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Participants’ skills, confidence grow at Providence Farm

logo-times-colonistPedro Arrais / Victoria Times Colonist
May 24, 2014 06:24 PM 

For the past 35 years, the most important crops to leave the gates of Providence Farm have been skills and confidence.

Thirty-five years ago, the Sisters of St. Ann gave the 400-acre property to the Vancouver Island Providence Community Association. While it is a working organic farm, its primary focus is the restoration of spirit for those with physical, mental and developmental challenges.

"Our mission statement is about the renewal of body and spirit," said Anne Burnet, fund development manager with the farm.

"It's about people caring for the soil — and the soil nurturing the people."

The farm provides meaningful work for 130 adults and seniors in areas such as gardening, general store, small-engine repair, welding, textiles, furniture-making and the kitchen.

Participants are also taught social enterprise, with produce grown on the farm used in the kitchen or sold at farmers' markets, area restaurants and bakeries.

The variety of programs offered overlap on purpose, said Burnet, who has been at the organization for seven years.

People might choose to spend the mornings working in the nursery and focus their energy on small-engine repair in the afternoon.

"We offer horticultural therapy. People who have been marginalized all their life can now find a supportive community where, for the first time, they feel as if they are connected to a community," she said.

Some come to improve their employability skills, some come daily, others weekly — and some stay indefinitely.

"One of our participants has been selling in the farmers' market for 20 years. But he will be the first to tell you that he would struggle in the 'real' world," she said. "We have supportive employees and don't expose them to the same pressures."

The farm is also home to the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association, and the kitchen is used February to October by students in the Vancouver Island University Culinary Arts program. It can also be booked for weddings and other social functions.

Next Sunday, the farm celebrates 150 years since the Sisters of St. Ann settled in the Cowichan Valley. Celebrations and refreshments run 1 to 3 p.m. at the general store on the farm, 1843 Tzouhalem Rd., Duncan. For more information, go to providence.bc.ca.

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