Celebrating a strong, creative, resilient Lunenburg County
NOW, MORE THAN EVER...
Story by DONNA LEON
Bonny Lea resident Josh loves Vanilla Ice. When he heard that the rapper would be performing in Truro this past June, he made it his mission to attend. That meant saving money for concert tickets, transportation and accommodation for him and a support worker. Josh also applied to a Bonny Lea fund that allows participants to receive support once a year to achieve an important life experience. The concert was his dream come true.
Josh, who is in his early 30’s and has lived at Bonny Lea for 8 years, even got a selfie with the rapper. Bonny Lea Farm supports dreams. The name is apropos. Bonny Lea means “beautiful meadow” in Scottish. It’s a place where people can grow.
For 45 years, Bonny Lea Farm has been the only all-inclusive organization in Nova Scotia for adults with special needs. In 1973, the province had nothing to offer residents living with disabilities. Usually, families looked after their adult children. Where that wasn’t possible, the adults became wards of the government. Chester residents Dr. David and wife Alberta “Bertie” Pew Baker decided over dinner with friends to do something about that. Their teenage daughter, Alberta (known as Bonnie), was born with intellectual disabilities. The Bakers’ dream started that evening with a simple philosophy: give every adult an opportunity to learn, grow and succeed.
Today, the Bakers’ legacy is evident in the sprawling acreage on Collicutt Road in rural Chester. Thirty-seven adults live at Bonny Lea full-time, and nearly a dozen more from HRM to New Germany attend day programs. Bonny Lea runs nine residences and has 70 full and part-time staff.
On a rainy afternoon, a handful of participants is shredding documents in one room. In the workshop next door, a group is working on building wooden crates and decorative lobster traps. Down the hall, two women are packaging recycled cotton cleaning wipers. Near the greenhouse, a woman is cleaning sage that will be made into specialty oils, vinegars & herbal products. In another shop, men and women are splitting and packaging kindling and firewood bundles to be sold to local hardware stores. These social enterprises provide work for participants in a supportive and structured setting. Proceeds from the sales pay participants and support the many programs offered at the Farm.
But there’s much more to life than work. Participants have recreational therapy and speech and language support too. Several are involved in Special Olympics. On Tuesday evenings during the summer, they love listening to live music at Chester’s Picnic in the Park.
With half of the participants now over the age of 50, the organization has a different challenge. A new building to house and support seniors with disabilities is the next goal. Plans have been approved, and a funding campaign will begin soon. Also in the works is the launch of a café and gift shop in Chester. The goal is for participants to get work experience in the community and for the Farm to have a venue for the participants’ products.
Forty-five years after its inception, the success of Bonny Lea Farm can be measured in the smiles on the faces of the men and women who live and work there. Clearly, the Bakers’ legacy continues to bloom.