Catholic Free Press

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  • Aug
  • 28

Dismas Family Farm cultivates more than produce

Posted By August 28, 2014 | 1:12 pm | Lead Story #1
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By William T. Clew

WESTBOROUGH – This is the fourth year that Dismas House has been involved with the Farmers’ Market on the lawn of the Congregational Church near the center of town and this is its strongest year so far.
That is the assessment of David McMahon, Dismas House co-director with his wife Colleen Hilferty.
Dismas House manages the farmers’ market each summer. It operates from noon to 6 p.m. each Thursday from June through September and each year it gets a little bigger, Mr. McMahon said. This year there are 25 vendors.  Dismas House obtains all the needed permits for the market and pays the fees which amount to almost $3,000. Dismas House gets income from vendors’ fees, sponsors and from sales at its own stand at the market.
The money is used to support the Dismas Family Farm in Oakham, one of its three programs. In addition to the farm, it operates a residence at 30 Richards St., Worcester and the Father Brooks House in Worcester.
Dismas handmadeWEBDismas House is named for the good thief said to have been crucified with Christ. According to its website, Dismas is a supportive transitional housing program for ex-offenders where former prisoners live together as a family with college student interns and other volunteers. In general, a total of 12 ex-offenders and interns/volunteers live at the house. Together they work toward the goal of reintegrating former prisoners into society.
Those eligible to live in the house are former prisoners who are not sex offenders. They must be approved by staff and current house members after an interview process. They must agree to follow the rules of the house, including no alcohol or illegal drugs on the premises.
The Dismas program also supports the Father Brooks House, a permanent housing program for successful Dismas House graduates and their families, and the Dismas Family Farm. It is named after Father John Brooks House a longtime Dismas supporter and former president of the College of the Holy Cross.
The working farm also has a residential housing program for former prisoners with substance abuse problems. Former prisoners and staff members live together as family and work together to produce eggs, crops, candles, birdhouses and other farm products. One of the goals of the farm is to use revenue from the sale of farm products to become self-supporting.
Residents can stay at the farm as long as it takes to rebuild their lives, Mr. McMahon said. The average stay is about six months. On occasion, some who have left have run into problems and have felt the need to return. They are welcomed back, he said. Community volunteers come to the farm to share meals, help with chores and offer friendship and support.
There is a wide variety of produce available at the market, Mr. McMahon said. The Dismas farm workers start their planting in March, often in greenhouses, and bring out the flats during the daytime to grow in the sunshine. When the weather warms those plants are transplanted into the soil.
He said the farm grows beans, squash, tomatoes, peppers and many other things – about 30 varieties of vegetables all told. Some are harvested the night before they go to the market, others on the same day. He said some shoppers at the market begin asking about the tomatoes in June even though they are not ready for market until August.
Lamb chops, pork chops  and other cuts of meat are very popular at the market. They come from animals grass-fed and raised on the farm. Also available is bread and cheese. People shopping at the market can bring home the ingredients for a full dinner, Mr. McMahon said.
Besides the usual farmers market produce, some vendors bring wine made locally and one even brings an alpaca and sells alpaca wool, Mr. McMahon said.
For the people living and working at the Dismas  farm, the market has meaning.
“It’s important for the guys living a productive life to see the fruits of their labor,” he said.
They set up their own farm stand and then help with other stands. At the farm they do haying for the animals, cultivate and harvest the produce, fix the machinery, do carpentry and make wooden bowls, bird houses and candles that are sold at the market, he said.
Dismas farm products are sold at the Westborough Farmers’   Market or via Dismas Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Those wanting more information may call Dismas Family Farm at 508-882-0000.