Our Freedom Farm – Started with a ‘Freedom Garden’ Experiment

We have a plan to build a farm where people who are re-entering society after incarceration could come be rehabilitated and re-learn how the world works in a realistic, functional way.   Our business plan calls for:

  • Bunkhouse and tiny home type housing on site with a community gathering center and workshop areas that are outside as well as inside.
  • An education center, community food processing area and kitchen.
  • An organic farm with a fruit orchard and working fields, and space to construct things, take things apart and learn by doing hands on work.

The goal is to build a publicly accessible community education and sustainable working farm that could be used for teaching functional living skills on many different levels.

We have a plan to build a farm where people who are re-entering society after incarceration could come be rehabilitated and re-learn how the world works in a realistic, functional way.   Our business plan calls for housing on site, for an fruit orchard and working fields, for a training center and workshop areas so that we can build a sustainable working farm that could be used for teaching functional living skills on many different levels.

Our population, being people with criminal histories has some challenges that we have to overcome given that we are having to teach people often from the ground up how to relearn life.  Therefore, we looked for a bridge…a way to learn the scope of the challenges we would face to achieve the results we want.   Today, we have a scope of work and a sample of three different kinds of properties that would work for us.  Contact us for more about this, or check back for updates as we have time to load the information into the website.

Freedom Gardens Pilot Project – Summer of 2014

 

Freedom Farm

In the meantime, to get our feet wet, in April 2014 the Coalition applied for and was awarded a $500 grant from WSU Extension Services to purchase garden tools, sprinklers and hoses that we could use to start the project.  As our pilot project it was a learning curve that turned out to be quite valuable and productive for ten volunteers.  It gave us a better sense of what it is going to take to get this size of project off the ground.  Bottomline, it takes planning, a long vision, teamwork and  a small dedicated group of committed people who can be onsite and experienced at working with people who have a learning curve about responsibility.

Here is what happened, and what we learned:

  • We had a ¾ acre garden plot available that was donated for our use by Ray Littlefield, a local farmer-gardener.  Ray did a terrific job of setting up the garden, so that our volunteers and people in our program could go out, help him, and help each other learn how to connect to the earth and produce healthy and nutritious fresh food.   Some of our members came out worked to prepare the soil, plant, weed, water, maintain the grounds and harvest the food.
  • We learned that having a mentor and guidance was critical to success of the project.  And, that experienced leadership in gardening was critical to success or failure of different crops.  Planning for the seasons, for the weather, for replanting and cycles is experience based.
  •  We learned that we also had to have a different kind of mentorship and leadership managing the volunteers and work crew.  It became obvious that when the weather called, or the crops came in that we had to be prepared in advance for the workload.  This meant that we had to be adaptive to the natural world, and we needed serious backup when people could not do the work they committed to do.  Gardens do not wait for people to “feel like it”.  So that means that we need people who are committed to the project and who are willing to see it all the way through the season.
  •  We learned that it is important to have the gardens in an area of easy access, where it was easy to come and go; that we needed to have tools readily available, and yet these same tools had to be cared for, kept in a safe location..and we had to teach responsibility and care of supplies.
  • This first garden was located on Northwest Road about 5 miles north of Bellingham.  As a result there was a travel time issue that was challenging to get people to go out to work for short times.  The commute was too challenging unless people had their own cars.  Many of our clients are carless – so we needed to organize way in advance to make it work well.
  • Results:  At harvest we gleaned a lot of produce for our clients.  We also shared with the Food Bank!  It was surprising how many people were fed from a small plot of land.

Freedom Farm Bottomline:  The biggest takeaway is that we now know for sure that this environment is perfect for our client base.  The learning curve is broad and cyclical, it is both forgiving and not forgiving, and the experiences of growing food is incredibly satisfying for people who work through the growing season.  It was a tremendous learning process for us all in learning the gaps in knowledge, in scheduling and in understanding people.

What we learned is that for our client base, it is critical that our projects be on a bus lines, with realistic access to the city.  We also need easy access to the tools and we need field supervision and people who truly can be handy to mentor new people who want to help but don’t know how.

In the Freedom Farm big picture:  We want at least 5 to 10 acres of land with barns, facilities, a greenhouse, field space for gardens.  Our goal is to teach cooking, food preparation, whole food recipes, storing, canning and preserving.  We could easily include classes presented by WSU Extension and the Master Gardener program.  We also have all our tools and are ready for the funding and support to make this project a reality.

If you have donations, would like to partner up with us, or to get more information call Irene Morgan at 360-354-3653 or email at impeace2@comcast.net.

Jail reform is at the roots of mass incarceration.  And Bernie Sanders gives us insight into how much out of balance we are.  Help fight mass criminalization of our youth, our displaced and our homeless for the benefit of corporations.  This is an excerpt from a Young Turks News show where Bernie talks about the US’s lead in incarceration.

Reclaiming Lives

This 4-minute video shows why
Restorative Community Coalition is Standing Up for Inmates Recovery, Jail Reform and Restorative Economics

Growing a healthy society is an individual, family, business and community matter.  This video is about the individual impacts of excessive incarceration (without rehabilitation) on real people.  We describe why it is cost effective and essential to reclaim people from the penal system as fast as possible.  We share why the services we provide help create an interception, and helps with healing our local people, and in turn helps our communities recover from the negative ripple effects.

The Restorative Community Coalition was formerly known as the Whatcom County ReEntry Coalition.  We changed our name to better reflect our commitment to solve the whole systems problems  that came from the mass incarceration movement that started in the 1970’s.  It has created a punishment-driven contrarian economic condition that has become dysfunctional.  Caused by the side-effects of national privatization of prisons, the dysfunction has filtered down to affect our current system of justice.  The effect has been to over-incarcerate, over-criminalize and then we have societal illness.

In the incarceration world there terms used that are specific:

Recidivism:  The phrase used to describe the pattern of going back to prison after people are released.  The recidivism rate is the measuring stick for how much people fail to leave the system.
Re-entry:  This describes programs that are designed to help people re-enter society.

In working on these issues since 2006, we have discovered that it is far simpler and a better solution to implement preventive and early intervention strategies to stop people from entering the incarceration system in the first place.  Once inside, the re-entry process is far more challenging and expensive to taxpayers.  They have to recover from the emotional impact and trauma of incarceration, and then there are the workplace impacts that are further damaged inside the system.

A whole systems approach is far better:
1) Prevention & Early Education
2) Intervention, Rehabilitation & Redirection
3) ReEntry, Recovery, Retooling

The Coalition just produced after 10 years of research this document for the benefit of Whatcom County taxpayers to understand the complexity of the issue around building this large jail. Here is an excerpt from our opening page.

Economic Alternatives = Opportunities for Taxpayers

With over 25% of the world’s prison and only 5% of the world’s population, America is failing to protect the freedom of our citizens…at great cost to the taxpayers.

Over-incarceration, police bias, and lack of prison reform illustrate the need for economic changes in our systems.

It is time to replace the ‘profiting on punishment’ economy with a ‘people on purpose’ localized economic engine. In Whatcom County alone, our County spends roughly 65% of our tax dollars on traditional law and justice. Now they are asking taxpayers to compound our costs to build a $132.5 Million dollar 40-acre regional jail compound – the largest capital expenditure in the history of Whatcom County. It’s estimated to cost taxpayers a billion dollars to operate over 30 years. Yet, County officials state that there has been a 25% reduction in serious crime and an 80% reduction in juvenile crime in the past five years!

What’s wrong with this picture? Inside this report, the Restorative Community Coalition summarizes why the past model is counter-productive to public safety. It costs taxpayers on many levels.

We show how industries profit on punishment, and how citizens can take back control of our freedom by controlling our tax dollars. With vision, knowledge and restorative economic principles we can rebuild our communities to get far better results for the people.

  • Stop bailing out a failed jail economy
  • Create jobs, not bigger jails
  • Re-educate rather than incarcerate
  • Invest in people, not punishment
  • Help taxpayers get a better return on their tax dollars

Read the report: Stop Punish Start Rebuild EBook 08252015

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