BY WENDI REARDON PRICE
Clarkston News Staff Writer
The vote was unanimous from the Clarkston Community Schools Board of Education as they approved the renewal of the lease for Clarkston Family Farm for 10 years to the excitement of the crowded meeting room.
“We are absolutely thrilled,” said CFF Executive Director Chelsea O’Brien. “It was such an amazing night. There must have been easily over 100 people who were there to support the farm. Each of the board members had a personal antidote they shared they had at the farm, just how proud they are of the collaboration. It was such a positive night.”
Clarkston Family Farm’s current five-year lease ends soon, and the 10-year lease starts on May 1, 2022.
O’Brien said they felt it was important to have a 10-year lease. Not only for the trees they are planting, building soil and investing in the curriculum development but also for grant writing.
“Some of our larger grants want to have some sense of continuity and sustainability and commitment from our partners in education,” O’Brien said. “Having that 10-year lease was really important. I was delighted it was passed.”
Trustee Elizabeth Egan made a motion for the Board of Education to approve the lease extension for the Clarkston Family Farm as presented. Vice President Greg Need supported the motion before discussion began.
“Chelsea has done a great job,” said CCS Superintendent Shawn Ryan. “It is an opportunity for a vast amount of our elementary students to participate in a field trip in Clarkston to get a certain aspect of nature, growing things from the earth, have a well-rounded know-how to farm in sciences and see how it fits together right here in our community. There are a handful school districts that have something similar. The difference is it is 100 percent district in property they own and it’s run as a classroom extension.”
Need shared the moment O’Brien told him she had an idea just over five years ago.
“She came over and we sat across the kitchen table. She had this incredible enthusiastic and energetic proposal for the Clarkston Family Farm,” Need said. “It sounded great. This has far exceeded what I thought was going to happen.
“For those who don’t know, Clarkston Community Schools bought the property when we built Independence Elementary. The Baylis Farm was there. But it was a building we didn’t have a lot of use for. Like Ryan said, it’s a win-win partnership that not only gives us benefits, great community benefits there are numerous events. It has a huge education for all of our kids. My hat’s off to Chelsea and the whole farm operation. I support the motion.”
Treasurer Stefanie Crane met O’Brien working on a project for the school district.
“We were working on this bond campaign and once in a while she would throw out this idea she had,” Crane shared. “We were talking – where should we hold this opening party? She said, ‘Oh, I know where we can hold it. We have to.’ We went out to the Baylis Farm and at the time it was nothing. We threw up a tent. I remember setting up for the party and thinking I don’t know if this can happen. It is a huge undertaking. I would love to see it. It is everything I believe in and don’t have the energy for. I am so grateful you do. It gives our kids and community time to unplug, turn off their phones, dig in the dirt, learn things and be part of this community collaboration. Thank you. Thank you to everyone who came to support. It is one of the most important things we can support.”
Trustee Cheryl McGinnis shared what she likes about CFF is the opportunity for children to learn and touch and feel what science feels like on a daily basis.
“My grandson raises butterflies every summer. They are on my back porch. I have butterfly cages, about six of them. My grandchildren have learned a lot from the farm,” she said. “They enjoy going all the time. I can’t say enough for the energy and the vision you brought to this farm for the community. Thank you very much.”
Within the last five years, the Clarkston Family Farm has seen 20,000 kids.
“It is just incredible,” said O’Brien, adding it includes two years of COVID. “We have invested over $250,000 worth of capital improvements. We’ve given away over $15,000 of organic produce and sponsored over 300 families. There have been so many great things happen over a short amount of time. Now of course we have some significant buy in from the community and that partnership in education for the next ten years. It’s going to end up being fruitful for everybody. We have a lot of things coming up.”
She added every single day from now to fall, the schedule at Clarkston Family Farm is full with field trips, workshops, classes and camps.
“This farm is just a great example of who we are in Clarkston,” said Egan. “I just can’t imagine us not having this. It is a great legacy for the Baylis family, that has evolved into something so wonderful.”
To see upcoming events, camps, workshops and classes, please visit www.clarkstonfamilyfarm.com. You can also follow on Instagram and Facebook.
“Our farm team is both humbled and inspired by the outpouring of support for our mission,” said O’Brien. “We can’t wait for the next chapter of the Clarkston Family Farm and our renewed ability to serve kids of all ages and abilities regardless of income.”
PHOTO: Over 100 people showed support for the Clarkston Family Farm, including students and individuals from numerous organizations. Photo provided