Sync Weekly Does Great Story on The Field…

Recently Sync Weekly did a great story on The Field, you can read the story on their website here…

If you plant a seed, it will grow. It’s not a concept that’s beyond Aaron Reddin, though he admits to not being much of a gardener. It’s also not a bad metaphor for Reddin’s

efforts to help the homeless and impoverished, which once included him handing out food and supplies from his Yaris. Then there was The Van. Then there were more vans and more cities with vans. Now there’s The Field.

As dark storm clouds promise the first rain in what seems like ages, high winds kick up the finely tilled dirt of The Field, filling shoes and blinding eyes out on North Little Rock’s Faulkner Lake Road. Reddin can barely contain his excitement, not just over the imminent and much-needed downpour but over the day’s haul of squash — The Field’s “first fruits.”

The idea here isn’t exactly rocket science. The plan is to use The Field’s two acres (and potentially five more next door, if dreams come true) to grow fresh produce to be handed out to the homeless. The plan is twofold, though. First, it provides food for those without any. Second, it also provides work for those without any, because those benefiting from the field often will also be those working it.

“With this whole thing, the options are really endless,” said Reddin as he led a tour of the grounds, pointing out rows of green beans, purple hull peas, okra, corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers and … well, something. He’s not a gardener. But he does know that over a small rise toward the back of the property there are watermelons.

“Imagine you live outside here in Arkansas. And it’s summer and it’s hot as hell. Now imagine someone rolls up to give you a fresh-grown watermelon that’s been on ice overnight,” said Reddin. “It’s not going to fix every problem in your life, but it’s sure going to help you forget how crappy it is for just a few minutes.”

Maybe that’s enough, at least for some. But as Reddin has taken his relief efforts directly to the homeless — whom he calls friends, not homeless — over the years, rolling The Van into woods and camps and hand-delivering food or clothes or offering a ride or a shower, it’s not uncommon for the first question to be about a job.

“I would say 50 percent of the people on the street, the first thing they ask is do you know where I can find some work,” Reddin said. “Now I can say, yeah, dude, I do. You want work? Come on.”

At least, it’ll get to that point. The Field, which is a cooperative effort between Reddin’s The One Inc. and The People Tree Inc., is still in the building phase right now, and missed out on much of the spring planting season. Long-term plans call for hoop houses and irrigation for year-round planting and harvest. Chicken coops will offer eggs and fertilizer. A tree on the edge of the property already has a bee colony living in it, and one project will be enticing them to move into a hive box that’s going to be built. Even a tree house will offer shelter and a wage for a night watchman. There’s room at the front of the property for produce stands and maybe a farmers market — or, if not on site, then in conjunction with one of the many operating in the metro. Workers can grow what they need and sell the rest. The larger fields can support the charity efforts. A seed bank could generate some extra income. Those other five acres, if they can be purchased, could support livestock. Reddin’s ideas go on and on.

“There’s no model that I know of that we’re trying to follow in what we do, so every day is a new day,” he said.

Though without a model, Reddin is not without expectations. He noted a news article he read about a one-acre urban farm in Illinois producing three million pounds of food in a year. The Field has twice that much land already.

“If we can pull six million pounds of food a year from this, there’s no reason we can’t whack into that nasty number we have here in Arkansas that says we’ve got more hungry kids here than in a lot of other places,” he said.

That it’s all possible is thanks to a handful of partners. Among them are Reddin’s co-organizers of The Field, a nonprofit called The People Tree, which has a hand in a number of community gardens in the area. They’re the ones who know how and what to plant, said Reddin.

“I have not a green thumb one,” he said.

The land itself, and its associated buildings, came by way of a friend who leased it for a business that didn’t work out. A 15,000-square-foot warehouse on site was slowly given over to storage for The One’s outreach and the tons of donated clothing it receives. Eventually, the building’s space was converted into useful rooms for laundry and a community room, but there’s also room for classes on growing and planting. A grant being pursued by People Tree would fund the installation of a commercial kitchen. Another will fund irrigation systems. Even though plans are in place to harvest rainwater and nearby standing water (it’s been tested and approved for watering), Reddin said the water bill is the most daunting obstacle right now.

But help may also come from unexpected quarters, too. Reddin said he’d been contacted out of the blue by producers representing P. Allen Smith, well known locally and nationally for his gardening programs. What may develop is yet to be determined.

“Our producers have inquired about this project, but we have not decided to participate,” wrote Mimi San Pedro, chief operating and marketing officer for P. Allen Smith, in an email. Still, the helping hands, wherever they come from, are most welcome, said Reddin.

“The only things I’m confidently able to do are see, drive and break things,” he said. “I broke a water hose the other day. How does that even happen?”

A tractor is the answer. That, and a failing on the “seeing” and “driving” part.

But despite the Green Acres-like moments, the hundreds of volunteer hours already put into The Field are going to pay off in a long-term goal that many people may not realize is a problem. Among the homeless and impoverished, where having food is a priority, the quality of the food is often overlooked. A study by Harvard Medical School in Boston and the University of Oxford released last month indicated that obesity is becoming the new face of malnutrition among the homeless, owing in part to reliance on cheap foods with higher fat and sugar content and lack of access to fresh, quality food. It predicts as much as a third of the U.S. homeless population is obese.

“This study highlights the importance of the quality, as well as the quantity, of food that the homeless are consuming,” study co-author Paul Montgomery, a professor of psycho-social interventions at the University of Oxford, said in a news release. “Interventions aimed at reducing obesity in the homeless, such as improving nutritional standards in shelters or educational efforts at clinical sites, should be considered in light of these findings.”

Reddin hopes to do just that by offering something other than leftovers and “bad food.” The answer, he said, is to bring the hungry directly to the source.

“I’d never realized, but it’s food. Just food. It’s not hard,” he said. “You put crap in the ground, and crap comes up. It just makes sense.”

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