28 Oct 2023

Addicts find hands in the earth help journey to recovery - 'It grounds us'

From Country Life, 8:08 am on 28 October 2023
Nova Trust

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Planting chillies, catching a whiff of a sheep's fleece and training cucumber plants are helping people working on a special farm near Christchurch deal with some pretty tough life crises.

One of them is Shannon, a mother of four from Tauranga, who was addicted to meth, alcohol and cannabis before arriving at Nova Trust's rehab centre on a 30-hectare property at Templeton.

The centre runs programmes for about 120 people a year based around a native nursery, tunnel houses for growing vegetables and social enterprise.

When Country Life visits, Shannon is planting baby cucumbers which, when fully grown, will head to supermarket shelves. 

"Putting our magic in," she laughs. 

"I love working with plants ... coming in, I had lost contact with how much I really love it. And it's a real joy to watch something grow. It's kind of like self-growth. You know, you get to learn to start from seed again and regrow. It's beautiful."

Shannon chose Nova Trust's rehab programme specifically because it involved horticulture.

"This is actually the only rehab centre that offers you to put your hand in the dirt and get in touch with the whenua.

"It grounds us."

Nova Trust

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Nova Trust

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

The charity was established in 1981, and founded by a local builder and businessman, Don Malcolm, with some colleagues from Christchurch.

Chief executive Steve Rossell said it aimed to create pathways and a better life and recovery for those
affected by alcohol and drug addiction and other life challenges. 

The centre is funded by Te Whatu Ora and a small number of donors, alongside revenue received from social enterprises, farm produce and the native tree nursery.

Those operations are integral to the trust's rehabilitation work with its residents, Rossell said.

"They provide life and employment skills, opportunities for the development of skills around general life and living, whether that's cooking and cleaning, looking after yourself, but also, that experience of the workaday routines that fit
them very well for reintegrating back into the community post-treatment." 

Nova Trust

Boyd Warren and Steve Rossell in a tunnel house full of cucumber plants Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Nova Trust

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Produce from Nova Trust's tunnel houses and paddocks make it to supermarkets and My Food Bag deliveries via their own truck, commercial manager Boyd Warren explained.

"We sort of manage the whole process from seed all the way to the supermarket shelves and the resident population are involved in all aspects of that, certainly in terms of the horticulture, which is great because they can see something literally grow from seed to something they then go and buy in the supermarket, which has a huge impact on self-esteem."

The trust is lucky to attract support from wholesalers, retailers and local farmers who provide livestock, Warren said.

"We've got a, I guess you'd call it a competitive advantage, and we've got a very worthy purpose in what we do that underpins not just the vegetable and beef production, but the life and employment skills programme, helping whai ora get well and re-enter the community."

Back in the tunnel house, Shannon said things were going well for her, six weeks into the programme.

She had made lifelong friends, was learning to understand herself and could also see herself working in horticulture in future.

"Being with others around you that are struggling with the same type of thing helps you to feel comfortable within your own skin and understand yourself and also grow within yourself, just like the plants."

Nova Trust

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Nova Trust

Harry Devar manages production in the tunnel houses Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes