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Straw-bale farming brings hope, healing and harvests to local disabled people

Ed. Note: I have been following the efforts of Fluster Cluck Farm on Facebook all summer, and have been absolutely gob-smacked at the inspiration, ingenuity and intelligence driving them. Not only is it a courageous and unusual way to address serious injury, it also builds on critical efforts to increase local food security. I asked the owner to write down what she was doing and why, and she was kind enough to send me the following write-up. I simply can’t say enough about how fantastic I think this is, and how tidily it describes much of what I love about the Kootenay culture~ signed, Kyra Hoggan, editor.

Two and a half years ago I was struck by a drunk driver on my way home from a family outing. I had several broken bones, multiple ligament and tendon tears, and serious injuries to every extremity on my body, including my neck and spinal cord. Recovery has not been an easy road, but what I was totally unprepared for was the boredom that comes with being nearly completely immobilized.

The year before I had built two raised beds and a small greenhouse, and it was already planted and waiting for me when I came home from the hospital. I discovered very quickly that simply getting to my garden posed challenges (at one point I had to call a neighbour to get my power wheelchair unstuck), so I asked for funding to build a ramp to my garden so I could continue to participate in an activity that I enjoyed so much. I was informed that funding was only available to make the inside of my house accessible, and that gardening was not a part of my rehabilitation. Luckily, thanks to my friends, family, and community, I was able to grow a beautiful garden despite the challenges I faced, and I can tell you first hand, that gardening was and is the very foundation of my personal rehabilitation program.

This spring, I was determined to increase the size of my garden, but reality set in when I started to inquire about having soil trucked into our fairly remote and rocky Kootenay location. Faced with the expense and labour required to build raised beds, I decided to include a straw bale garden in my plan, and had 20 bales delivered.

As it turns out, straw is a perfect medium to grow almost anything once it is conditioned properly. It is sterile, requires no weeding, less fertilization than the same plants grown in soil, and growing right in the bales creates raised beds without having to construct boxes. Straw bales can be used on any type of ground, and there is no site prep required.

There is no doubt in my mind that we can all benefit from growing a garden, but for people who live with challenging physical health problems, gardening can have extremely positive effects. Gardening can increase levels of physical activity, reduce physical pain and the need for medications, help people cope with severe medical conditions, contribute to improved social connections, reduce stress, combat depression, and of course aid in developing healthier eating habits which also contributes to quicker recoveries from injuries and surgery.

This year we are conducting a pilot project and sponsoring two gardens for people both primarily confined to wheelchairs, one in Pass Creek, and one in Rossland. The volunteer support has been overwhelming, and there is a real desire for people to learn this way of gardening. My hope is that by next year the gardens will become classrooms, and our participants will become the teachers. We are currently self-funded, but we are looking for help to raise money to pay for soaker hoses, water timers, t-posts and fertilizer by spring. We are selling T-shirts and hoodies to make this possible, with 100% of proceeds going towards building gardens for people with disabilities. If this project is a success, we will be applying for funding, and building many more gardens, and also adding a wheelchair accessible chicken house to provide additional food security, as well as provide the nitrogen to condition the bales.

If you would like to support this project or know someone who would benefit from participating please contact Fluster Cluck Farm via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fluster.cluckfarm.5?fref=ts

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