By Baillie Lynds
Plants provide us with food, fiber, shelter, medicine, and fuel but can also be therapeutic as evidenced by Lindsay Jennings, the facilitator of the Horticulture Skills Training program at Nova Institution for women.
The program, delivered by Extended Learning in partnership with the Correctional Service of Canada, teaches women offenders’ vocational and technical skills to use in transition to employment post-release. The program also promotes and enhances life skills, including self-confidence, healthy habits, and healthy eating.
Lindsay also works with the Botanical Gardens Unit (BGU) on the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus. For Lindsay, these two jobs go hand-in-hand. Working in the BGU has allowed her access to plant material and horticulture peers which is one of the biggest challenges of running the program at Nova.
“I would often take photos of the gardens and the work I was doing and share them with the participants to share real-life project development related to their course material. Being involved in the BGU also gave me the ability to gather materials for labs, such as: seed heads, leaves, pests, weeds, etc.,” said Lindsay.
Like most things, however, when the pandemic was announced, the Horticultural Skills Program at Nova was put on pause while Dalhousie University and the Correctional Services of Canada decided how to safely proceed. This created a challenge for Lindsay, as she lost access to the greenhouse at the Nova Institution for Women and as a result, many of the plants they were propagating died and were discarded. This put the program at a disadvantage, until something amazing happened.
This fall, the BGU at the Faculty of Agriculture was tasked with cleaning out the greenhouse of the former Women’s Institute building on campus - a building that once provided opportunities for women to enhance their quality of life, through education and personal development.
As they were cleaning out the building, they discovered a variety of healthy plants that did not belong to anyone and were going to be wasted unless otherwise claimed. At the same time, the program at Nova was starting back up and Lindsay saw an opportunity she could not pass up. She relocated many of the plants to the greenhouse and classroom at Nova.
“The day the majority of the plant material was brought into the Institution, I had my class participants assist me,” said Lindsay. “To say the new plants overwhelmed them is an understatement. Their joy was visual. As we placed the plants in our greenhouse, one of the participants said generally, to the room, ‘I am SO happy right now’.” Lindsay also heard others describe it as, ‘the best day ever,’ and ‘so awesome.’"
The plants have already had a significant impact on the program as the participants spend every day caring for them. They are also learning valuable skills on how to propagate plants which they can then implement in the future for their own personal use, or to give back to their community through work or volunteer opportunities. And the irony was not lost on Lindsay.
Lindsay considers herself and the program at Nova to be truly fortunate receiving these materials.
“The timing of closing down the Dalhousie Women’s Institute greenhouse and the re-opening of the Nova Women’s Institute greenhouse was beautifully synchronous,” said Lindsay.
During her time at the Nova Institution for Women Lindsay has seen the impact of women helping women.
“I observe the women helping each other daily and it has led to some amazing progress and breakthroughs; changes that go well beyond horticulture skill development. Women can often feel threatened by other women for a variety of reasons, but when we reach out and help another, it can start to break down barriers and create change," she added.
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