October 28, 2013

Monmouth couple sows seeds of transformation for homeless women

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

MONMOUTH — The idea of combining farming with program for homeless women is all about sowing seeds for David and Sarah Wolfe. And the sweetest fruit will not bloom on the vine, but in the transformed lives of the women who learn how to stand on their own two feet.

click image to enlarge

David Wolfe hopes to turn Phoenix Farm in Monmouth into a skills development program for homeless women, he said Sunday at the organic farm.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

“The healing value of working the land, and seeing it produce an abundance, and seeing it provide for you, the symbiosis of that is beautiful,” David Wolfe said.

The Wolfes have spent the past several months making plans to convert Phoenix Farm on South Monmouth Road into transitional housing for homeless women. The women — six of whom would live at the farm with the Wolfes and their two children, ages 2 and 4, and four from off site — would be involved in every aspect of running a vegetable farm. Each woman would stay for about 12 months during which time they would develop a variety of skills, from growing food to accounting and running a business, David Wolfe said.

“The skills they learn on the farm can transfer easily to any future job,” Wolfe said.

The project combines several passions shared by the Wolfes, most notably the desire to help people while raising their children in a rural agricultural setting. Wolfe, 30, grew up in eastern Massachusetts and graduated in 2006 with a business management degree from Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. Wolfe spent four years working on the farm, handling just about every end of the business, and taught workforce training outside of Boston. He currently works for a low income housing progam in the Lewiston area.

Sarah Wolfe, 29, worked to find housing for homeless people in Boston. She now stays home with the couple’s children.

“We knew pretty early on that we wanted to use farming for good,” David Wolfe said.

The couple’s broad idea of using farming to help people came into focus after the family moved to Auburn in May  2012 and met Bill Legere. Legere, who heads the Auburn-based Foundation for Hope & Grace, was looking for someone to carry out an idea he had to open a farm-based program geared to helping the homeless.

“It kind of put meet on the bones of the hope my wife and I had without even knowing it,” Wolfe said. “This is (Legere’s) idea. I’m just the farmer.”

Armed with an idea, and the backing of the respected Foundation for Hope & Grace, the couple went in search of a farm. That search led them to Nancy Chandler’s Phoenix Farm. The Wolfes negotiated a lease of the 50-acre farm that would leave open the option for purchase. The Wolfes hope to move in at the end of the year.

The Wolfes are working with the town to secure a $100,000 community development block grant: workforce development grant. The grant would cover the first year. The second year of operation will require additional fundraising. David Wolfe expects the farm to be self-sustaining by the third year.

“I have to see it as a startup,” he said. “I have to see it from an entrepreneurial standpoint. I have nothing to fall back on.”

Town selectmen last week hosted a public hearing to air the grant request. Town Manager Curtis Lunt said if the Maine Office of Community Development approves the grant proposal there will be another public hearing and referendum vote sometime in the early part of the winter.

“It’s competitive, but I’m optimistic,” Lunt said.

Wolfe and Lunt said there were overall support for the program expressed during the public hearing.

“A lot of people think it’s a really good idea,” Wolfe said.

(Continued on page 2)

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