to do.”
After gathering advice from family and friends Jeremy decided to take an apprentice position on Pelee Island with a seed farmer for a season. He gained a wealth of knowledge that he brought home and applied to his new plot of land that his uncle graciously loaned him.
“I became fascinated with our food system and the importance of growing good food that I wanted to eventually sell to customers,” explains Jeremy. “So in 2016 I turned my uncle’s land into my new farm and slowly started growing crops and raising animals.”
For two years Jeremy grew his farm but in the winter of 2018 he saw a job posting for the grounds team at Langdon Hall and jumped at the opportunity. “Being able to work in the gardens at Langdon Hall and create vegetables for a gourmet restaurant was truly a dream for me.”
Jeremy joined the grounds team in April 2018 and started soaking up the knowledge right away from head gardener Mario Muniz. “There is no other place like Langdon Hall in this area. In my first year I planted as much as I could, discovered the techniques of greenhouse planting, and even in the winter months we had ‘school days’ where Mario would teach me about horticulture.”
Jeremy has become a valuable member of the team by taking on a leadership role within the crew, becoming a guest favourite during garden tours, and ultimately sharing his passion for the property. He has even scaled back his own farm to focus more on his role at Langdon Hall.
“I love all the aspects of being part of this team but I especially love the planting,” says Jeremy. “To be honest, I have always been medicated for mental illness but changing careers and discovering gardening has significantly improved it.”
Perhaps we can all learn something from Jeremy’s career change and how nature can greatly affect our mental health. In today’s busy digital world, it is important to remember the wide-ranging health benefits nature has to offer and how even small lifestyle changes can improve our wellbeing.
“I’m definitely tired at the end of the day, but it’s a physical fatigue and very different from the mental exhaustion from before,” explains Jeremy. “Being around plants and working with nature makes every day worth it.”