An addictions recovery home in Cape Breton has recruited an expert from Slovakia to help women heal through gardening and farming.
Zuzana Polackova came to Hope House in Point Edward, Cape Breton in January.
Polackova has worked in numerous communities around the world, including Nepal, where she helped people recovering from leprosy learn to farm and keep bees, and in Ireland where she taught gardening to people with special needs.
"My dad always loved gardening, we had a tiny garden and he could pretty much grow anything.… I guess the green fingers were passed to me," said Polackova.
Dr. Laura Whyte, a physician with the Cape Breton Regional Hospital who chairs the board of the Cape Breton Hope Project, met Polackova through her brother. He attended a Bible college in Ireland with Polackova.
Whyte believes Polackova is a perfect fit for Hope House.
"She's a good role model for a lot of women who come through, to take these maybe traditional male roles and [show] that women do these roles, too, and can be really successful," said Whyte.
Women living at Hope House take part in a variety of programs, including counselling and physical activities. There is also a spiritual component.
Graduates of Hope House also take part in an aftercare program that includes an entrepreneurial aspect.
It could be making and selling products like candles. On the farming side, participants get to work with chickens, goats and a variety of vegetables and herbs.
Polackova said she is teaching farming using a method she learned in Zimbabwe. It involves mulching and crop rotation, but also incorporates spiritual aspects into the teaching.
She is also teaching the women how to garden using soil in bags so that they can grow their own food, even if they don't have a yard.
"At the moment we are in baby steps, we are starting small," said Polackova.
Although the pandemic put a wrench in many plans, that didn't stop the Hope Project from getting new customers and delivering fresh farm veggies.
Whyte said the women have found growing plants to be gratifying and calming.
"The women have really loved working with her. They find it really satisfying and they're learning new skills," said Whyte.
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