WE’RE NOT in Kansas anymore, Toto. Hurricane Failed Economy has been blasting homes, farms, businesses and families to bits for a while now. Larkin Stentz and his teaching farm Green Angel Gardens, in Long Beach , WA, has been valiantly trying to keep his head above water. But the storm surge is rising high, and the precious community resource that is Green Angel Gardens is about to be swallowed under a wave of foreclosure.
Ah, the F-word, common enough theses days, especially in the agricultural community, but none the less tragic for its seeming everyday occurrence. Stentz has been eye to eye with his banks for over a year, working to responsibly negotiate a new arrangement that would allow him to keep his business and residence, and continue the community work that Green Angel Gardens is known for. Stentz was challenged to navigate his way through the inhuman “press one for English” maze of corporate banking until he contacted his state senators on advice from Oregon Senator Betsy Johnson.
Stentz’s story was then passed along by Senator Maria Cantwell to the Office of the Comptroller and Currency in the US Treasury Dept., who in turn contacted the lending institution. From there Stentz was able to actually begin to negotiate the terms of his first mortgage. But the bank collecting on his smaller second mortgage is not willing to talk. Stentz received his notice for foreclosure auction: April 15.
“What I have learned is that the banking system is totally overwhelmed, and the only practice they have in place is foreclosure. It has nothing to do with humanity or the world situation,” Stentz laments.
But he refuses to spend valuable time and energy on the what-ifs presented by the looming auction. Instead he focuses on possible solutions and hopes that there will be a miracle to save Green Angel Gardens.
Washington State has some creative folks fired up and taking things into their own hands to help stall small farm/business failure. Two organizations, based in more northern counties in Washington, are successfully matching investors with small farms and ranches to help local food sources stay afloat. Such opportunities keep investors’ money local and often offer a more significant return than other traditional investments. Slow Money Northwest (www.slowmoneynw.org) “catalyzes investment and donation opportunities that strengthen the Pacific Northwest’s sustainable food economy.”
Another group of citizens interested in facilitating financial investments to help local businesses and individuals has formed a Local Investing Opportunities Network, or LION.
LION connects investors to businesses in their area. This organization is a part of Local 20-20 (www.l2020.org), which is committed to sustainability, economy, community, and ecology on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Stentz would love to see local area investors come up with their own approach to these models. “The local investor group, that would be my favorite option,” he says. “I only need to raise $9,000 to satisfy the one lender. Then I could regroup and focus on what I do best, which is running Green Angel.” A local investor group could then negotiate its own loan with Stentz, or possibly buy the farm outright and then lease it to him. Stentz’s eventual goal is to turn Green Angel into a non-profit community resource that isn’t dependent on one individual. “I’m trying to create a new spiritual and energetic model for planet earth—and show people, hey, this sustainability stuff isn’t that hard. It can be done.”
Green Angel Gardens is fundamentally a teaching farm. Born over a decade ago as a sideline to Stentz’s successful landscaping business, the site serves as the one place on the Long Beach Peninsula where children can come and learn about sustainable gardening and technologies. More than 200 local schoolchildren have toured the farm to learn stewardship principles. Green Angel is registered with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and has hosted many international interns; Stentz has annually made internships possible for young people to come and work in exchange for room and board (legal in Washington; interns must be paid in Oregon).
“It’s been invaluable having all the help, the young people here. I want this place to be a community resource. When the school kids come, they love it. Especially the chickens. It’s a joy to be passing on ways to take care of the earth to them. I don’t want that to end—for their sake.”
Green Angel Gardens is also home to the only county-approved wind turbine and makes much of its own electricity. Solar energy heats the water, and composting toilets create usable “humanure.” The CSA has fed many a family in Astoria and on the Peninsula, and currently has 25 families subscribed. The Farm Store is open from 10am to 4pm every day and stocked with organic veggies.
Stentz is busy with spring plant starts, running the CSA, and will be helping create WIC gardens as part of a grant he wrote with the Pacific County Health Dept. He’s active in getting a farm to school program started locally, and has all the usual daily chores of a gardener with hundreds of plants under his care. One intern on the farm helps, but Stentz is feeling the strain.
“I need help,” he says. “I’m hoping for a green angel to help me rescue this farm.”
Concerned folks who want to see Green Angel Gardens weather the storm are encouraged to donate through the website, send a check in the mail, or call or email him directly to talk about ways to help. The Fort George Brewery will host a FarmAid event on April 9 where locals can raise a glass to community and drop off a few dead presidents.