Updated: Oct 27, 2021
October 22, 2021, Austin, TX
For more information, please visit:
We didn’t see a sad face the whole time we were here at Community First! Village! The title says it all. Leatha, our tour guide of the gardens said, “At Community First! Village, I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever met. People are so sincere here - not two-faced. They genuinely care!”
Leatha started here as a volunteer several years ago. She’d experienced homelessness for three years after her grandma passed away. “My dad actually lives here, so I knew a little bit about the village,” she explained. “Finally, they gave me my own house. I’ve been living and working here. Now I have a staff job taking care of the chickens and the garden.”
Genesis Farm and Garden Crew
Although it was her day off, she was glad to show us around. We saw the large tan tarp making a pavilion over several picnic tables. “That’s where we meet to learn about gardening and what is planned for the day.” She says in the summer, the paid garden crew starts at 7:30 am and finish up at 11:00 am. “We pay them well here - $50 for a morning’s work. We understand everyone has a need for a doctor’s appointment, and people coming here are just getting used to being part of this community. It takes them time. We’re ok with that. They sign up to come on certain days of the week; and when they come, they are generally really willing to ‘dig in’”.
“Right now we have about seven that work in the garden each day and about four who tend the chickens and goats in the pasture. We produce about 400 to 600 eggs per week from the 120 chickens we have. They’re spaced out in three coops so they can roam and dig for bugs. We give the goats milk to the community so they can make soaps and other stuff! That’s one of the products the neighbors make and sell here.”
The 51-acre community property also hosts 300 fruit trees. These add to the produce available at the weekly community farmers’ market. “Ernest is our tree guy and our geodome guy. He is also part of a property beautification team that grows and pots flowers and large plants to grace the many tiny homes and trailers both inside and out. There’s a team of five that keep the grounds mowed and trimmed. All in all, there are about 50 people from staff, the missionals, the neighbors that take care of the plants for us”, Leatha explained. “The answer is not just housing, it’s community! People need community.”
Leatha said, “Everything we grow here is for the community. Peas, lettuce, spices, watermelon… There’s a lot! On Saturday, market day, we run out of everything we’ve planted. People know that food is expensive at the stores. Good, healthy, organic food like we grow here is in demand. It’s totally free. People are willing to figure out ways to cook it, save money, and be healthy.”
“Now that we’re in mid-October, we are in process of getting ready for our winter crops. Shea manages the greenhouse.” Leatha showed us the cute little seedlings popping their heads up, soon to be transplanted. “We provide dignified income for our residents. Everyone has their ups and downs. We’re here in the garden every day. The door is open. When they want to work, they come. When they come here, they stick with it. They understand that the animals need food and water every day.” When asked about what she enjoys most about her job, Leatha shared, “The neighbors who come here feel that sense of responsibility. They like to belong somewhere. They find great gratification growing vegetables. I often see them holding some beautiful produce and point saying, ‘I did that!’ I let them know how much we appreciate them. I love being able to work side-by-side with our team. We are here for everyone; each one is family. The residents feel so good about giving someone something that is healthy and delicious. Working with plants is just so positive - there’s just nothing negative about it,” Leatha said.
The one-acre “Kitchen Garden” in Genesis Gardens is just one of the gardens on site. As we walked to their back melon garden, she pointed out the play area for kids. There are also raised bed garden boxes for anyone in the community. She was excited to share that she’s already working to break ground on a one-acre garden at the Phase 2 community village up the hill. “Soon we’ll have a new greenhouse with aquaponics!” Leatha exclaimed! She showed us the melons, tomatoes and beans in the back garden where the soil holds more water. One of the volunteers created a pollinator-butterfly garden!
Fulfilling on Community First’s Vision
At this Community First! Village, a town of 300 residents, 24 missionals, and 84 staff members, everyone helps serve each other and provide meaningful work. This community was made possible from the vision Alan Graham had about employing thse facing homelessness with dignified work. His work at Mobile Loaves and Fishes continues to expand their community.
Heidi Sloan was the original farmer who seven years ago was on her tractor shaping the land, removing rocks and trees, and preparing the garden space with her initial crew. It must have been a tremendous amount of work to break the rocky ground and keep working with the soil year after year. Leatha is grateful for all who have preceded her on the farm.
Mobile Loaves and Fishes has been so successful, they are expanding not only to a second phase but also a third phase. A generous donor just gifted the organization enough land for 1400 tiny homes in a new village to be constructed just south of the Austin airport.
Author: Farmer Karl