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Digging in

The young women of On Track’s Moms Program will pull out their shovels and hoes Saturday and start creating a vegetable garden, fruit orchard and chicken coop to feed them and their children — and to structure bonding time among the moms and their kids.

The garden project, located on the agency's 5-acre farm on Delta Waters Road in Medford, will provide work and organic food for 29 residents and their 31 children, plus 35 women who are now outpatients.

It will teach them the basic skills of gardening — planting, soil-building weeding, mulching, composting, irrigation — and will teach everyone that making food can be a healthy devotion, says program director Amanda Krug-Deuel.

“It’s a kickoff party with our community partners and clients,” she says of Saturday's event. “We will harvest food later this summer and fall and cook it in a therapeutic manner, getting our hands dirty and understanding where food comes from.”

The garden is part of efforts to keep the women clean and sober, literally on track so they won’t have their children put in foster care, says Krug-Deuel.

Client Ariel Torres and others are clearly pumped about turning over the dirt in a large grassy field with help from partners, the Family Nurturing Center and La Clinica Birch Grove Clinic. Dr. Kerri Hecox of La Clinica, an experienced gardener, will direct efforts.

The project was made possible by a $20,000 state grant executed by Doug Lofdahl of Family Nurturing Center. Bales of hay have already been dropped off for mulch.

“I’m so excited. I can’t wait for the organic food to be growing on our land — and doing it ourselves and feeding our own children, not eating the processed stuff,” says Torres. “It’s giving back to Mother Nature. It’s going to be so beautiful and good for our torn-down lives and self-esteem, a great chance to rebuild.”

Client Janet Pearce said, “I believe it’s going to give us the chance to bond with the children and build social skills and take us back to older days when people used their hands.”

The garden is not only a practical source of food and constructive labor, says Krug-Deuel, it also will help repair the lack of bonding and attachment the women feel because of substance abuse.

“It will be great quality time with kids,” says client Anna Connor, “and getting a sober extracurricular activity that teaches us new tools as we get clean and sober.”

The women intentionally plan to till the soil with hand tools, not rototillers, says Krug-Deuel, so they get more of the feel of how the land provides and how labor brings its rewards.

The Moms Program, she says, welcomes gifts of food. It has $45,000 in pending grant requests and will apply for another $50,000 soon. It received $15,000 in-kind from Family Nurturing Center and On Track, $4,000 from United Way, and $15,000 a year for the last three years from Leightman Maxey Foundation for the farm and food group.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Ariel Torres, 23, left, Janet Pearce, 28, and others from On Track's Moms Program are preparing to start gardening on the agency's 5-acre farm off Delta Waters Road. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell