HOPE Springs Community Farm, WA, rehabilitating drug addicts with sourdough

HOPE Springs Community Farm, WA, rehabilitating drug addicts with sourdough
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Close up of hands kneading bread.
The bread is made completely by hand from start to finish, teaching participants to slow down and to be patient.

Photo:(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)

The last thing you would expect at a drug rehabilitation centre is the smell of fresh bread wafting out of a commercial kitchen filled with people laughing and talking while kneading sourdough.

  • The HOPE Springs Community Farm offers residents the opportunity to make artisan bread, which is sold at community markets.
  • The bread making gives participants a creative outlet and has proven a successful method of therapy.
  • The farm is based on the world renown San Patrignano, a recovery community in Italy.

But at the HOPE Springs Community Farm in Geraldton, 400 kilometres north of Perth, baking artisan sourdough is proving a successful form of therapy for participants attempting to overcome addiction.

Resident Paul Nicholls exudes pride as he explains the process of making bread, which is sold at the local markets and to restaurants.

"I've been here for six months and it has actually really changed my life around," he said.

"I've been using meth for 22 years, so I came in here very lost and broken.

"A lot of my relationships with my family and friends were ruined, so I kind of had nothing left."

New skills and self-esteem

The farm is based on the same model used at San Patrignano, a world-renowned recovery community in Italy.

It is all about helping participants who have lost their way, by teaching them new skills that boost their self-esteem and teach them to respect themselves and others.

Portrait of Paul Nicholls.
Paul Nicholls was a welder, who was married with children but checked himself into rehabillitation because of 22 years of methamphetamine abuse.

At Geraldton's community farm, around 10 residents work with each other: growing fruit and vegetables, raising chickens and doing the usual cleaning and cooking duties.

For resident Corey Dempsey it was the first place he had seen a change in himself.

"This is my third attempt at rehab," he said.

"This one is completely different to the others so it is going well for me.

"I went to one in Darwin which is mostly for people coming out of jail through corrections so I didn't really want to be there … then last year I was at another rehab and it wasn't anything like this, it was a lot bigger, a lot more clinical."

Man pulling up garlic plant in vegetable garden.
Residents at HOPE Springs Community Farm work in the shade house growing fresh fruit and vegetables, which for some is an activity that teaches mindfulness.

Bread inspires doing good

For many who walk through the gates of the farm, they have nothing left and have been cast aside by society.

A welder by trade, Mr Nicholls said he never thought making bread would change him.

"We're so good at doing things bad," he said.

"But doing something good and being good at that, that is a pretty good feeling — it's something different."

The bread is produced to a professional standard and every loaf is weighed exactly, left to prove and baked for an exact amount of time.

The bakers are perfecting their kneading and shaping techniques by watching videos on YouTube, while experimenting with house loafs to create new flavour combinations.

Mr Dempsey said making bread and being part of a team has made him like himself more.

"I have a lot more respect for people now, I was quite selfish before I came in here … I'm just a lot nicer I guess, a better person," he said.

"I always thought that was a sign of weakness, but it is actually a strength I can play on and earn some respect."

portrait of Corey Dempsey.
Corey Dempsey has been at the HOPE Springs Community Farm for four months.

Creativity aiding recovery

Former HOPE Community Services manager Andy Niblock said their approach to addiction was different, which made the farm unique.

Up close picture of bread packaged up and sold at market.
Each week the bread is sold at the local markets in Geraldton. Residents also make dinner rolls for local hotels and restaurants.

"It probably has more of a social educational component," he said.

"In the sense that HOPE sees addiction as more a behavioural, a lifestyle issue rather than something maybe overly linked to a range of medicinal or clinical factors.

"We try and support people with their health factors, but also help them to change the way they see the world and the way they see themselves."

Mr Niblock said making bread had proved to be a successful form of therapy for their residents.

"One of the key ways we've really found is powerful for people in their journey of change is helping them to be involved with creative aspects," he said.

"Many people experience change or progress in their self-worth, in their own recovery by seeing what they are capable of doing and they realise some potential.

"The bread is an awesome way of helping people to sometimes slow things down and take their time.

"People also have to show patience, they have to learn to work as a team."

HOPE Springs Community Farm, WA, rehabilitating drug addicts with sourdough

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