October 17, 2016
“It is not enough to be compassionate – you must act.” -The Dalai Lama
On the outskirts of Austin, Texas, I met a FarmHer who changed my perspective. I met a FarmHer who is not only compassionate about the homeless population in her city, but she is working with a group of passionate people who are acting. They are acting on the issues and they are creating change.
I met FarmHer Heidi Sloan where she works at Genesis Gardens and Community First Village. This project is just the latest in a line of “goodness” started by founder Alan Graham back in the late 1990’s. Graham and his friends began delivering meals out of the back of a minivan to men and women they found living on the streets of Austin, Texas. Since then the program has expanded into Mobile Loaves and Fishes which has served over 4 million meals to the homeless community. Today Mobile Loaves and Fishes has expanded into a community of little homes that are available to the chronically homeless in Austin. The homes are made available to them to help bring them out of homelessness. To give them a place, a community, a home. And part of that village is Genesis Gardens. Upon arriving at the community my gracious host, Thomas, drove me over to the “farm.” Situated in the center of the community, the farm consisted of a few acres of vegetables and other produce. Heidi, the FarmHer, was working with a large group of volunteers to get them going on tying up tomato plants, putting in new stakes, weeding and other daily chores.
Watch the video clips from Heidi here.
After she was done there, we were off to Heidi’s first stop of the day - at the goat dairy. There she told me that her background was in dairy and that it is important to her to start this part of the farm. This is a part of the farm that helps the homeless who live and work there to reconnect with taking care of another living creature. Dairy animals need attention on a regular basis and by putting someone who has been lost back into a role of importance for a living animal, it creates a bond and a need. While the dairy is just starting, I am excited to see how it grows not only in size, but also to see how it grows the people who work there.
Next up it was a trip over to the tractor so Heidi could move some dirt and then back over to the farm. As I wandered around a bit while Heidi hauled load after load I couldn’t help but notice that this bustling little community was full of friendly faces and hard workers all spreading a sense of goodness. This community is giving goodness and the residents and workers are spreading goodness.
As we finished the day and I got the chance to sit down and visit with Heidi more about her role, and the role of the farm in the community, it was clear that growing food, feeding people, and nourishing souls are where her heart lies. See, the farm not only employs community members, but it also holds a farmers market every week where the community members can have access to fresh, free produce. They aren’t just taking a handout that may or may not be healthy or nourishing. They are lending a hand to the farm and getting good food in return. They are getting really good food that everyone - homeless or not - should have access to.
One of the best parts of the conversation was in talking with Heidi about the difficulties of working in a community of people who struggle with life. She told me that a few years back while talking with a resident one morning about the mass school shooting that had just occurred on the east coast she intended to be strong, but then just broke down. See, she was trying to be strong for that person who is perceived to be weaker than she was, but she couldn’t be stronger. It was then that she realized she didn’t have to be stronger. She just had to be. And so it is at Community First Village, Mobile Loaves, and Fishes and finally at Genesis Gardens. The staff and volunteers just have to be. They have to be there, spreading goodness and creating community. They have to be there, growing good food and caring for livestock. Because in being there, a community is created, lives are regained and compassion is spread. I can’t wait for my next trip back to Community First Village in a few years. I can’t wait to see how it has grown, changed and most definitely, changed lives…all with a FarmHer spreading goodness at the heart of the farm.
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