Drug offenders once were sent to the “farm” in Arkansas. Now, in Hempstead County, they go to a “farm” willingly to learn how to grow their own vegetables.

Drug offenders once were sent to the “farm” in Arkansas. Now, in Hempstead County, they go to a “farm” willingly to learn how to grow their own vegetables. Teresa Pribiliski is a counselor for the Adult Probation Office in Southwest Arkansas. She recently began a program which has helped her Drug Court clients as well as the general population in this area understand organic farming and eating healthier. Some Drug Court clients are working out their jail time on a farm near Hope and it is teaching them the value of work and the joy of raising what they eat. If a client is not employed, as part of their terms in Drug Court, Pribiliski urges them to work in the garden to sell the produce at the area farmer's markets. But selling the produce is part of the bigger picture. The clients want to take a train trip to Dallas, and the garden is raising funds to be able to take that trip. Several are involved in the garden and selling at the markets, both in Hope, and in Historic Washington. “How did I ever get here singing the Green Acres theme song at least four times a week?” Pribiliski asks in a response to a Hope Star inquiry. “For a little background, I was born in Paris, France, lived in such rural areas as Columbus, Ohio; San Antonio, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Wichita Falls, Texas; and various parts of Europe. “That’s not a real resume builder for any type of gardening much less farming,” she said. “There are four parts to this story which at the time seemed so disconnected from each until they all came together. “The first part is about my wanting to impart some nutritional information to my clients – one in particular. The second part is an anonymous benefactor who has helped more than anyone knows. Then, there is my involvement with our local Hometown Health Coalition. The final piece is that the Amtrak is stopping in Hope,” Pribilski said. “My nutritional/farming adventure started approximately a year ago at the Health Expo in Hempstead County,” she said. “Now bear in mind, this is a Health Expo with more candy and sweets than a candy store. I, along with several of my clients, watched another Drug Court client feed his two year old a steady stream of sugar for at least two hours until the child literally crashed from the sugar rush. I did say something to the client who responded, 'Ah, she can take more than that.' “At that point, I knew that I needed to introduce the clients to the vegetable,” Pribiliski said. “My hope being this would eventually trickle down to the clients bringing home fresh vegetables to their family table. I got really busy juggling bowling balls, typical workday, and this was somehow put on the back burner. The client and the child became another piece of folklore within our program. This retelling of the tale did remind me that I really needed to get some type of nutritional program going. “ I spoke with our local County Extension Agent who was offering 10 cooking classes for $75 a person, which included a goody bag of kitchen items,” she said. “This would have to be something that we could accomplish with a mini grant; not really what I was looking for at the time. I really wanted to find something hands-on for the clients. During this entire interval, our benefactor kept coming in and out of our lives. Her vision is to open a transitional house for men. We had spoken on several occasions about this and it is definitely needed. During this time, I would meet regularly with our local Hometown Health Coalition who was considering opening a Farmers’ Market. “I went to several meetings with Jodi Coffee, coalition president and health guru, regarding opening a Farmers’ Market,” Pribiliski said. “From this, I became the vice president of the Hometown Health Coalition by default. All the while, the clients were talking about going on a train ride now that the Amtrak stops in Hope. The clients have become so used to me writing mini grants for their special projects, that they just assumed that I would write one for a train ride. “I declined their offer for me to pen another mini grant. I informed them they would have to come up with a way to earn the money for the train trip to Dallas. Then, it all came together like it was supposed to be that way the whole time. “Our benefactor and I decided it would be a great opportunity for the clients to do some community service at the farm as there are vegetables there. The first time I saw the 'garden,' I was a little taken back to say the least,” she said. “The 'garden' has one seven acre plot, five satellite gardens, a greenhouse, complete with air conditioning, and a 70x 30 foot hoop house sitting on 118 acres. “I also was suspicious as I had never seen a “garden” where tractors were involved,” Pribiliski notes. “Maybe in Arkansas, this is a 'garden' but in the rest of the world this is called a 'farm.' It became immediately clear that this city girl was about to have a learning experience,” she said. “In this rural area, my clients are used to farming, gardening, taking care of livestock, killing their dinner, etc. “Oh, did I mention it is an organic farm so there are no shortcuts ever,” Pribiliski added. “No fertilizer, no pesticides, no cheating.” At this point, Drug Court clients were already involved in the set up and clean up at the Hope Farmer's Market each week, she said. “What a great fit for the Farmers’ Market and a chance for them to raise some funds for their train ride,” Pribilski said. “The clients harvest what they want for themselves and the rest goes to the Farmers’ Market. Initially, the clients did not take anything home. Slowly with their exposure to the vegetable, they started to take home some of the produce. My plan had worked; objective achieved.” The clients work on a specific schedule, she said. “ We work the farm twice a week and have expanded to two Farmers’ Markets,” Pribiliski said. “This means, I am loading and unloading the old Farm to Market 2004 Dodge Stratus, a.k.a. ‘the Farm Car,’ at 5:30 a. m.f our mornings a week.” “ We have been approached by several restaurants, as well as another Farmers’ Market, to sell to them directly,” she said. “Maybe next year, because I just figured out what a butterbean is all about. I did not think we were ready for such a rapid expansion. Pribiliski has developed a Top 10 Things Learned About Raising Vegetables: “1. Squash is the Freddy Krueger of the vegetable world as it will never die and just keeps coming back. 2. A conversation with your row partner does not have to be about anything at all and still be about everything. 3. There is money in vegetables with us averaging about $150 a week for our program. Organic is where it’s at. 4. Just when you thought farming was over, it’s time to plant for next year. 5. An old Kubota tractor’s parts and labeling are in Japanese and I took German in high school. 6. One of my male clients knows all the words to every Brittany Spears song ever written and sings them with pride as evidently this is some type of chick magnet device. 7. My clients have become part of a bigger community and actually enjoy it. 8. One healthy decision, like eating vegetables, can change many things. One of my clients just finished his first 5K run with us being his sponsor. 9. If you work on a farm, you can cancel your gym membership. 10. Every community has programs/projects which will allow your program to gain sustainability instead of always having to hustle for funding.” Everyone seems to have benefited from the Vegetable Project, Pribiliski said. “One of the clients is moving to the farm to help manage it. Three clients are working very hard towards getting the farm USDA certified organic – the process has begun. The Farmers’ Market has consistent help with whatever arises and there are a lot of whatevers on any given day.” She is proud of the outcome. “The clients have been re-engaging with their community via a unique project,” she said. “With all the help, our benefactor is expanding the 'garden' plus adding free range chickens and hogs. She also has a fully equipped restaurant she no longer uses. The clients are beginning to visualize an organic restaurant. In the future, there seems to be the potential for client employment opportunities.” Pribiliski sees the program as a win for everyone. “No matter what does or does not happen, we achieved our goal of providing access to fresh reasonably priced produce to not only our clients and their families but also to the community,” Pribiliski said. “Any produce left over is donated to the Senior Citizen’s Center, Darlena Brown’s transitional living house, churches, and local food pantries.”