“We formed to help people who are transitioning out of prison have a place to belong; to try to create a sense of community.” -Sherry Edmunds-Flett, Executive Director, L.I.N.C. Society
It was five years ago when Glen Flett and Sherry Edmunds-Flett first laid their eyes on a Mission community garden with a big vision in mind. Today, their vision manifests as Emma’s Acres – an 8-acre farm in the Fraser Valley’s District of Mission. Emma’s Acres integrates small-scale sustainable family farming with social enterprise and community development.
The story begins with Sherry’s participation in the Mission Food Access Network (M.F.A.N.); a community network convening key partners around food security throughout Mission. She had heard about the underutilized community garden through M.F.A.N. Sherry’s husband Glen, L.I.N.C’s founder and project manager of L.I.N.C.’s garden and farm programs worked hard to restore the garden with prisoners who came out on community service passes from nearby federal institutions. In that first year, L.I.N.C. was able to sell $800 worth of produce grown from their two plots that they contributed to a survivor’s homicide support group.
Sherry and Glen connected with Mission’s now former mayor, Ted Adlem, at a National Victims of Crime awareness week forum that they organized. Buoyed by their first successful social enterprise experiment, they were seeking more land to farm. The District of Mission got on board and offered to lease to them eight acres of wooded land that was slated for future expansion of the cemetery located across the road.
Established on repurposed land not traditionally slated for agriculture, Emma’s Acres is a thriving sustainable agriculture system that supports local food security in the District of Mission by selling produce at farmer’s markets in Mission, to local non-profits, stores and restaurants as well as donating produce to local food programs and the food bank. Their social enterprise model is succeeding; only a few years after the initial $800 in annual sales, Emma’s Acres made $25,000 from food sales in 2015. There are hopes to expand the farm in the near future by adding a second greenhouse, beehives, chickens, and goats.
What is particularly special about Emma’s Acres is the role farming and food security are being used to engage with a unique community: people impacted by the criminal justice system. The farm focuses on providing people transitioning out of prison with an opportunity to reintegrate into the community while gaining employable skills. Emma’s Acres also engages victims as a way of supporting relationships between offenders and victims towards restorative justice: an approach that focuses on the needs of victims and communities emphasizing offender accountability, healing, and repairing harm. (More on restorative justice efforts in BC.)
When it comes to managing the farm, project manager Glenn, an ex-offender himself, is a self-described “collaborative boss” explaining his process of supporting decision-making through conversation with his farmworkers: “We sit down and talk about our ideas and collaborate with each other and I think that’s one of the reasons it works for the prisoners. They get a really good sense of ownership and feel like they’re a part of it. It’s not just like they’re being ordered to do this or that. We empower people to make their own choices and we’re not dictating to them and that helps.”
Glen has dreams of growing the social enterprise even larger and using profits to eventually build a healing centre for survivors of serious crime.
Bountiful crops at Emma’s Acres
Glen with MLA Simon Gibson and Emma’s Acres staff Ray King Sr.
Key outcomes and impact
Producing and providing food in a community with barriers to food access
Strong and supportive relationship between Emma’s Acres and the District of Mission, and broad community support from community members, local businesses, and correctional facilities
Using farming to promote self-esteem and facilitate reintegration for people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system
Repurposing land not traditionally thought of as agricultural for small-scale sustainable farming and food security
Agriculture and food related initiatives present valuable opportunities for reaching and engaging community members who could otherwise be isolated, in this case, people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system
Innovative farming initiatives can support food security while contributing to community development
Participating in local food security networks can open the door to unexpected connections and opportunities
(This article is written by Glen Flett and is reprinted from the Restorative Justice Week 2014 ‘Inspiring Innovation’ Basic Resource Kit.)
In the winter of 1982, a tremendous life changing event occurred that made me look at the world in a brand new way. I had accepted Jesus Christ as my savior while serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison for the most horrendous crime a person can commit – murder. Five years prior, while robbing a Brinks truck, I shot and killed an innocent man named Theodore Van Sluytman. From the age of 10 until that terrible moment, I had lived a selfish and hedonistic existence. When I accepted God into my life, it all became so painfully clear. I would often find myself on my knees for hours, confessing the grim truth of all that I had done.
I was brought up in a good family. My parents tried so hard to change the path I had chosen. They introduced me to my grandfather’s dear friend, Dr. Reverend Emma Smiley, and also the head of the Truth Center in Victoria. Initially, I attended that church against my will. Eventually, I grew to love Rev. Smiley, mainly because she loved me. My mom said that Rev. Smiley saw life through rose colored glasses. After my conversion experience in prison, I began to live the teachings of Christ as closely as I could. I had a great mentor, Ted Cryer, who visited me on a regular basis and brought me books. I wrote to Rev. Smiley about my change. She was so overjoyed and told me to live my life in a loving way. She said that prayers come true. I thought: “Oh those rose colored glasses are too optimistic!”, but I prayed every day.
I started to really care about those around me, both inmates and guards. One year after giving my life to God, I had the greatest test of faith I have ever been given. One night, I called home and my dad answered the phone. He told me that someone had broken into Reverend Smiley’s home and beat her to death. I went numb. I couldn’t grasp what he was saying. I felt sick and overwhelmed. All I could think was: “How could God let that happen? Who could do such an evil thing to someone so good?”.
About nine months after her murder, the young man who killed Rev. Smiley was convicted and sent to the same penitentiary in which I was incarcerated. Revenge would have been so easy. However, I knew Rev. Smiley would not want that. She had always said that we needed to forgive and let go. I started to have a relationship with this individual. Years later, I attended his parole hearing where he was released. Through it all, I felt the Reverend smiling down on me. She loved me and everyone she met, even her killer. She was truly a Christian!
When I was released from prison in 1992, I founded a support group for inmates and their families called L.I.N.C. (Long-term Inmates Now in the Community). In 1995, while at a forum, I met Keith Kemp and Rosalie Turcotte who had both tragically lost children to homicide. L.I.N.C.’s journey to try to help those who have been harmed started after they befriended me. Since that day, I have been so privileged to meet people who have accepted me. Grace is amazing! Another close friend of mine, Marjean Fichtenberg, who also lost her son to murder, made it possible for me to meet with Margot Van Sluytman, one of my victim’s daughters, in 2007. She later became one of my best friends.
Since 1995, my wife and I searched for a way to give back to the victim community. Marjean spoke to me about the idea of a healing center for survivors. We had been looking into social enterprise businesses for some time when an opportunity arose to manage a community garden in Mission, B.C. Some of the vegetables grown were sold at the local farmer’s market to help fund a support group for victims of homicide. We learnt quickly that you have to grow a lot of squash to make money.
For that reason, we leased an eight acre parcel of land from the District of Mission and thus Emma’s Acres, named in honor of Reverend Emma Smiley, was born.
Emma’s Acres is truly incredible. Today, inmates who come out on escorted passes and work release, join us and work to make the dream come true. The first person hired for the project was Ray King Sr. whose son was murdered by a high profile offender. He too has become my friend. It feels good to hear him talk about our project and how it has brought light back into his life after living in hell for so long. I am so thankful that I listened to Reverend Emma Smiley.
My vision of restorative justice puts victims and survivors first. The people who work at Emma’s Acres can’t change what they did, but they can acknowledge their responsibility and do all they can to make a difference now. This is real restorative justice because the community and offenders work together to help bring healing and peace to victims. The project is succeeding because people from different walks of life are assisting. It’s an example, in action, of what Rev. Smiley used to say: “Live Life Lovingly!”.
A fundraising campaign is underway to bring water to Emma’s Acres in Mission, BC.
Emma’s Acres is an agricultural social enterprise business, managed by the L.I.N.C. Society, that employs victims/survivors, ex-offenders and offenders. They produce vegetables, herbs and fruits grown naturally without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers on an 8-acre property leased to us by the District of Mission.
Produce from Emma’s Acres is sold at the Mission City Farmers’ Market, and there are plans in the works to sell the produce to local restaurants and stores. Some of the produce is also donated to local non profits in the District of Mission including the food banks and the community kitchen.
The proceeds raised from Emma’s Acres funds the work of the L.I.N.C. Society in the community and, in particular, its work with survivors of serious crime.
L.I.N.C. has set the fundraising deadline for mid July 2014, for raising the $16,000 needed to bring water from across the road to 5 acres of the Emma’s Acres site. The funds will cover the costs of:
Bringing water from across the road
Installing a drip irrigation system in the fields
Installing a drip irrigation system in the greenhouse
“We really have grown this all from the ground up—we have had a lot of support from people in the community, and we could not have done this without Vancity. They made our dream, which started in 2006, a real thing.” – Glen Flett, co-founder, Emma’s Acres.
Glen and his wife Sherry Edmunds-Flett started L.I.N.C. (Long-term Inmates Now in the Community) in 1992 as a way of helping inmates re-enter society. Last year, they received a Vancity enviroFund grant™ grant of $75,000 to create an urban agriculture social enterprise called Emma’s Acres in Mission, BC.
Emma’s Acres provides long-term and chronic offenders with the opportunity to give back in meaningful ways. Inmates develop farming skills and become part of a community, and all profits go toward supporting victims in the area.
With the help of supporters like Vancity, Emma’s Acres has 24 inmates coming every week to tend the gardens. The vegetables, fruit and herbs are currently available at the Mission City Farmers’ market, and will be available in the future at nearby restaurants and stores. Produce is also being donated to local food banks and community kitchens.
Produce is also being donated to local food banks and community kitchens.