By Ruth D. Anderson, PhD (Originally Published in The Greensboro News & Record, 2010)
Buck Cochran, Executive Director of nonprofit Peacehaven Community Farm, says that he is interested not only in growing tomatoes but also in growing relationships. In fact, Buck suggests that both of the goals of Peacehaven—the farming and the relating—are inextricably linked.
Several years ago, Buck, a Presbyterian pastor, visited a L’Arche Community in Washington, DC while on sabbatical. Buck was curious about this model of community where people live and work alongside developmentally handicapped adults. He and his cofounders, Tim and Susan Elliott, wanted to create a similar place “back home” in Guilford County and found the perfect rural setting in an 89-acre property just outside Burlington on Highway 61, overlooking Lake McIntosh.
Then Buck met Ben Wright, a horticulture major at North Carolina State University, at a community gardening workshop. Buck asked Ben and his friend Chas Edens to create a design for Peacehaven for their senior project—including space for livestock grazing, a community garden, and housing for intellectually and physically disabled residents. This plan for a working farm put the theories they had learned at NCSU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences into practice, and upon their graduation in 2009 Cochran invited the young men to come live on the farm and make their collective dream for Peacehaven into reality.
The mission of Peacehaven Community Farm states that everyone is valued and can contribute. It emphasizes that each individual can become the person they were meant to be when in a nurturing, supportive environment, ideas that Will Moore has learned firsthand.
Will has Autism Spectrum Disorder, the type which is commonly known as Asperger’s Syndrome. He is challenged with social situations, non verbal communication, and restricted interests. Also he has behavior issues from time to time that can be difficult to manage. Will wants to be around people his own age and has felt isolated now that the structure of high school and all of its activities are gone.
Liz Schumacher, Will’s Mom explains further: “Peacehaven Farm has become a place where Will can find acceptance and support and friendship from people of all ages. A teenage girl from one of the nearby farm families heard that Will had a hard time at the farm on Thursday last week, and she painted Will a picture and brought it to him Saturday. He was thrilled. We had a birthday cake a week ago and celebrated his birthday at the shared lunch following the workday. Will invited a couple of the young adult farm managers and their girlfriends for pizza and cosmic bowling this past Saturday night. I think Will is really beginning to look at Peacehaven Farm as his extended family.”
Buck adds: “We really depend on Will. He has been a tremendous help to us out here.” Will agrees: “I have lots of friends here. What I do is important.” On a recent visit he led the way to the vegetable garden and picked a ripe yellow squash, part of a crop now ready for harvest that he helped to plant, weed, and grow.
On Peacehaven’s Saturday work days, which take place from nine a.m. to noon and are open to all, volunteers “circle up” in the morning and learn about the day’s work, which could range from harvesting vegetables in the garden to completing a building project. Afterward everyone shares a meal. Buck explains that these work days “allow people to come together and simply work side by side weeding, planting, harvesting or working with the animals. Relationships develop and grow just like the plants.” And the plants in turn are given back to the community—those who work on the farm are encouraged to take what they need home, and Buck explains that in the future any surplus will be given to food pantries to meet rural hunger needs.
The next phase of development at Peacehaven Farm will be the construction in the next one to two years of housing for adults, like Will, with disabilities. The homes, at 5,000 square feet, will house between six and eight residents apiece with front porches and communal dining spaces in order to encourage close relationships. Buck also hopes to build a worship center on the property that could double as a local meeting space for groups like the Boy Scouts.
Already a strong community has developed at Peacehaven, which is still in its first year of operation. Ben and Chas have reached out to their rural neighbors, including an Amish family whose farming expertise is much appreciated and a church down the road whose pastor sums up the relationship between his parish and Peacehaven Farm: “we need each other.” This exchange is evident in the growing relationships and ripe tomatoes that Peacehaven is harvesting in its very first season.
Guilford Nonprofit Consortium: A collaboration of organizations in Guilford County that fosters mutual assistance and support within the nonprofit community to create more efficiency and effectiveness. www.guilfordnonprofits.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
Peacehaven Farm: Volunteer on the farm (all ages or families welcome) Saturdays 9AM until Noon and Thursdays from 5-7PM. Visit the website for details and to sign up for notices of work days. www.peacehavenfarm.org or contact Buck Cochran at email@example.com