Article source: BC food security gateway

“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

Glen Flett, project manager, with a fresh harvest from Emma's Acres

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

Beautiful Crops at Emma's Acres 

Glen with MLA Simon Gibson and Emma’s Acres staff Ray King Sr.

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

 Lessons Learned

  • 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

 Key Partners and Funders

For more information about this initiative: 

This article first published on BC Food Security Gateway 

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