Update on the Freedom House Work and Learning Day!

ARVAC's Audra Butler organized ATU students to take part in a garden work day.

ARVAC’s Audra Butler organized ATU students to take part in a garden work day.

This past Saturday the McElroy House worked in partnership with ARVAC, Inc. to hold a Garden Work and Learning Day at Freedom House in Russellville. (Click here to read our previous post about this event.) Freedom House is a CARF accredited facility offering comprehensive substance abuse and dependency treatment. McElroy House has been working in partnership with ARVAC to help create gardening programing at the center and help revitalize their free seed program. Click here for more information. 

Audra Butler of ARVAC, Inc. organized Arkansas Tech Students to work with Freedom House residents to help fill the garden beds and clear out the front garden spaces. After the beds were filled Stephanie Ellis broke ground on the beds (as seen at left). The beds were created by residents of freedom house and are part of ARVAC’s plan to utilize pallets from the food bank. These beds and their design are still a work in progress, so we’ll have updates on that soon! Because Freedom House is an addiction recovery center we are unable to share photos of residents. So that’s why there are only photos of the workshop leaders and community members. Thanks for understanding!

One of the roles McElroy House has been asked to play in this partnership is to help revitalize regionally based gardening information for ARVAC’s free seed program (go here to learn more about this program). Saturday’s workshops were created with Freedom House residents, staff and residents in mind and brought together growers and people working on sustainability from around the region. Freedom House counselor Caitlin Conner also gave a talk to ATU students about addiction, educating community members about the resources Freedom House offers to the region.

ARVAC director Stephanie Ellis during the groundbreaking ceremony!

ARVAC director Stephanie Ellis during the groundbreaking ceremony!

Below are some highlights from the workshops. Be sure and follow ARVAC, Inc. to stay up to date on the other programing they will be offering via Freedom House. They welcome community volunteers. You can learn more about this by calling Audra Butler at (479) 229-4861.


Stu Bradford discussing rain barrels.

Stu Bradford and his son  started off the morning with a workshop on using rain barrels for home gardens or farms. The Bradfords build large rain barrels which have allowed them to reclaim 1,000 gallons per year. They plan to expand to 1,500 this spring. They walked everyone through the process of finding and selecting a 55 gallon bucket and creating a design. They also answered questions about how to connect multiple rain barrels around the house and how to utilize gray water in the home. We had a lively discussion about the growing concerns around water access and drought and how we can each work to make changes in our own lives. If you’re hoping to build or buy rain barrels for your home, community, center or farm, Stu can help you get started. You can reach him at (479) 229-4861.

Josh Hardin talking pecan trees in the pecan tree grove of Freedom House on Lake Dardanelle.

Josh Hardin talking pecan trees in the pecan tree grove of Freedom House on Lake Dardanelle.

Josh Hardin of Laughing Stock Farms led the second workshop backyard pecan trees (read the Arkansas Times Food and Farm profile story about the farm here) The Hardin Family has been in the pecan tree business for decades and knows a great deal about how to keep pecan trees healthy and producing. Freedom House is home to a large pecan tree grove that sits near the lake, and Freedom House residents regularly gather the pecans. They  would like to start incorporating them into the kitchen and possibly selling some to raise money for Freedom House. So to help increase the yields on the pecans, we asked Josh Hardin to come check out the trees and provide an interactive learning opportunity for residents, staff, and community members who may have their own pecan tree groves. Hardin talked to us about the production cycles of pecans, how pecans pollinate, and what is needed to keep them producing well. He also donated some organic fertilizer to Freedom House! Hardin is fifth generation vegetable farmer from Grady, AR, to come in and take a look at the trees and tell everyone more about how to take care of them. Ha certified organic fruit and vegetable farm near Sheridan. He holds a certificate in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems from the University of California at Santa Cruz and is also completing a degree in Agricultural Education from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Throughout the season, Laughing Stock grows over 40 varieties of vegetables utilizing sustainable growing methods and organic amendments to produce high quality organic produce for local restaurants and farmers markets. Follow Laughing Stock farm here. 

Debe Hudson answering questions from people in the workshop.

Debe Hudson answering questions from people in the workshop.

Debe Hudson o f A B C (Awesome! Botanicals of a Celestial) Nature Greenhouse/Nursery has been a key advisor for this garden project. As part of the work and learning day she offered an interactive sit down discussion about butterfly and bee attracting flowers and answered questions from workshop goers about various plants and their care.  She talked about organic growing, dealing with various forms of invasive plants that can kill other plants, and how to deal with garden pests without poison. Debe grows hundreds of varieties of heirloom flowers and herbs at her mom and pop operation in the foothill of the Ozark Mountains outside of London. She specializes in medicinal, culinary and ornamental herbs along with citrus trees, spice plants, and tropical edible plants. They don’t use any toxic sprays and use all organic fertilizer and an Integrated pest management system wherein the good bugs kill the bad bugs.  The nursery isn’t open to the public, though you can make appointments to to visit. You can find Debe’s plants at the market in Russellville and via the Local Food Network in Little Rock.  She donated 20 berry plants to the project, many of which are shown in the photographs from the groundbreaking. Though Freedom House has decided they are unable to currently house and care for the blueberries Debe donated, we are all very grateful for her generous support and expert guidance on this project.

ROOST LogoLogan Felder and Vanessa of ROOST (Revitilizing Ozark and Ouachita Seed Traditions) came to give a presentation on home and community garden seed saving. Sadly, the batteries went down on our camera and we didn’t get any photos of their talk! They brought heirloom tomato from central Arkansas that are currently housed in their regional seed bank and walked workshop goers through the process of saving their own seeds. They discussed the importance of using heirloom seeds as opposed to hybrids, which will not reproduce in the same way.   The goal of ROOST is to protect and improve the diversity of heirloom seed varieties, knowledge, & practices throughout the Ozark-Ouachita bioregions. They provide a central food bank, work with local growers, and help organize seed exchanges in local communities to facilitate this process. Dr. Josh Lockeyor, an Anthropology professor at Arkansas Tech University, heads up the program. You can follow their work here. 

McElroy House is a community-based organization which has partnered with ARVAC. You can learn more about us by clicking here. 

Want to learn a little bit more about the history of this garden project? Click here.  Please note this is an evolving project and some plans have/are changing to reflect the needs of all participants. 

Here’s a bit more background about Freedom House as listed on their webpage. 

Freedom House staff offer a holistic approach to recovery, healing mind, body and spirit. Freedom House utilizes the 12 core functions, with a unique phase system which ensures holistic healing.

ARVAC Freedom House offers:

  • Observational Detoxification
  • Residential Treatment
  • Outpatient Treatment
  • Transitional Living
  • Vocational

For more information on ARVAC Freedom House or if someone you know struggles with addiction please call 479-968-7086.



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