Last week I visited Cana Farm on the outskirts of Sydney, with another 15 ladies from the Leadership for Mission program as part of our immersion experience. Cana Farm is a community based initiative which serves the marginalised and disadvantaged people within society. Their mission is that of companionship with the people in need, many are without their families and support system.
We arrived in the morning and were told that our task for the day is weeding in the farm. We broke up into groups with our 'weapons' of choice (shovel, spades, weeding thingy) and gloves. While we worked we spoke to the other volunteers. We talked about a lot of things like how to plant tomatoes, the effect of hail on watermelon plants and comparing natural and manufactured fertilisers.
Dave* was one of the volunteers who taught us how to shovel correctly. He was visiting the farm for the first time as part of his community service. He had been in prison for a drug related offence and had already gone through the first stage of recovery. This was the second stage of his service/assignment, to serve the community and contribute to a positive situation. He was finding his feet and reintegrating into society. Other volunteers at the farm had similar stories of time spent in prison, drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.
Dave felt that society could be judgemental to him and his story but working with us we saw him as another human being. Our conversations focused on our similarities and not on his past. To the plants it doesn’t matter who is doing the planting or what their background is. The plants will simply grow. The farm sells the produce it grows and other products they make like candles and jam. They receive no government subsidy because they want to be able to pursue their calling to help the people no one else would. Together the staff and volunteers work together to make and sell what they can to keep the farm running.
During lunch I met another man who was volunteering with his carer. Steve* has a learning disability which didn’t stop him from being passionate about his project. He was responsible for growing potted plants to be sold for Mother’s Day and he taught me about how to care for plants. At Cana he found his empowerment through a project that would help support the farm. They focused on what he can do and not what he couldn’t.
After lunch there was a birthday celebration for one of the volunteers, Jane*. They brought out a cake and she blew out the candles. The volunteers and staff took turns standing behind her with their hands on her shoulders, talking about everything good about Jane. She has been a part of the farm for a few years now. She came from an alcoholic and abusive background and she had left her family because she wanted something more for her life. At Cana she’d shown initiative helping out and selling produce. Now she is one of the leaders who welcome new volunteers and work alongside them. As they took turns talking about Jane, it was clear that they have formed strong bonds like a family. Jane had been loved back to life.
The experience reminded me of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He walked with them in a non-threatening way. He did not push them, but through the journey he was quietly leading them. The companionship I saw at Cana Farm was like this. The people had come with their own struggles and found support on their journey to recovery.
Volunteering at the farm I learnt a lot about companionship. The farm removed people from what they had done and replaced it with who they are; farmers, mothers, survivors. While society is not as accepting of people with stories like theirs, Cana Farms respected each person and their dignity. I was reminded that the support they had found is what every person needs; people who trust them and love them so they can flourish. We came home with dirty hands and feet but with a full heart.