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Organic farmer reaches out to train at-risk youth how to farm, gain land

 

Self-taught in life skills, business development and nonprofit organizing, Eden Brightspirit Hendrix has developed a model for a membership-based, for-profit food store supporting nonprofit organic farming through People for Environmental Action and Community Health (p.e.a.c.h.).

Attuned to teach the at-risk, low-income, diverse youth, she said she understands their barriers, self-talk, vulnerabilities and frustrations.

Brightspirit
Eden Brightspirit Hendrix began store, organic farm.

“I have no unrealistic expectations,” said Brightspirit, who knows what they need to learn to succeed as farmers.

She started the Fresh Abundance local, organic food store from delivery of produce boxes, and is developing the nonprofit Community Farms and Gardens, a food-system model to train sustainable farmers and supply low-cost, safe, nutritious food to low-income families, as well as families who can afford the food.

The model includes Farm Hands and Young Organic Urban Farmers for labor; Neighborhood Farm Stands for sales; a Farm School for training in small-scale sustainable agriculture, and a Farmland Bank and Trust for land.

First coming to Spokane at 17 after early years in Detroit’s ghetto, orphanages, foster care and an adoptive family, she left to study biology and chemistry at Texas Women’s University from 1984 to 1991. 

In her growing years in foster homes and orphanages, her life was touched by Baptist and Catholic churches.  In college, she was in a Unitarian Church.

Without embracing one form of organized religion, Brightspirit sees some good in each.  Her spiritual practice now centers on belief that all people are connected and affect each other.

Brightspirit left her studies in Texas and returned to Spokane without finishing her degree because of a family crisis.  As a single mother, she decided to live off the land and home school her three children.  Outside Newport, she built a house by hand before moving to live for seven years at Tolstoy Farm, an intentional community and organic farm near Davenport.

As she had three more children, Brightspirit grew concerned about what toxic chemicals her children were exposed to in food she could buy on food stamps and through the WIC (Women Infants and Children) program.

She turned her frustrations into advocacy, speaking at and working with mothers’ groups.  In 1998, she volunteered at nonprofits on environment, children’s health and pesticide exposure.

In 1999, she successfully campaigned for WIC to allow purchase of organic milk, a policy that was recently overturned.  At an Earth Day 1999 booth, she urged closing the city’s trash incinerator because of dioxins it emits.  That year, she also formed p.e.a.c.h., continuing to use her science background to educate people about children’s health, toxins and incinerator emissions.

She gathered mothers to form PEACH Safe Food Co-op to buy locally grown, organic food and pick it up at a member’s garage.

In 2002, she opened a membership-based grocery store in the west end of downtown Spokane, an area with little traffic then.  It closed in 2004.  P.e.a.c.h.’s nonprofit board of mothers dwindled, but she persevered.

Realizing she lacked information on how to run a business or a nonprofit, Brightspirit began reading library books and taking courses on business, and then filed incorporation papers for Fresh Abundance to sell boxes of produce to 15 families.

As friends told friends, memberships and deliveries grew.

From 2004 to 2008, she expanded Fresh Abundance from deliveries into a store.  Without bank financing, she leased building at 2015 N. Division.  Gross revenue was $800,000. Fresh Abundance now serves 2,000 members, who order online and shop at the store, which also has non-member customers.

“It’s a model customers trust,” said Brightspirit, who married Jacque Hendrix in 2006.

In 2007, she hired Anna Bacon, an activist with a business degree who grew up on a farm and shares Brightspirit’s vision of providing organic food for people of all income levels, supporting—now 60—local farmers and producers, and directing the store’s eventual profits to support the nonprofit p.e.a.c.h. community farm.

Anna runs Fresh Abundance, which sells 7,000 pounds of organic produce a week and had more than $1 million gross income in 2009, despite the recession, Brightspirit said. 

“Everything is organic, and no chemicals, hormones or antibiotics are used in the meat production,” she said.  “Along with the USDA certification, we add our own Local Safe Farm Certification, based on our own verification of a farm’s practices.

Two days a week, Brightspirit is in her office at Fresh Abundance, and five days a week she commutes 26 miles by bicycle to the farm near Cheney.

After leasing a farm in Spokane Valley in 2008, Brightspirit realized its two acres were too small for the plans to train future farmers.  The farm moved temporarily to 10 acres between Cheney and Spokane until they were offered the 30-acre Pine Meadow Farm at 10425 S. Andrus Rd. and moved there in February.

Linda Moulder, who has owned the farm since 1973 and managed it sustainably, felt p.e.a.c.h.’s plans would carry on her vision to use the land to teach, demonstrate and expand sustainable farming.  Her tenant, Kate Healey, a wildlife biologist who has lived there eight years since Linda left the farm, will stay to share her skills with the farm program.

Brightspirit has designed a “map” that portrays the interplay of school field trips, labor sources, farm stands, the Farm School, and the Farmland Bank and Trust.

Knowing education begins early, p.e.a.c.h. hosts field trips to introduce children to local food  sources.  

Free labor sources are from required-labor programs, volunteers and interns through Farm Hands and Young Organic Urban Farmers (YOUF).

Labor is a required part of Work Source’s Next Generation program; the Department of Corrections;  Juvenile Justice’s weekend community service program; welfare-to-work job-training programs through Career Path Services.

Boy Scouts, college and university service-learning programs, church groups and businesses—seeking short-term, team-building activities for members and employees—send volunteers.

An AmeriCorps member will build a database of organizations that can provide volunteers.

“There are people on the farm most days,” Brightspirit said.

Recently eight engineers built a greenhouse. One weekend a mother and two children planted 45 trees for a cider orchard.

Using no-cost labor makes it possible to grow and market quality, locally-grown food to marginalized people, she said.

Young Organic Urban Farmers, which starts in June, will recruit eight ethnically-diverse, low-income, at-risk 16- to 20-year-olds.  They come each day from their homes to plant, tend, harvest and market the crops each year from March through November. 

“We will select participants through agencies working with marginalized youth, providing the worksite, while the programs will provide the payroll,” she said.

“Our goal is to create life-long relationships, so the young farmers will come back for support and resources to help them succeed,” said Brightspirit.

The YOUF program will include life-skill courses in communication, wellness, budgeting and nutrition.  As the sales team in farm stands, the youth will also help build community in the neighborhoods.

The Farm Stands offer a mixed-price system—for low-income and regular customers.  Signs explain it.  Customers who say they are low-income pay 20 percent off the price.  If they have proof—WIC or food stamp cards—they receive another 20 percent off. 

The Spokane Regional Health District provides support for statistics related to production and sales on the p.e.a.c.h. Community Farm. 

 The Washington State Department of Health granted a $25,000 partnership to p.e.a.c.h., Washington State University Food Sense and WIC to provide vouchers for WIC clients to receive cooking classes and a free voucher in addition to the farmers’ market voucher.

 The mobile farm stands will be open from 4 to 7 p.m., Wednesdays in Hillyard and Thursdays behind One World Café in East Central Spokane, beginning June 17.  There will also be a stand at the farm open from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturdays.  The South Hill location—yet to be determined—will open in early July.  They will also sell food at the Cheney Farmers’ Market.

For the model to be sustainable, p.e.a.c.h. plans to sell half the produce to low-income people and half to those able to pay full price, Brightspirit said.

The Farm School teaches future farmers small-scale, sustainable farming.  The interns can gain access to land through the Farmland Bank and Trust. 

In August, she hired Chrys Ostrander, from whom she learned organic farming, as director of farm operations.  He spent 20 years at Tolstoy Farms developing skills in organic farming.

The farm has 25 goats, five-acres for no-till vegetable and berry production, 15 acres for alfalfa and grains for goat food, 1,000 meat chickens, 20 turkeys, 100 laying hens, 15,000 bedding plants, a half-acre apple orchard, a seed-production garden and seed saving throughout the farm.  Plans include a certified dairy, certified poultry butchering and a commercial kitchen.

To preserve farm land, the Farmland Bank and Trust, which is being formed as a related nonprofit, will buy farmland from the real estate market, using federal, state, municipal and foundation funding, plus donations and bequests.  In addition, because many farm children have gone to universities and entered other careers, they do not want to farm when they inherit the land.  Brightspirit has had calls from 40 such families, seeking people to farm their land.

The Farmland Bank and Trust is drawing up model contracts for new farmers to lease the land at low rate if they agree to provide a third of their produce for marginalized people for three years.

In March 2011, p.e.a.c.h. plans to start a three-year intensive farmer training and internship program at the farm school.  They will build a four-bedroom retreat facility at the farm with classroom and space for the dairy, butchering and kitchen. 

Interns will live at the farm all year while they learn to farm.

The first year will focus on life skills, nutrition and farm production.    Interns will learn about soil-science and talk with people in nearby city planning and ecology departments to understand their impact on agriculture.

In the second year, interns decide their focus and are matched with land.

In the third year, the farmers will be on p.e.a.c.h.’s payroll.  If they do well, they are on their own after that with access to p.e.a.c.h.’s resources.

“We provide a model to localize the food system to increase food security.  We will publish how we do it, so others can do it and add their ideas,” Brightspirit said.

For information, call 435-5210 or visit peachlocal.com.

 

Copyright © June 2010 - The Fig Tree