Ashes and Growth: Planting Ceremony at Freedom House


A resident agreed to share the writing on her paper before burning the paper and burying it in the soil.

This past Monday residents planted at Freedom House created a ceremony and planted the beginnings of the grief and healing garden. (If you’d like to know more about this project, go here or here). Please note that due to confidentiality agreements we can not show identities of the people in these photos.

The Seeds of Change garden at Freedom House will serve as both a literal and metraphorical space for growth and healing through food and flowers. All of the plants came from regional gardeners and were chosen for their health benefits, ease of care, and ability to draw butterflies to the garden space.

Mixing in the compost

Mixing in the compost

We began the workshop by filling the second garden bed and mixing in compost and talking about soil health. We also talked about how compost is made of dead matter. Yet when the leaves begin to break down and decay the soil itself is in a process of growth and actually provides life to plants.

We talked a little bit about each of the plants in the garden and where they came from and passed out a garden manual that details the care needed for all the plants. Residents chose words they wanted to write on piece of paper (some were stories, others a few phrases), and then they set fire to them, letting the ashes fall into the soil. On top of the ashes each resident planted a herb or flower that they picked out from either the seedlings they’d started or from one of the many donations we’ve received from area gardeners.

Words going up in flames, adding ashes to the soil.

Words going up in flames, adding ashes to the soil.

Some residents chose to share what they had written and others decided kept the words private. They spoke of difficult pasts–abuses suffered and mistakes made–and the desire for a new future. Three women decided to work together and burned their papers in the same place, letting the ashes fall together before putting a large yarrow plant on top. Yarrow is known for its resilience and ability to thrive in all kinds of situations. It also draws butterflies. Other residents chose lavender, a calming plant; oregano, a herb loaded with health benefits, and zinnia, a flower that butterflies love. One of the outpatient residents chose a bright red yarrow, which will add so much color and health to the garden bed.

We gathered around the garden beds as each person burned their pieces of paper. Residents cheered, hugged, and celebrated the new beginnings.  It was a really beautiful and powerful day.

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, call Freedom House at 479- 968-7086. Freedom House is a partner of ARVAC. McElroy House is a community partner helping to create and implement this program.





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.


Garden Project Partnership with ARVAC and Freedom House


Wildflowers. Photo by Saira Khan.

You’ve probably been hearing us talk a lot about our partnership with ARVAC and Freedom House in recent months. Below is  a short write-up all about the project!

We’ll be posting regular updates as the work moves forward. We’re really excited about the community partnerships we’re developing, including a recent one with Debe Hudson of ABC (Awesome Botanicals of a Celestial) Nature GreenHouse and Herb Farm! 

If you’re a gardner who has heirloom plants you’d like to donate to the project, please let us know. We’d love to cover the grounds in heirlooms, wildflowers, and plants from right here in central Arkansas.

ARVAC/McElroy House Garden Project

Written by Meredith Martin-Moats and Marie Williams for the McElroy House in partnership with Stephanie Ellis, Audra Butler and Caitlin Connor of ARVAC. Copyright 2014

Background and Description: For the last two years the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources has been working on the Garden Book Project, an online and print media project documenting the stories of regional growers to learn more about who is out there, why they grow and why they think it matters. In connection with this we have also focused on the importance of bringing pollinators to our yards, biodiversity, and issues of sustainable living.

ARVAC will partner with the McElroy House to reinvigorate their Garden Project, a free garden seed program for people in their nine service county region whose income falls below the poverty guidelines. To help build up to a sustainable garden, we will begin with a small healing/grief/and hope garden on site at Freedom House in Russellville, including mixed use gardens that utilize preexisting garden beds on site at Freedom House. McElroy House will host workshops on site and will complete their Garden Book in connection with this project, documenting the process along the way and including creative input from Freedom House residents and other community members.

Zinnia seeds growing in recycled planters made from newspaper for McElroy House seed sale.  You don't need pots to start seeds! Recycle your newspapers!

Zinnia seeds growing in recycled planters.

We will begin with the creation of a peace and healing garden (final name to be decided by Freedom House residents) located near Lake Dardanelle, which will include a few heirlooms and blueberry plants. This will allow the counselors, who already use the space, to engage residents in interfaith meditation and group therapy in a beautiful and useful space. As the garden grows we will add installation pieces from local craftspeople. The preexisting garden beds around Freedom House will contain mixed use gardens with heirloom flowering plants and a few tomatoes, peppers, and a few annuals grown by Freedom House residents. These plants will be donated via local growers or purchased from local nurseries.

The first year the garden will be small, but the goal is to grow over the years, moving at a pace that is sustainable and takes into account the work schedules of counselors maintenance crew, and residents. We will work to develop sustained community support for the garden and create lasting community partnerships while also helping to break down walls between Freedom House and the larger community, encouraging dialog around issues of addiction, poverty, and community engagement.

McElroy House will complete our final version of our Garden Book, a local publication for use by Freedom House but also accessible to everyone in the community who is interested in the importance of gardening and developing connections across communities. We intend for this booklet to help spur and sustain long-term conversations about the importance of growth, community health, and community connections.

Important Dates:

These have been updated to reflect rescheduling due to inclement weather!

January 9, 2015: Garden Dreaming/Planning Workshop at Freedom House

March 6th , 2015: Groundbreaking

March 2015: Everything Starts as a Seed Workshop: Seed Starting with newspapers, annual seeds, and discussion of seed starting.

April 2015: From Seed to Soil Workshop: A workshop placing the seedlings in the ground in the garden beds near the residential halls.

May 2015: Vegetable Workshop with area growers

Ways to Get Involved:

  1. Lend regional gardening expertise to workshops.
  2. Make financial donations, or donations of heirloom plants, to the garden. (A donation wish list is available upon request!)
  3. Become a garden mentor for the project. Talk to the McElroy House to learn more! Send an email to Meredith at or call 477-957-0551.