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St. Joseph farm introduces at-risk youth to farming | News

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St. Joseph farm introduces at-risk youth to farming

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark.(KTHV) - A historic orphanage in North Little Rock is returning to its roots.

The St. Joseph Orphanage has been mostly vacant for more than a decade.

Now, the 63 acre historic site is being transformed back to a farm helping youth and the community.

At St. Joseph Farm and Education Center in North Little Rock there's a revitalization in progress. Not just to the land, but for dozens of at-risk youth.

Austin Garza of Pocahontas is part of the National Guard's Youth Challenge Program and he says he's learning from the land.

"Before I came here I always did stuff for myself. Like working together is very good and helping the environment is great."

With help from farmer Jody Hardin, founder of the St. Joseph Farm and Education Center, Hardin says the youth are learning the basics of farming.

"How to plant a fruit tree, how to plant a berry tree and how to maintain them. How to propagate them. How to harvest these plants."

Cadets are laying the foundation for a food forrest at the farm.

The forrest will serve as a teaching tool in the future.

Hardin says allowing visitors to eat their way through it and help provide food for those in need.

"A farm really fits into their whole concept at youth challenge. A place to do community service, to build something that gives back to the community."

That's exactly Hardin's mission since taking over the orphanage last year.

Hardin says it's been amazing to see the young cadets blossom from this experience.

"They like to do heavy lifting and be out in the woods and the forest. Everything about it fits the 16 to 18-year olds who are the youth challenge program."

Garza says he's watched the project transform.

"From the first day that we came here, things were all scattered out, but when people are helping bring it together it looks great. I can't imagine what this place is going to look like in the next 5 years."

The food forest will take 3 to 5 years to mature. By then the cadets will be on to new ventures, but Hardin hopes the seeds he's planting continue to grow.

"They will have something to come back to and to teach them about long-term investments and what legacies really mean to pass on this great bounty of crops that they're planting to the hungry and to the needy."

Beginning this summer the former orphanage will also be used as an education center teaching the community and farmers about sustainable organic farming.