Green house

Cadets from St. John' Military Academy install the framework of a new greenhouse the Cedar House, which is opening a greenhouse to sell plants they have grown and artwork at the former Bergstrom's Nursery, 307 Northeast 14th St.

The Cedar House will soon open a greenhouse at the former Bergstrom’s Nursery, 307 Northeast 14th St. to support their mission and provide art, fresh produce and ornamental plants.

The greenhouse grew out of a program which Cedar House operator Patty O’Malley had come up with merely as a way to provide a wintertime activity for the ladies who live at the recovery home.

“We were trying to find something to do in the winter,” she said. “What do we do? We can’t just sit around the fireplace and stare at each other, and we can only talk so much.”

They started by building a small aquaponic farm and a hoop house where there would be greenery and provide a place where the women could stay busy. It ended up serving multiple purposes.

Recovery mission

The art and the planting provide therapy and meditation for the women at Cedar House. They can work together on a project with a purpose and a goal.

“We are working with our hands and while we are working we are talking,” O’Malley said. “When there is a new girl, she is scared and the last thing she wants to do is have the other girls staring at her, saying to her ‘tell us your story,’ but when we are working, it just comes out naturally.”

It also gives them a chance to discover a little about themselves. Some of the women are learning they have an artistic spirit within, others are learning they can take a seed and grow it into a beautiful flower. Some had never seen or actively participated in the process of growing a plant.

“They have planted the seed and they are turning it into a plant and turning it into a vegetable and putting it into their food and eating it and putting it into the food they give to other people,” she said.

Another component to the project that O’Malley said is important is that it gets the ladies out into the community, facing their addiction head-on and having pride in their recovery.

“We are the standing recovering alcoholics. We are the standing IV meth users. We are the standing IV heroin users. We are the opioid addicts. We are the ones who made it through and working toward recovery,” she said. “We are not hiding. We are not staying in our basements hiding from the world. We are standing proud, saying this is what recovery looks like.”

Self-sufficiency

Last year the women from the Cedar House brought what they grew in the greenhouse to farmer’s markets. But it was a lot of work to prepare for the markets and the abundance of the plants was making it more difficult to keep up.

Now they will take what is grown at the Cedar House and bring it to the greenhouse which will be open on Saturdays and after church on Sundays.

“My dream is that it will help them heal,” O’Malley said. “It gives us a program but because we are selling what we are growing, it also lets us be self-funding through our work. It also empowers the women to say ‘I can do this. I don’t have to have my hand out. I don’t have to wait for the check to come in the mail from the government. I can, with my own two hands, produce and do something to help myself and help my family’.”

When the women started bringing the plants to the greenhouse, it seemed a little sterile and a little boring.

“My artistic eye said that we need to do something,” O’Malley said. “It got us downstairs with canvases. I am showing them how to do acrylic pours and how to work with different mediums.”

Working on the art gives the women time for meditation “instead of letting their heads spin,” she said. “People knit, people crochet. They work on a collage. Next thing they know, they are in a healthy place thinking, not just the spinning in their head. They are slowly unpacking their journey.”

Some of their art will be offered for sale at the greenhouse but there will also be prints and retail art that matches the themes of hope, recovery, peace, and unity.

“There will soon be art everywhere. In the art, you’ll see a lot of women, a lot of different cultures, a lot from Bansky, a lot of pop art from the 70s,” she said.

‘Color and Sound’

The greenhouse will not have a name. It is simply the greenhouse. However, each year there will be a new theme. This year the theme is “Illumination: Color and Sound”.

“It is a play off of light. Illumination is part of our recovery – the awakening,” she said. “The color and the sound will be incorporated when you walk through. You will hear the rain storm. You will hear the tropical sounds.”

Great Plains Theatre is working with them with the audio effects. At the end of the season, it will all be taken down and a new theme will be determined to start working on for the next year.

The plants in the greenhouse and at the Cedar House are nourished and grown with an aquaponics system which combines aquaculture and hydroponics to create a natural, chemical free growing environment.

Visitors to the greenhouse can see how the system works and learn what it takes to create an aquaponics farm.

They will also have an assortment of plants to choose from including herb gardens, salsa gardens, succulent gardens, container plants and Bible gardens which consists of plants with biblical references. Children will be able to plant their own little gardens or choose an affordable gift for a loved one on Mother’s Day.

The next step

A group of young men from St. John’s Military Academy have worked with the Cedar House on their grow project.

Recently they helped with the construction of a 48-foot-by-20-foot structure at the Cedar House which will be where the ladies will grow culinary herbs. O’Malley said the plan is to start selling fresh herbs to area restaurants.

Kevin Beasley, volunteer project manager, worked with St. John’s Academy to coordinate the next phase of their growing operation.

“We started with a small hoop house, aquaponics and hydroponics,” he said when the boys were working on March 31. “What we have seen is a successful growing operation and we are now moving into a larger, more secure structure. The boys of St. John’s have been gracious enough to come out and help with the initial construction of that and will follow on another day to finish.”

Beasley spent 13 years in the military and said he liked the opportunity to work with this group of young men. There is often a misconception that the Academy is a place for boys that have gotten into trouble with the law.

“It really isn’t. It’s a community-service based organization. It is a great growing program for a lot of these young boys,” he said. “They will come out of this with college prep that a lot of high schools aren’t able to give and don’t give. They will come out of this with the discipline that a lot of high schools are not able to give and don’t give.”

Working with the young men was Senior Army Instructor Joseph Bilik who explained that part of the JROTC curriculum is learning about service learning.

“The intent is for the boys to plan an activity, go out and execute it, then go back and reflect on what they’ve done and how they have impacted something like Patty’s recovery program,” Bilik said. “We want to take it beyond the community service project where you go out and pick up trash in a playground for a day.”

In two words O’Malley summed up her thoughts on the action of the cadets: “Love heals”.

Contact the Reflector-Chronicle at reporter2@abilene-rc.com.

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