Open Sky Co-operative is located on an 11-acre sustainable farm and program facility in Sackville, NB. Founded in 2011, our vision was to fill a gap in support services for adults who experience barriers due to social disabilities or mental health challenges. In our early years, Open Sky operated with two full-time volunteers, Margaret Tusz-King and Norm Hunter, and many other part-time volunteers. The focus was on establishing the farm and inviting individuals who had mental health and social development challenges to join in. It was critical in this initial stage to develop and demonstrate Open Sky to be a welcoming and healing environment for both day participants and live-in residents, and to develop the farm facility to meet programming needs. Looking back on this period, it would be honest to say that we designed Open Sky from of our experience as parents, adult educators, and farmers, and built a strong foundation of programs and services while responding to opportunities and ideas as they arose.
Over the next 4 years, Open Sky focused on several things in order to build on that foundation and establish the sustainability of the enterprise. These included: establishing credibility with provincial mental health and social development departments, so they would refer and financially support participants; improving the approach and skills of staff to more adequately assess participants’ skills, interests and challenges and prepare customized programs for participants; securing financial resources (e.g., government service contracts, foundations, grants, participant fees, selling produce) to ensure sufficient operating and capital funds; developing self-employment options for participants; and clarifying the ‘riverbanks’ of our work.