Field Notes – A Good Place to Grow

I had heard about the work of Garden City Harvest over the years from several friends in the Missoula area. But I didn’t know about the North Avenue Youth Farm, or about Youth Homes, until Steve Loken told me about them recently. He had renovated an old barn for the Youth Farm, and built a couple of outbuildings. Steve raved about Cori Ash, and her skill as a farmer and teacher; and about the important work of Melissa Arno and the staff of the Tom Roy Youth Home.

When Steve and I drove out to the farm (which sits behind the Tom Roy Home), Cori and Melissa took time off to give me a tour of the grounds. Even on a dull, early March day, with snow covering everything, it didn’t take much effort to imagine the farm full of rows of lettuce and tomatoes and chard and cabbage.
I met the staff of the Tom Roy Home, and several of the kids, including two who are likely to work on the farm this season: Miranda and Anthony. Miranda has done a lot of gardening, and says she’s anxious to get to work here. Anthony doesn’t have as much experience, but he seems excited to learn, and happy to be at the Tom Roy home. (As I was saying goodbye to Anthony, he told me, somewhat to my surprise, that he wanted to study herpetology, and asked if I knew a herpetologist in the area he could meet.)

Tom Roy director Melissa Arno took the time to meet with me in her office, and talk about the genesis of the Youth Farm project, and the transformation of an acre and a half of weeds into a mini-farm that is a model of efficiency.

“I know how to raise kids,” she told me, “but I don’t know much about vegetables. So we needed someone to guide us. And Garden City Harvest and Cori Ash came to the rescue and turned the idea into a reality. The biggest surprise to me has been the impact on the kids here. I had no idea how transformative it would be for them, and how much it would become part of their lives. The farm has become a kind of sanctuary along with the Tom Roy Home. It’s really important to me that when the kids come home, they have a safe place to live, with staff who like their jobs, and every day when they walk in the door they have people who are happy to see them, excited about their lives, excited about their day. It’s one of the reasons I do this job. It’s enormously important to provide a safe place to live for kids who don’t have that – and I think we do a pretty good job.”