By Paul Bettelheim, member of the Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise in California, USA
The Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise (LSR) thrives on identifying problems within our community and partnering with community organizations to create solutions that benefit all. Therefore, when Jack Cortis and Kim Overaa, Master Gardeners in Contra Costa County, California presented their vision of developing Family Harvest Farm (Family Harvest), a model sustainable farm that supports transitioning foster youth, it was almost a certain conclusion that our club would participate.
Youth aging out of foster care are extremely vulnerable, forced to leave homes at 18 years. Many have been abused, shuttled from one home to another, suffer from drug and alcohol dependency, and lack the support of a stable family structure. With a little help, these young people can transition into the adult world and become productive, healthy, and happy citizens.
At the core of Family Harvest is employing these promising youth at the farm, where they will experience a healing environment, gain job skills in the agricultural and food industries, develop social skills needed to succeed in the world, and receive wages, wellness benefits, and a modest stipend from the state government.
A 3.5-acre greenfield site located in Pittsburg, California, was selected for the farm. Other than weeds, trash, and a damaged perimeter fence, the land was bare. Our club stepped up to the challenge to help make the dream a reality. The first step was to define a part of this massive project that we could undertake.
We agreed to buy and construct a propagation greenhouse, provide security for the farm site, and provide a refurbished shipping container to protect tools and supplies. We started with seed money from our endowment and then successfully applied for a District 5160 Community Grant. We enlisted the help of seven of our neighboring Rotary clubs (Rossmoor, Danville, Antioch, Pittsburg, Clayton Valley, Moraga, and the Antioch Delta clubs) for both financial support and hands-on collaboration. We secured outside financial support from a private endowment as well as $20,000 USD in donations from individuals. Most importantly, we have utilized the skills of Rotary members in all aspects of this project. From club members offering their skills in engineering, security, construction, irrigation, photography to liaising with sources for shipping containers, reconditioning the farm truck, to just networking to get the word out, many members lent a helping hand to contribute to the project.
As with all projects of this magnitude, there have been setbacks and frustrations, but the farm is becoming a reality with the first cohort of apprentices now working on the farm. In addition to accomplishing our project goals, we donated a second shipping container, and we provided a truck to the farm through the Rotary Clubs of Clayton Valley Concord Sunrise and Lamorinda Sunrise’s project that restores used cars, Cars 2nd Chance. We have only just begun.