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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3373

Mr MARLES (CorioParliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) (10:55): With Easter around the corner and my thoughts, rather involuntarily, turning to chocolate, I am reminded of a visit I made earlier this year to Encompass@Leopold, a very special place on the Bellarine Peninsula in my electorate. Encompass@Leopold is a horticultural and life skills training centre of excellence that is helping to empower people living with a disability. On this small acreage, a former family home and its grounds have been turned over to vegetable and herb gardens, free-range chickens, a worm farm, a sensory garden and state-of-the-art hothouses. Within these hothouses an ambitious project is under way. Encompass@Leopold wants to grow cocoa and ultimately turn that cocoa into chocolate.

I say this is an ambitious project because cocoa is not what you would expect to find growing in a seasonal climate such as the one we enjoy in Geelong. But defying the odds is something Encompass do not shy away from. Their person-centred approach to training people with a disability—whether it is through learning to build gardens, grow food or cook a meal—is providing these trainees with job skills and social skills that will allow them to live the life they want, with greater independence. It is about enabling them to make their own choices so that, instead of needing help from other people, they will be the experts, whether as gardeners, landscapers or cooks. At any one time there are 35 people living with a disability benefiting from the nurturing and instructive environment on the farm. Those 35 include a group taking part in a youth program and people living with mental illness.

Encompass is a registered training provider and its specialist employment service has also been able to use the facility. The results in just three years are astounding. Garden produce such as tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, beans, garlic, peas and leeks are being produced in such abundance that there is enough to use in the farm's cooking program, as well as the Encompass catering service, Munch 'n' Crunch at the Norlane Neighbourhood House. Any quality leftovers go to the Give Where You Live food bank. On the farm, as much as can be, all is re-used and recycled. Nothing is wasted.

There is also a whole-of-community approach that is reaping rewards—community groups going along and pitching in with their skills so that everyone is learning and benefiting. Along with cocoa, the farm wants to try growing other hothouse plants such as coffee, capsicum and basil. I wish them luck, since as always bunnies of a non-chocolate variety are also enjoying the fruits of their labour and becoming well fed in the process. When you consider the hurdles these people have had to overcome in their lives, the task of producing Geelong's first ever locally grown and manufactured chocolate would seem to me to be a piece of cake.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Order! In accordance with standing order 193 the time for constituency statements has concluded.