Friday, March 20, 2009

Hip, hip, hooray - Woodwynn Farm's going forward

Hey, could this be hope I’m feeling? It’s such a hard thing to hold onto amid the gloom and doom of the day, but this past week I started to notice a distinct cheery bonhomie creeping over me. I’d almost forgotten how good it feels.
It started last Wednesday, after I toured Vancouver’s terrific new emergency housing for people living hard on the street - the so-called “hardest to house. “ It’s a label that calls up scary images of people beyond help, but the Vancouver experience - set in motion by a committed city council focused on homelessness - is rapidly disproving the myths of that (more on that in a future column).
And then this week, it was over the moon for me when I got the news that Richard LeBlanc and his team were successful in their bid to buy Woodwynn Farm.
Chalk one up to instant karma, which LeBlanc has surely earned after a particularly hard year of trying to acquire Woodwynn in the face of a fierce NIMBY campaign fought by neighbouring landowners. His work heading up the highly successful Youth Employment Society a few years back stands as proof of his passion and competence, so it’s a major win for him and our community that he has been successful.
LeBlanc’s plan for Woodwynn is to have it up and running by this fall as a therapeutic community for people looking for a new lease on life and a way out of pain, addiction and homelessness. The original plan was that people would live on the farm, but that got nixed last year when Central Saanich council ruled it out before LeBlanc could even ask them about it.
So now, people will work at Woodwynn but live elsewhere (location still to be worked out). There will be 24 people to start, and as many as 96 as the program builds over the next three years. They’ll be doing what you’d expect people on a working farm to be doing: tending the land and the animals; growing food; learning new skills; launching into the world to start their own businesses. Along the way, they’ll rebuild their lives.
It stuns me that anyone can find that controversial.
The group that opposed LeBlanc - Farmlands Trust - positioned itself as a preservationist group that simply wanted to ensure Woodwynn remain a farm in perpetuity. That’s the reason on the record for why the Trust tried to buy the 68-hectare property out from under LeBlanc’s group last spring, and has fought him like the encroaching enemy ever since.
I guess we all tell ourselves stories to help us to sleep at night. No doubt some members of the Trust do want to preserve farmland, but the group didn’t even try to keep a lid on the members whose main agenda was to shut out LeBlanc and his “homeless farm.” Their true colours leaked out often enough that I came to form a somewhat different picture of the Trust’s efforts.
Seeing as LeBlanc only wanted the same thing that Farmlands Trust ostensibly wanted - to maintain Woodwynn as a working farm - surely at least a few members of the Trust are celebrating with him this week in the achievement of their common goal.
Hopefully the Trust reflects on what it means to have found common purpose with those whose uninformed, ugly opinions surfaced over the past year with each flurry of media interest in LeBlanc’s project. How did a farmland-preservation group end up so far from home?
Hopefully the members of the Trust are gracious in defeat, and just get out of the way so LeBlanc can try to do a good thing. I think the disbelievers will be pleasantly surprised at how much a person in tough circumstance looks just like anybody else once they’ve got a place to go, a community to help them get there, and a fresh set of clothes.
LeBlanc and his organization, the Create Homefulness Society, have a tough road to travel still, of course. The purchase of Woodwynn happened because a few generous people in our region anted up for his cause. They’ll want to be paid back sometime in the next five years.
Then there’s all the work that will have to be done to raise money for operations. That’s never easy. For better or worse, the society can also expect to be thrust into the ongoing debate around homelessness - and on occasion, find itself the lightning rod for our fears and misconceptions.
But that’s for later. For now, let’s just celebrate that the good guys won.

1 comment:

robertrandall said...

Great news.