Charity farm vies for grant in competition


Community Gardens coordinator Kathryn Olsen examines kale plants Oct. 5 at a gardens event. Dan Kenney, DeKalb County Community Gardens executive director, is working with Kirkland farmer Gene Heinsohn to win a grant that would bring $5,000 to the Garden Paths of Hope project. The project seeks ot create a farm where people with disabilities or the homeless can work to develop life skills they can’t learn elsewhere.

By Harry Myers

When Kirkland farmer Gene Heinsohn’s newborn son, Scottie, was diagnosed with Down syndrome, Heinsohn thought about what could be done to help his child.

Realizing what he wanted for Scottie was not a school program but a community of understanding and similar people, Heinsohn set out to make his dream a reality. Heinsohn is seeking a $5,000 grant for the project, called Garden Paths of Hope, from a YMCA competition, My Fresh Page Project. The grant would be used to fund a second greenhouse.

“It festered and festered in my brain; I realized a while ago that Scott would rather have friends, and so I got the idea for a farm where more like him could work,” Heinsohn said.

After years of attempts to create a community friendly to people with disabilities, Heinsohn came into contact with Dan Kenney, executive director of DeKalb County Community Gardens. Combining Kenney’s ideas and Heinsohn’s dream, the Garden Paths of Hope project came to be planned as a farm run by and for people with any form of disability and those who are homeless. The farm will teach life skills the participants can’t develop elsewhere.

To help fund the project, Kenney and Heinsohn entered it into the My Fresh Page Project. People vote on causes from across the United States, all vying for the grant money that will be awarded to the cause voted to be the most beneficial to the community. The winners will be the 10 causes that get the most votes, with $5,000 awarded to the first three, $1,000 to the next three and $500 to the last four. Voting goes through Oct. 24.

“My goal is that it’s a working farm that people can come and learn at, that sustains itself,” Heinsohn said. “Not for profit, no charity. We’ll invite people to work and learn.”

Heinsohn volunteered his farm, Walnut Grove Farm, 33600 Pearl Street in Kirkland, to be the location of this project. Only one greenhouse has been established on Heinsohn’s property, but there are plans to install a second greenhouse and more.

If Garden Paths of Hope’s organizers win the YMCA’s competition, they’d be able to begin moving and setting up their second greenhouse and have it ready to begin production by the spring, Kenney said.

While the project is working off of charitable donations, grants and the possible bonus from YMCA, the plan for the future involves self sufficiency, where the farm will not only be able to pay its workers but be able to grow, Kenney said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of help. We’re expecting a lot more,” Kenney said.

One final hope Heinsohn holds is that students will be able to intern on the farm. They would work with the employees, learning in fields such as agriculture and business, all the while promoting a stronger, human-friendly message.

“I’d love for [students] to come here and learn from each other,” Heinsohn said.