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'Get into the dirt'

Matti's Farm dream staggers but still standing

Posted: May 8, 2013 - 8:56pm  |  Updated: May 9, 2013 - 1:06pm

Blair Martin has had the vision for more than 20 years.

It is a farm for at-risk children, and it would address all social ills in the community — teen suicide, high school drop outs, drug use, delinquency and poor work ethic, among others, he said.

The remedy: good, hard farm work.

“It’s a vision that goes across the community,” Martin said.

His vision is Matti’s Farm, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. It would house foster and at-risk children and grow them under the rewards and values of a farm life, he said.

But his vision met a hurdle at Tuesday’s Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting.

Martin, 49, requested the borough classify one of its lots, parcel 055-072-13, as “institutional.” The 240-acre lot sits behind the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road. Classifying the land as institutional would allow Martin to lease it through the borough, providing a home for his farm.

But the borough assembly voted 6-3 to classify the land as “Resource Management,” effectively barring Martin’s lease of the land for now.

“This one is highly valued, and it is a strategically-located parcel,” Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said.

The land Martin requested was independently appraised in 2012 at about $1.8 million and can serve many uses, he said in a letter.

It is “one of the most versatile and valuable land holdings that the borough has to meet the growing and future needs of the K-Beach community,” he wrote.

Another concern the borough has is with the farm’s vagueness, Land Management Officer Marcus Mueller said. Currently, Martin has many goals for his farm, some of them abstract, and the borough needs him to define and refine those goals, Mueller said.

“The intangibles would need to become tangible in order to meet the requirements of code,” Mueller said.

For example, he said, Martin’s lease proposal he submitted to the borough lacked sufficient detail. It did not have the “where, what, how, when and who,” he said.

But Martin is undeterred, he said.

“If one door closes, that means another one is opening,” he said.

The borough has outlined two other possible parcels, he said. One 160-acre parcel — 055-074-01 — is about a mile west of the first parcel, across from K-Beach Road. The other 400-acre parcel — 055-020-18 — sits about a mile south east of Cannery Road.

While the parcels are less desirable — further from the Kenai Peninsula College, Frontier Community Services and the main strip of K-Beach Road — the land would still fit his requirements, he said.

“We’re not complaining. We’re taking this as a sign that we’re moving forward, just in a slightly different compass direction,” he said.

He said he was encouraged by all the public support he has seen for his farm. There was a tremendous amount at the Tuesday meeting, he said.

Kenai Peninsula Fairground Director Lara McGinnis said farms provide valuable experiences for at-risk youth who may otherwise feel uprooted and purposeless. She has seen it at the fair, she said.

With the foster children she has brought to the event, she has noticed that they “stepped up and flourished” when she gave them responsibilities, she said.

“They’ll find those roots. They’ll find that purpose,” McGinnis said.

Matti’s Farm would be a vehicle for that, she said.

“It’s engagement for our youth,” she said, “and by engaging our youth, were engaging our future leaders.”

Nancy Casey, landscape architect for Casey Planning & Design, agrees.

Contributing to a process is important for the development of at-risk youth, she said.

“When you’re with a farm, you’re growing things. It’s a very nurturing kind of work,” Casey said. “When young people feel like they’re contributing, they feel like a responsible part of the community.”

There is a primal reward in it, she said, “cause it’s hard work. There’s nothing more rewarding that hard work. Blood. Dirt. Sweat.”

Gary Turner, Kenai Peninsula College Campus Director, who did not testify at the meeting, said the farm would be a great educational opportunity for his students.

“I think the potential is there. Even if it’s not through the college ... we’ll have residential students that might have an opportunity to volunteer and do things,” Turner said.

It would help them mature and “get into the dirt,” he said.

The farm would teach the students about community engagement and service learning, he said.

Martin said all the public testimony at the Tuesday meeting was encouraging.

“It was emotional. It was moving,” he said.

 

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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