Sackville’s new Open Sky Co-operative aims to open up possibilities for individuals with mental challenges. The group’s founders (Margaret and Eric Tusz-King, Norm and Laura Hunter, Melody Petlock and Robert Lapp) have combined their passion for organic gardening with a desire to share its therapeutic effects with others.
The founding members were largely guided by their own life experiences in developing the project. Norm Hunter is an organic farmer by trade. He has also worked with individuals with mental challenges in Pugwash, Nova Scotia.
Margaret and Eric Tusz-King have long made their concern for the environment an important priority, having built an energy efficient passive solar home and opening it up to many who have wanted to see first-hand how they can reduce their own environmental footprint. Margaret also has first-hand experience dealing with mental challenges through her own family experiences.
Tusz-King says that she was motivated by the knowledge that there is a huge gap in services and support for individuals with mental challenges particularly as they reached adulthood. There is now a large body of scientific research indicating that most people respond positively to working with plants. The area of research devoted to this plant-people relationship is called therapeutic horticulture.
The model employed by Open Sky Co-operative has been successfully implemented in other places including Providence Farm in Duncan, British Columbia. There is also a Care Farm movement in Europe where those who are often excluded from many mainstream activities in society (such as employment) are included in something meaningful and educational.
Tusz-King and Hunter are hopeful that they will accomplish a significant amount on the co-operative’s ten and-a-half acres this season with the help of volunteers. The plan is to focus on less care-intensive crops like garlic. Later on, they would like to expand into small animal husbandry starting with poultry. For the time being, the focus is on preparation. The co-op will plant some cover crops like buckwheat then rye in the fall to launch an assault on aggressive couch grass. This is an organic approach to preparing the ground.
The farm is also home to two horses, and the co-op members have hopes of creating a therapeutic riding program at a later date.
In addition to organic gardening, Tusz-King would like to see the Open Sky Co-operative provide opportunities to live on site. She says that many people with mental challenges have trouble attaining financial security, and as a result live in unstable living arrangements. She would like the Open Sky Co-operative to be a place where those with mental challenges can find a safe and caring home.
Open Sky Co-operative is currently supported by private funds, but the group is applying for government funding to grow and flourish. Tusz-King says she wants to engage the community in the Open Sky Co-operative, including businesses and the university.
The response from people in the community has been overwhelmingly positive says Tusz-King — further encouragement that the Open Sky Co-operative will be a welcome addition to the community.
Najat Abdou-McFarland is a member of the NB Media Co-op.