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
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.
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 email@example.com.