My brother Kenny uses turkeys as a mental health tool. Not only turkeys — also potatoes, pumpkins, onions, other vegetables, fruits, and most of all, DIRT. He also uses family, friends and lots of heart.
Kenny works with young people who are, in the social services parlance, “at risk.” They have had a variety of problems and difficulties in their lives. A blog post from Kenny describes how it works:
“DIRT GROUP gives participants an opportunity to experience social inclusion by being part of a safe, cohesive, structured group. DIRT GROUP participants feel pride and ownership in their collective efforts growing food together. DIRT GROUP participants make a difference in their communities by donating food they have grown to local food shelves and other such community organizations. … Growing food, increasing social competencies, experiencing social inclusion, developing a strong social identity, increasing self-esteem through accomplishment, creating investment in the community, learning to make a difference…all of these are tangible results of DIRT GROUP.”
On the last weekend in October, the DIRT GROUP hosted their families in a Harvest Banquet Celebration. I wasn’t there, but I heard from my sister Annette about the 26-pound turkey that she helped my mother roast for the occasion. She said there were quite a few other turkeys on the tables, along with pumpkin pies, potatoes, squash and other food that the DIRT GROUP kids had helped to raise. The tables were loaded with far more food than the celebrants could eat, and all of the leftovers went home with them in plastic bags.
In a blog post earlier in October, Kenny wrote:
Yesterday I took 51 turkeys to TFC Poultry in Ashby, Minnesota … The DIRT GROUP participants have been helping to raise them since May and now will each receive a turkey to give to their families for Thanksgiving !
They are also donating 10 turkeys to a community outreach program to help feed people in need–making a difference, paying it forward. They have donated nearly 1000 lbs of garden produce to local food shelves as well this season!! Talk about a ripple effect!
The picture here is of the turkeys yesterday. Today we processed pumpkins we grew for pumpkin pie and canned the last of the tomatoes as we prepare for our Harvest Banquet Celebration on October 27th–our youth are AMAZINGING!
So is Kenny. He weaves community, bringing together the kids and their families and our family, as they grow turkeys and vegetables on the farm where we grew up. The harvest festival was a multi-generational affair, and (again according to Annette), the kids were bursting with pride in their accomplishments.
Last year Kenny told me about the work he was doing with kids and farming. He described how they learned about delayed gratification and hard work and achievement by growing vegetables. He talked about the kids’ pride at harvesting their gardens and selling vegetables at the farmers’ market and then taking the unsold vegetables to the food shelf. One young man told him about going to the food shelf with his mother because they needed food to eat. Now, he said, he could do what he never believed possible — he could give back. Through the DIRT GROUP, he had become someone who could help others.