By Anya McCann
There have been some interesting, heated conversations on Nextdoor this month about those who live among us but are “between homes” or chronically homeless. Davis has many giving and kind spirited people. However many unfortunate souls slip through the cracks. We look past them. We don’t see them. And people’s generosity toward the less fortunate tends toward more palatable causes like youngsters or the elderly. There is a large group in between who get passed by.
Robyn Waxman has a mission to serve this particular group of underserved, hungry, and malnourished among us in Davis. Her mission is actualized at one of our community’s hidden gems: FARM Davis. She says “My goals with founding FARM Davis are to reclaim public and private space in a way that builds community. Together we can provide services for underserved and transient populations, and also rehabilitate toxic land.” On a budget of $10,000 per year FARM grows 5,000 lbs. of organic food which is served to over 600 individuals per year.
Robyn Waxman did not grow up farming. She was raised in Miami and attended graduate school at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. “That is where I began to consider Design as a form of cultural change” she says. She “pondered other methods of enticing people to engage in social action, especially with youth (specifically the Millennial generation). I witnessed young people feeling overwhelmed and apathetic. So I started a farm as an experiment.” She had no idea how to farm and says “No plant survived my touch prior to 2009”. But young people liked watching the process happen. Plant a seed, watch it grow, give it away. Waxman said “It was super tangible, with immediate results they could see. They loved the idea of growing as an alternative form of non-violent protest about things that frustrated them.”
FARM’s fruit and vegetables are planted, grown, and harvested by Waxman, one part time staff person, and an enthusiastic cadre of volunteers who enjoy working the land. Her brand of activism transpires at three locations, 808 K Street, 1730 Valdora Street, and at their home on County Road 95. Together they harvest what will be donated to those who have less and live in Davis. Volunteers learn some gardening skills, get to take a few items home, and become part of a community.
Waxman set a priority that “those who get the least attention from other funding deserve extra attention from FARM Davis”. Davis Community Meals (DCM) is the recipient of most of the food. DCM uses it to serve meals to those most in need three days per week at St. Martin’s church. In the summer, Waxman can deliver 100% of the produce needs for their Tuesday and Thursday dinners as well as Saturday lunch. “It is amazing,” she glows, “During the school year we supply about half of what they need. We donate 50-70 lbs. of food to DCM three times per week!” Plus she has a full time job.
FARM Davis also provides 50 lbs. of produce per week to Cesar Chavez Plaza Permanent Supportive Housing in the high season. Chavez is Yolo County’s first permanent supportive housing designed specifically for extremely low income and fixed income homeless individuals living with mental and/or physical disabilities, including chronic substance abuse. They fit Waxman’s priority model. “When I bring deliveries I really enjoy getting to know and working with the residents and staff there. The counselors use some of it to do cooking demonstrations about nutritious meals.
Another recipient that of FARM Davis’ fresh produce is one of the women’s shelters run by Empower Yolo, which gets a delivery on Thursdays. The shelter holds up to 15 guests at one time. Waxman hopes to add additional shelters to her list.
FARM has their own greenhouse where volunteers grow starts from seeds. Waxman is pleased that “This year we have enough plants and free land to increase the number of pounds of produce grown and serve more people.” With additional volunteers to harvest, they could produce enough to supply an additional Empower Yolo women’s shelter location this summer.
The organization is slated to receive a Community Block Grant from the City of Davis (if federal funding is not cut) which will enable them to have more hours for their employee and facilitate increasing their yield.
FARM also has a mission of education to get local children exposed to where and how their fresh food grows. Waxman plays hostess to 2nd graders on Davis Farm to School tours. “To make it even more fun we have had a variety of farm animals for children to meet including goats, sheep, horses, and chickens. Those are magic for 2nd graders!” FARM also works with 5th graders’ running a Grow and Give program located at the cooperative partnership Eleanor Roosevelt Circle (ERC), a home for seniors, age 62 and above. Children cook meals for the seniors out of produce they grow themselves with FARM. Alex, a fifth grader, Birch Lane Elementary said “The best part of all was making the food and preparing it to make the senior citizens happy.” Another fifth grader named Bay (also from Birch Lane) exclaimed “My favorite part of the field trip was getting to meet the seniors and helping them with new things. I was also having a fun time when we cooked the food. Getting to serve it to the seniors was very exciting because you got to meet new people and be polite and kind to them.”
Waxman runs several other programs for different tastes including a fiber and dye garden (and occasional workshop). There are two fruit orchards, a food forest, and a vineyard of table grapes to supplement traditional row crops.
On June 3 Watermelon Music is hosting A Night with Dave Nachmanoff at their new concert space, The Melon Ball, in its new location at 1970 Lake Boulevard (at West Covell).
This will be FARM’s very first fundraiser. Waxman said she feels honored that Davis’ own David Nachmanoff and Vera Sandronsky (performer and event organizer) chose her project to receive the funds raised. Admission to this concert by includes a farm tour at 5:00 PM to see for yourself what this kind of activism looks like. After exploring the orchard and fields nearby on County Road 95, there will be food, drink and music at the store location.
Volunteers are needed immediately—More Hands = More Food
FARM is in need of funding, but also in need of volunteers. Students are very generous with their time, but many are gone for the summer when there is 3-4 times more food to harvest. Waxman’s group has much more food growing in their three locations than her current flow of volunteers can harvest and distribute. Volunteers plant and harvest.
Planting: Volunteers are needed to create a greenhouse full of new starts. Planting seeds into small containers to start their lives is not only critical, it is also calming and rewarding. This season FARM has planted 30% more than usual and will need help to harvest 200-300 lb. per week this summer.
Harvesting: starting in June, assistance is needed four days per week on the days that they donate the food (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday). Picking on delivery day is mission-critical. FARM’s goal is to bring the freshly picked food as quickly as possible to people who never get fresh produce. This sets FARM apart from the Yolo Food Bank and pantries and shelters. FARM recipients get produce sooner, indeed, fresher than the grocery store. And she lets recipients know this food is grown especially for them. FARM seeks to make up for what is missing in their diet and missing in life in general because they should have the feeling of being considered first for something.
How to help: Every other Saturday there is a work party and this is the day they have the greatest need. To get on work party list firstname.lastname@example.org
Waxman says “We have planned work days we send to our email list. We are not a hierarchical organization: everyone has an equal say in what and how we will plant and grow food. Feel free to join us whenever you can– no firm commitment ever required.”