The practice of farming — preparing the soil and planting some seeds and eventually harvesting a crop — dates back thousands of years and long has been romanticized. As Masanobu Fukuoka, a renowned Japanese farmer of the 20th century, once said: "The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings."It is highly unlikely that Fukuoka knew it at the time, but he very well could have been talking about Clark County's Heritage Farm when he spoke those words. Because there, in an area now surrounded by housing developments and thoroughfares, the land is being tilled and the people are being cultivated.
As described in a recent article by Columbian reporter Erik Hidle, the 79-acre complex in the Hazel Dell area holds promise both as an agricultural outlet and a rehabilitation center of sorts.
Take Dee Rogers, a Marine Corps veteran who was suffering from alcoholism, got connected with the farm through veterans' services, and discovered the healing power of working the land with your own two hands. She now is the program coordinator for Partners in Careers, which helps veterans learn job skills in agriculture while giving them a serene place to heal. "Some things that happen to you can make you feel dead inside," Rogers told The Columbian. "This is the opposite."
As farmer and novelist Wendell Berry once wrote: "The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life."
Did we mention that farming long has been romanticized?
Perhaps that is because farming provides a connection with humankind's agrarian roots, or perhaps it's just the nature of good, strenuous work outside. One way or another, working closely with the land can be therapeutic. All of which makes the efforts at Heritage Farm particularly synergistic: Long ago, the area served as Clark County's Poor Farm, the last refuge for the destitute. "It was for the sick and poor," Rogers said. "And it still is. I mean, we're the sick and the poor. In a way, all of us are sick and poor."
There's plenty of room for additional healing on the land that, for a time, served as a research facility for Washington State University but has since been returned to the county. Heritage Farm has 84 plots for community gardens, greenhouses filled with the work of master gardeners, and projects overseen by nonprofits and community organizations. Blair Wolfley, farm coordinator for the county, said more than half the grounds at Heritage Farm are still open space.
"We hear a lot today about grow local," Wolfley said. "I think the time is going to come when that is going to be even more important."
And that brings up perhaps the most important fact about Heritage Farm. Operations and maintenance cost the county about $150,000 each year; last year, an estimated $200,000 worth of produce was grown and donated to the needy through various organizations. For example, the Clark County Food Bank provided 33,000 pounds of carrots and 21,584 pounds of other vegetables to those in need.
That makes Heritage Farm a valuable resource for Clark County. It not only fulfills a romantic notion, it's also practical.