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Silver Spring Farm

The Silver Spring Farm was the stuff of dreams. Though currently only in use as a residence, the farm has tried just about everything to be a therapeutic home to clients while raising funds for the agency. 

The farm opened in 1967 as a group home for the developmentally disabled. While using the land was always a possibility, it didn't start in earnest until Martin Hollinger joined the project in 1977. A greenhouse was erected and horseback riding had been available at the farm since 1972. With six of their own horses, staff could even go out for rides on their lunch breaks.

Clients were able to get involved in the farm projects—giving them employment opportunity, social interactions with the public, and the therapeutic properties that comes from working with your hands and seeing the results of your labour. Simply put, gardening is good for the soul. 

The staff tried just about everything. Within a few years the farm held seven greenhouses and put on a popular bedding and perennial sale every spring, grew Christmas trees every winter, sold ten acres worth of corn on the side of the road, and according to the Ottawa Citizen, had the best spring-fed water in the city. The farm had really put the agency on the public's radar.

At one point, the staff was even breeding goats. Raising goats was pretty cute but for a source of revenue, the babies were being sold for meat. One summer when Martin went on vacation for six weeks, another staff member refused to sell any. On top of their tragic ending, the goats were a bit of a pain. Goats tend to get into everything and are very susceptible to parasites—meaning huge vet bills and not a lot of profit. Raising goats eventually petered off, as with many of the farm's projects. 

The opening of big box stores with cheap plant varieties in the area meant the farm couldn't keep up with the prices for their bedding sales. The construction of the 416 dirtied the spring water—a project that already had staff members coming in on the weekend to fix the coin machine. The highway also allowed too much light pollution at night for poinsettias to come to their fully mature red. 

But one thing stuck—garlic. 

When the greenhouses closed in 1995 with the rest of the farm's many projects, it was important for the agency to keep meaningful work for the clients through gardening. Garlic was still new to Canadian kitchens and Silver Spring Farm's crop soon became a favourite amongst Ottawans. 

Although it was initially hoped that clients could be more involved in the growing of garlic, it quickly became clear that the agency would need some help from volunteers. The beginnings of garlic sprouts look an awful lot like weeds and it can be hard to distinguish what's what in such a large project, and so, through a local radio station, the agency enlisted the help of a local Mormon congregation. The church committed to one year of volunteering and has been there to help every year since to plant, harvest, clean, grate, and sell the garlic.

The first harvest of garlic began with 5,000 bulbs but has since grown to the most recent harvest of 46,000 bulbs and an easy 100 locals lining up to get the first batch. With 25 per cent of the harvest going back into the ground for the next year, the farm has finally found a permanent fix. 



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