The Farley Center - Peace, Justice and Sustainability
The Farley Center - Peace, Justice and Sustainability
Joe Pedretti, Editor
“I never know quite where to start when it comes to talking about my parents (Gene and Linda Farley). They met while attending the University of Rochester Medical School and got married shortly after graduation. From there, they moved to Denver for a couple of years and practiced medicine in traditionally underserved areas. From Denver, they went to the Many Farms Navajo Nation and for two years lived there providing healthcare to the Navajo. My parents became very aware and cognizant of social justice issues through this early work,” said Shedd Farley, Farley Center Director and son of Gene and Linda.
“My parents were both family physicians. Dad developed one of the first three family medicine programs in the US while chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester. His methodology is still followed by family medicine programs even today. He was always a visionary. Mom was also a family doctor and while maybe not as outspoken as my Father, she was every bit the activist. My earliest memories were of when my grandparents came to babysit us four kids, while Mom and Dad went to Washington D.C. to march with Martin Luther King. They did things like that for our entire lives.”
“My Dad went from the University of Rochester to the University of Colorado Medical School, and then to the University of Wisconsin. They bought a place in Wisconsin, out near Verona. It was 43 acres at the time. They purchased it from a neighboring farmer who was selling off his non-farmable land in a tough economy. It worked out well for both of them since it was exactly what my parents were looking for. That was 1983, and they then built a house and kept right on going with their activism.”
“Dad was always with the University (WI, CU, University of Rochester) and Mom was always connected with the University, but Mom would always focus on areas in most need of medical care. In Rochester, that was the clinics in inner city and inner city high schools. In Denver she did the same thing. Once they moved to rural Wisconsin she sought out underserved communities. Rural areas are often as underserved as many of the poorest inner city neighborhoods,” noted Shedd.
“After purchasing the land and building the house it quickly became a meeting place for the various organizations they were active with. They came here for retreats and meetings, or just to enjoy the outdoors. We had 25 acres of woods that Dad cut paths into, so he and Mom, and then friends and neighbors, could enjoy walks in the woods. It was always a very active place, both in the house and out on the land. Being doctors not farmers, they also opened up tillable areas of land to local Hmong families to garden for themselves. A large number of Hmong and other immigrants have settled here in Wisconsin and many have farming skills but no resources to farm.
All the while they continued to actively support issues that they believed in. As physicians, that included affordable healthcare, but also environmental causes as well.”
“In 2009, at the age of 80, my Mother died and had wanted to donate her body to science but, as commonly happens, science didn’t want her and we didn’t have a plan B. So we sat down with Dad and we decided upon a green burial right here on their own property. We applied for and got permission to bury my Mom on the land with a few phone calls. Family and friends came out and we dug the grave, lowered my Mom into the grave, and covered the grave. For our family and friends it was an amazing way to say goodbye. The catch was that you could have one burial on a piece of rural property, but to have two burials you needed to be certified and licensed as a cemetery. Dad was never a small thinker, so he decided to certify all 25 non-tillable acres of the property as a cemetery. He immediately began developing and planning that, while simultaneously creating The Linda and Gene Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability.”
“We then became two organizations: The Farley Center and The Natural Paths Sanctuary and Green Cemetery. They are very tightly connected with the same ideology and mission goals, but separated legally. The Farley Center is a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit, and the cemetery is a 501(c)(13) nonprofit. It was about a two and a half year project, from conception to reality even with the help of a lot of other people who believed in what my parents believed in.”
“The concept of a green cemetery is easy. We don’t use any chemicals, plastics or extensive landscaping like a conventional cemetery does. All the paths that my Dad cut into the woods are now the basis for the cemetery. When we created the Farley Center, one of the first things we did was apply for a USDA grant for farm incubators. The concept was that we would bring in beginning farmers with a focus on immigrant and underresourced people who want to farm. This was building upon the work we had done with the Hmong farmers who were already here. We would bring in new farmers, train them in organic farming, and provide them the necessary resources: the land, the equipment, and the infrastructure including packing sheds, and everything else they needed. Because we had the grant, we charged nothing to the farmers. My Dad already had a lot of equipment and we built more infrastructure with the grant.”
“During this process of working with the USDA my Dad decided that he did not want to continue relying on grants. Grants take a huge amount of time to write and they never are for certain. With a grant you have to do what they tell you to do; not necessarily what helps your mission. They are always looking to fund things that are innovative and new, not what you know works. This is where the cemetery came in. The revenue we get from the cemetery is the primary funding that pays for everything else we do at the Farley Center. We do everything on a pretty small budget thanks to incredible staff and supporters.”
“Part of my Dad’s vision was not only that the Natural Path Sanctuary would pay for the farm and other Farley Center spending, but also be able to support other nonprofits that support underresourced communities in the Madison area. We don’t want to compete with them, but to support them through donations, partnerships and sponsorships- really any way we can. Everything that we do is funded by the cemetery,” emphasized Shedd.
“We now have eight professional farmers here. We have them from everywhere: Mexico, the US, Canada, Russia, Belarus, Tibet, India, Thailand, and China. We have immigrant farmers from all around the world which is pretty amazing,” emphasized Shedd.
“For the past four years we have been training Madison area residents about beekeeping. In Madison you can have bees in your backyard. Everybody is interested in them because they know bees are a threatened species and that bees are so important to our food, so we created a beekeeper incubator system. It started with two local beekeepers coming out to keep bees and then they came to us with the idea to train others. Our beekeepers mentor 8-12 new beekeepers each year. We also have orchards and perennial gardens like currants, elderberries, and asparagus.”
“Our role is providing land, equipment and infrastructure, technical assistance to both farmers continuing their career and those looking to start farming. As the farm has matured, we no longer consider ourselves to be just a farm incubator program. But a collaborative farm,” noted Seth Riley, Farley Center Farm Manager. “Many incubator farms have had similar experiences. ‘Graduation’ from our program, or purchasing their own farm or securing a long term lease is not in the cards for some farmers, for a multitude of reasons. The collaborative model has no graduation date or expectation of moving on. However some farmers do, we have had three farmers in the past two years acquire land and move entirely off of our farm. We always try our best to support them in achieving whatever aspirations they have for their farming career.”
“The farmers in our program come from varying backgrounds, immigrants who want to continue farming but arrive here without the resources or college students who want to start a career in the local food system, others are entrepreneurial, they want to make Value Added Products or run food carts and restaurants with the food they grow. We’re here providing a habitat for those dreams,” continued Seth.
“We have 16 acres of farmland at the Farley Center and this year have eight farm businesses comprising about 15 farmers. Many are partnerships. They sell at farmer’s markets, CSAs, and through their own a grower’s cooperative. Some also sell direct to chefs and grocery stores. Our farm is a patchwork of market gardens.The plots are anywhere from a ¼ acre to four acres, and all are certified organic through MOSA. We have many agro-forestry and permaculture plantings spread throughout the property as well. Not only are the farm staff here to provide assistance, but the farmers look after each other as well. When we are all working out in the fields side by side. it's a great communal atmosphere.”
“We also seek to connect private landowners with farmers who are interested in renting land. In this way we can help farmers that are seeking a foothold for their operation, but that don’t want or need the training and support our collaborative farm provides. These matches can be a win-win for the farmer and landowner, and we are glad to facilitate. In our area there has been increased focus on both community gardens and market farms. I have been happy to see more publicly owned farm land being turned over to community agriculture projects. I believe that not only does this agricultural model do good for the land and our health, but it can also greatly benefit our local economies and communities”
“There is a national organization of incubator farm and training programs, NIFTI, that helps coordinate programs. And we partner with other farms in our region, the closest one being the Sinsinawa Mound Collaborative Farm in Hazel Green, WI. And our longtime partner Big River Farms in Minnesota. Our future plans are to keep doing what we are doing and to keep helping our farmers reach their goals. We feel that we are successful if they are successful.”
“We need to find new ways to support farmers of color and those in underserved communities. Everything that we do as individuals has a tiny effect on the problem compared to what needs to be done. Sure, we can vote, but that is a small thing too. By supporting organizations committed to social justice that are trying to support underserved communities we can amplify our effect,” stressed Shedd.