Tanya Jisa , founder and executive director of the farm, said they seek to involve the local community as much as possible in the planning and development of the farm. She said she’s optimistic an ongoing conversation will change community members’ minds.
“We understand the community’s concerns about certain women who may have a certain criminal history, but there will be guidelines and structure that will keep these women from being disruptive,” Jisa said.
She said they will welcome women who are committed to being successful and will find alternative places for those who are disruptive.
Jisa also said the farm wouldn’t turn away women with a history of violence or sex offenses because the program’s mission includes open-mindedness.
Newell said her family has lived in the area since the 1700s, and neighbors are so close no one needs to lock their doors. She said she fears Benevolence Farm would change that.
“We’re way far away from the sheriff’s department — there’s no fences, no armed guards,” she said.
Newell said she is concerned the farm could attract people associated with the women’s past crimes.
But Jisa said the farm will be staffed 24 hours a day, and those kinds of visitors will not be tolerated.
“It’s not like (the women) just committed these crimes,” she said. “They’ve been away from these communities for years. They’ve likely broken a lot of these ties. It’s highly unlikely that they’re going to re-introduce themselves to those communities because they have help — the reason people return to old playgrounds and old playmates is when they don’t have help.”
Nicole Quallen , chairwoman of Benevolence Farm’s board, said safety is a major priority for the organization.
“We can’t operate if we aren’t safe,” she said. “We want to be good neighbors — we have a farm, we’ll be outside, we’ll be selling food to our neighbors.”
Jisa said she has high hopes for the second community listening meeting.
“We’re talking it through, keeping the lines of communication open,” she said. “It’s going to take some time and some patience, but I’m optimistic.”
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