Nourish Yourself with Backyard Farms Hungry Mother Organics and F.O.C.U.S.

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington and Joe Smith

I talked with Joe Smith, Director of F.O.C.U.S., about what this non-profit organization is doing to make a difference. He was excited about people who are doing amazing work, specifically in the area of local and organic farming – down to the individual level. Below is his response.


We were motivated to do something to help correct the significant imbalance between consumption and production. A book called The Limits of Freedom, by Andrew Bacevich, explains that people and organizations are spending more money than they should and producing less, which causes an imbalance that has led to the massive deficit. According to Bacevich, learning how to become more self-reliant and consuming less helps solve many of our challenges.

As we were searching for solutions to this problem, we realized that while it's important to help other countries, particularly those in the third world, we really need to get our own country in order. We started within our own region. We examined the work that 35 other not-for-profit organizations were doing and found that they were addressing many of the social, environmental, medical, and resource-based needs of the people. What wasn't being addressed was the imbalance on the regional food shelf. The majority of the food was not being grown organically or locally, nor was it using sustainable growing standards.

We decided to launch F.O.C.U.S. (For Our Country United States), a 501 c3, as a public charity. The mission of F.O.C.U.S. is educationally based -- to transform America through civic and social responsibility.

We were introduced to Mark O'Farrell, who owns Hungry Mother Organics, a very well-known and well-respected organization that sells to high-end restaurants, Whole Foods, and local citizens. Mark has a five-acre organic farm with a greenhouse and four hoop houses at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, a low-security prison in Carson City. We decided to partner with him, which has yielded huge blessings that keep on growing. Good things are happening all the time.

1,000 Backyard Farms
We thought that one of the best things we could do is to teach people how to sustain and feed themselves by starting to teach them how to build gardens in their own backyards. So we developed the 1,000 Backyard Farms campaign. It's purpose is to help people learn how to create or improve their own backyard farms. We've had tremendous turnout to our informational and helpful classes and workshops on different aspects of organic farming. It's inspiring to be able to help people sustain themselves or help them sustain others. We even have people bring in their own produce, and we help them sell it at our farmers' market located at a commercial site we developed this year outside the prison in Carson City.

What motivated me to start this program was my own experience growing up in the 1950s and early '60s: I seldom went to a supermarket. We caught most of our own food from the ocean and grew vegetables in the backyard. The local dairy delivered milk to the front door. For food that we didn't grow, there was a farmers' market. My grandparents also had their own backyard farms, growing vegetables and raising chickens. When we would visit my grandparents in the summers, we never went to a store. Everything came out of the back yard.

The 1950s really wasn't that long ago. In such a short period of time, we got disconnected from the land and caught up in materialism. Buying everything from a store disconnected us from a sense of principle, or cause. Remembering where things come from, planting, growing our own food, helps remind us that there's an intelligence, a cause behind everything. Spiritually, the cause or source is always divine Mind, God. Having a backyard farm is one concrete and practical way to help people understand the concept of cause or source.

Throughout my work with Mark, I've learned a tremendous amount about "green" and "organic" -- what is and what isn't. For instance, even though there are some wonderful stores marketing and selling organic produce and food, closer examination often reveals that food has been shipped into the U.S. from other countries. That is not what we would call green or sustainable. In addition, only 2% of farms are family-owned. One hundred years ago, they were all family owned, supporting the needs of families and the community. As we have worked together, we have discovered new ways to expand on what Mark had already started.

The Farm Stand
We found a highly visible piece of property about 20-30 feet off of highway 395 on the border of Minden and Carson City. On this property, we operate the Farm Stand, which includes two hoop houses, and now a greenhouse, plus a building where we sell organic farm materials, both wholesale and retail.

Volunteers and Classes
We have a robust group of volunteers who work out of the Farm Stand. We hold our classes and workshops there. We are also teaching people how to use native plants for landscaping. We sell Northern Nevada/California indigenous nursery plants to help people get started.

Green House
We have currently completed a new 2100 square-foot greenhouse, which will be a demonstration site for both solar and biomass co-generation, to help us grow year-round. The climate in Carson City is high desert, and the growing season is only 70 days, so you really have to know what you're doing. With such a short growing season, it is difficult to be a successful farmer. A covered crop that's alternatively heated will make a big difference.

Mark's Backyard Farm and Correctional Facility Farm
Mark's backyard farm, which serves as a model, is quite close, too. He has a green house, barn, chicken coup, and vegetable beds. Three miles away is the Correctional Facility where Mark established an amazing farming program. (You can learn more about the impact of the prison farming program in the coming months.) In addition to the green and hoop houses, we have a chicken coop. Prisoners help us grow cover crops -- arugula, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, spinach, radishes -- which we sell as produce at farmers' markets. Importantly, we sell a lot of plants because at the end of the day we would rather people grow their own food.

Full Circle Compost
Right behind us on the property is Full Circle Compost, run by Craig Whit, a business colleague of Mark's. Craig is very committed to helping people learn to do things organically and sustainably. They work with Whole Foods, which has an extremely high standard for its food. So when any vegetables or fruits get bruised, Whole Foods gives it to Full Circle, which composts it and then uses the compost on our farms, including the prison farm. HMO recently has also been composting food obtained from Whole Foods.

Throughout this process, we've had a wonderful time engaging people. The combination of people is very powerful in the organic movement. They're on the organic counsel in the state of Nevada, of which Mark has been appointed Chairman. We've had a lot of coverage in the radio and newspapers.

It really feels like the Holy Spirit is running the program. We've given Mark the support, and he's just flying. He's an amazing teacher, whom people who take the on-going classes, workshops, and seminars love. Now we have a great community development coordinator, a nursery director, and trucks to run plants to farmers' markets and Whole Foods. The grass roots approach is really the only way to make a difference.

Just as BibleWise is trying to teach people to use Scriptures to nourish themselves, we're trying to teach people to work with the elements to nourish themselves.

There's another very exciting opportunity with University of Nevada at Reno that's forthcoming. (Read about it in upcoming months.) It will enable us to work with enthusiastic college students who can then work with others to help one person at a time learn to work harmoniously with our natural resources.

Joe Smith

About Mark O'Farrell
Mark has a Masters in Agriculture and Vocational Training from Virginia Tech. He was in the 101st Airborne during peace time. Once out of the Airborne, he and his wife joined the Peace Corps and worked in Papau, New Guinea, for two years teaching principles of farming. Mark then helped run the North Carolina State University agricultural extension program for five years. He also taught high school in Florida. His wife had been raised in Tahoe City, California, and he had promised her that at some point, they'd get back there. So they left Florida and ended up in Carson City, working for the University of Nevada, Reno's Living on the Land Program, doing small farms, teaching people what they need to do, and helping the local water conservation district on the eastern Sierra watershed. Mark's work continues to make communities better.