A TASTE OF PARADISE ORGANIC FARM
Mr GARETH WARD
(Kiama) [7.28 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House a very hardworking local charity in the Kiama electorate called A Taste of Paradise organic farm and the benefits it provides to the local community. Tim Francis and his wife, Andy, moved from Canberra to Berry in 1985. They felt the need to put their Christian faith and passion for social justice into action by establishing a farm to provide the opportunity to work with disabled and underprivileged children. In preparation, Tim returned to university and TAFE to gain the required practical qualifications to move the project forward. This also began the process of preparation for the farm by propagating many species of plants at their home. During this time Tim and his wife, Andy, searched for a suitable property and eventually located a 100-acre farm between Gerringong and Berry, which is now A Taste of Paradise organic farm.
The farm was established in 1999 and in the ensuing period has become a certified organic farm, which has a number of enterprises. These include conservation, farm forestry, fruit and nut orchards, and several hundred animals, such as alpacas, goats, horses, beef cattle, chickens and companion dogs that provide many opportunities for interaction with the young people on the property. These connections assist in developing the participants and allowing them an opportunity to experience rural living and rural life. Since the inception of the farm, a day program providing mentoring and work experience opportunities for a wide range of young people has been in progress.
As there has been virtually no government funding available for the project, these services have been provided at great personal cost and sacrifice by Tim and Andy, along with their two children. It has meant extremely long hours on the farm for Tim to combine the necessary farm work along with the great deal of time that he needs to devote to the mentoring of the young people. As well as this it has been necessary for Andy to work very long hours in off-farm employment in order to subsidise the farm's considerable activities. The farm also owes much of its success to date to the great support of the local community and Tim and Andy's church family.
After a great deal of hard work A Taste of Paradise Organic Farm Ltd has recently been established as a registered charity and deductable gift recipient. A board of directors has been elected and this has been a positive step in the development of the project. The charity's board is committed to doing all in their power to further the goals of instilling hope and setting these young people on the path to a more fulfilling and productive life. Some of the young people who benefit from the farm come from a range of care situations, and their circumstances are very diverse and different. The farm accepts referrals from organisations supporting young people in difficult circumstances with issues such as mental health, intellectual and physical disabilities, and behavioural issues often relating to adult neglect and abuse. Because of the diversity of needs that young people have it is necessary for the farm to provide a custom designed approach for each individual.
Tim and Andy's desire has always been for the farm to provide the optimum outcome for each individual, and this entails many hours of one-on-one interaction, particularly as these young people are often no longer in the formal education system and are likely to have very poor literacy, numeracy and communication skills. Some examples include a young man with intellectual disabilities, severe phobias and compulsive disorders who now has the confidence to access the rear entry doors of a vehicle that previously reminded him of past negative ambulatory experience. He now enjoys riding in the back of the farm troop carrier as one of his favourite farm activities.
One young man with autism, who had not instigated verbal communication for several years, spent time there understanding and experiencing the farm's horses. When he returned home his parents were amazed to hear him talking with such animation and excitement about his experiences at the farm. A number of young women who attend the farm have a range of extreme social and behavioural issues. It is worth noting the referring agencies are anxious to continue the program as it is a major stabilising factor and is in fact the only aspect that is working positively in their lives at present. The farm employs a small number of people on a casual basis, including young persons who have come through the program.
Tim, Andy and the board see a great potential for equipping young people with the necessary skills to find employment particularly in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven areas, both of which have a high rate of unemployment. I am extremely proud to place on the record in this place my absolute support for the project and the good outcomes it continues to provide for those disadvantaged and less fortunate in our community. I am also honoured to acknowledge Tim and Andy Francis as great and passionate citizens of our State for their continued dedication to this project and for the work they continue to do for the Berry community. I commend A Taste of Paradise Organic Farm to the House.