Leha Ward-Marshall and sister-in-law Crystal Wood of U Grow Girl could be seen selling bouquets this summer during downtown Salmon Arm’s Alexander Street market. Proceeds from the sales will go towards their goal of building a retreat at their North Okanagan Shuswap farm for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. (Contributed)

Shuswap farmers aim to grow healing retreat for childhood sexual abuse survivors

Cyrstal Wood has made it her mission to support fellow survivors

On their Shuswap farm, Crystal Wood and her family have planted the seeds for what they hope will grow into a retreat for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

If you visited Salmon Arm’s Saturday downtown market on Alexander Street this summer, you may have encountered Wood and sister-in-law Leha Ward-Marshall, who were there selling bouquets of flowers under the name U Grow Girl.The flowers were grown at their family-run farm in the hills of Grandview Bench southeast of Salmon Arm. They were planted this summer, 10,000 square-feet of them, in addition to 4,000 haskap plants planted about a year prior. The selling of flowers and, when they’re ready, haskap berries, are all part of road map toward’s Wood’s vision of building a retreat on the rural property where, one day, fellow survivors of childhood sexual abuse could stay and heal together.

Wood describes herself as an open book when talking about her own experience with childhood sexual abuse (CSA).

“I was abused until I was about 11 years old,” said Wood. “I didn’t talk about it until I was 25, and that was after two years of therapy. It took me two years of therapy to get to a point where I realized I needed to talk about it.”

During that time in therapy, Wood realized she would one day dedicate her life to helping other CSA survivors.

“I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew in my heart, this is my purpose in life,” said Wood.

Originally from Alberta, Wood, at age 22, ran Bliss Bridal in Kelowna with her mother Brenda Wood. During her time in the Okanagan, Crystal got married and wound up selling the store and leaving the country. While she had put therapy behind her, Crystal said the need arose after she had her first child.

“After giving birth, I started being triggered and everything from my past started coming up to the surface again, and I knew I needed to get back into therapy,” said Crystal.

Wood’s journey brought her back to Canada, near Toronto, and, eventually, to an outdoors-oriented therapeutic retreat in the U.S. for CSA survivors. Crystal said she likely wouldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been free, as at that point she had little hope anything could help. Not only did she find the opposite, Wood also found focus for her purpose.

“I realized this is what we need to replicate,” said Crystal. “That’s’ why, when I got back, I made it really clear to the family, if we’re going to do this venture, it needs to be a gift from us to survivors, they need to be attending free of charge.”

The next step was to purchase a farm, something that happened sooner than anticipated when Crystal’s brother, Justin Marshall, suggest they go look at properties in the Shuswap. Crystal said got goosebumps when they first visited to the Grandview Bench property.

“We pulled up and I was like, this is it, there was no doubt in my mind this was the place,” said Crystal. “There was something very serendipitous about it.”

Wood and her family, including Leha, Brenda, Justin, stepfather Jerry Lehoux and father Gilles Gai, took ownership of the property in November 2018. Crystal said the transition from city to farm folk has been a learning experience. They’ve been grateful for the support received from friends and neighbours. They have also benefited from several viewings of the documentary, The Biggest Little Farm.

“We’ve all seen that movie several times,” said Crystal. “In fact we have owl houses now and we have worm castings and all this different kinds of stuff… It’s kind of crazy how we’ve just kind of morphed into this lifestyle.”

While they are still a ways off from building a facility on the property for a retreat, Crystal plans to host one in the spring at a location near Vernon. Her job is co-ordinating the event, which will be overseen by a clinical director.

“There will be a certified psychologist who has experience and who has specialized in this specific field,” Crystal explained. “During the retreat, there will be two psychologists per team of eight survivors. So we will be working with professionals.”

Crystal said the purpose of the spring retreat, and the future Time To Heal retreat on her property, is to help survivors on their own healing journey. To achieve that, participants will be able to take part in a variety of healing experiences, including equine assisted therapy, trauma yoga, tai chi and muay thai, while learning about the brain science behind what happens to a trauma survivor and how that carries into their lives.

“I just really want to make it clear, it’s not a retreat… where you just sit and do talk therapy,” said Crystal. “It’s a retreat where you are going to be introduced to all these different avenues of healing, and when you leave you get to pick and choose what works for you and create your own path to healing.”

Crystal said she’s in the process of setting up a Gofundme page to help raise funds for Time To Heal. And, with the arrival of fall, the flower business is transitioning to dried products, including dried “forever” floral bouquets and bath products.

During their summer market experience, Crystal and Leha found some people were put off by the difficult and uncomfortable subject of childhood sexual abuse. However, Crystal said at every market they had a table at, including Salmon Arm’s, they would be approached by at least one fellow survivor who would share their story and express their gratitude.

“They would come up to us and purchase flowers and thank us for what we are doing,” said Crystal. “I can’t wait to get the retreat running so we can actually start making a difference.”

To learn more about U Grow Girl and to purchase flowers, visit the U Grow Girl Facebook page or website at www.ugrowgirl.ca.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Salmon Arm

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Leha Ward-Marshall and sister-in-law Crystal Wood of U Grow Girl could be seen selling bouquets this summer during downtown Salmon Arm’s Alexander Street market. Proceeds from the sales will go towards their goal of building a retreat at their North Okanagan Shuswap farm for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. (Contributed)

Just Posted

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

(RCMP)
RCMP searching for missing Kelowna man

Nathan David Copp was last seen this morning, Oct. 28

(Kerkhoff Construction)
Large Glenmore rental development given greenlight by Kelowna council

The development will contain 238 rental apartment units across four five-storey buildings

Michael Rodriguez, Kelowna Capital News.
UPDATE: Natural gas leak on KLO Road

KLO Road is down to one lane alternating traffic while emergency crews are on scene

Norm Letnick, BC Liberal Party MLA-elect for Kelowna-Lake Country. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Liberal Party needs youth, urban presence: Kelowna-Lake Country MLA-elect Norm Letnick

The Kelowna-Lake Country MLA-elect also said he will not vie for party leadership

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Never before seen painting by famed B.C. artist Emily Carr gifted to Victoria gallery

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

In May 2019, Brennan Joel Metlewsky and Jordan Robert Kupser were charged with attempted murder, robbery and aggravated assault stemming from an incident that took place in Vernon in 2017. (Facebook photo)
Attempted murder charges dropped for pair accused in Vernon stabbing

Brennan Metlewsky and Jordan Kupser will appear in Supreme Court to set a new trial date

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A boat moored at Turtle Bay Marina was reported stolen Oct. 1 and remains under investigation. (Contributed)
North Okanagan crimes remain unsolved

Boat stolen from marina, theft of siding and vehicle break and enter

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Most Read