Diamond M Ranch Resort owner Blair Martin is on a mission to help at-risk children.
“The bottom line is there’s not enough couples that have a place to take care of foster kids in Alaska,” he said.
To alleviate the problem, Martin has been developing the idea of Matti’s Farm.
Named after Martin’s son who passed away several years ago, Matti’s Farm is a proposed community where at-risk children would live, work and grow into confident members of society.
The project would see up to a dozen foster families living in a farming community in order to learn the values necessary for success, Martin said. He said that when kids are passed around from family to family, they gain a sense of worthlessness, which is something that he wants to change.
“This is the calling that I feel I’m supposed to do,” Martin said.
The project would be multi-faceted.
“If we could have kids maintaining bonds with their family, yet living in a safe, healthy, two-parent environment, we could have the best of both worlds,” Martin said. “The parents can grow into responsible adults, and the kids would be sheltered from all that stuff — the drugs and violence — that stifles their growth.”
The farm would allow children and adults to work as a group to accomplish tasks. Martin said one important component of the project is that the people involved would produce their own food using teamwork. That, he said, would give the kids a sense of self-worth.
The farm would also offer residents the opportunity to learn skills such as cooking, carpentry and welding.
The farm would give the children the tools necessary to be successful in any field, Martin said.
Martin said he would like at least 160 acres in order to “have a little village” replete with multiple houses, a common kitchen, indoor playroom and pavilion.
Ideally, Martin would like the acquired land to be centrally located on the peninsula. That would allow for students from local schools to visit the farm and get peer-to-peer training with the kids at the farm.
While still in the conception phase, Martin said he wants to garner more support for the project.
“Right now we’re just trying to get the word out that we really believe in this idea,” he said. “It’s a collaborative effort. It’s a good-sized project.”
The project is still waiting on a crucial element — land.
Two years ago, Martin attempted to lease nearly 240 acres of borough land, however, that bid failed after the assembly voted against a request that would have made such a transaction possible.
Now, Matti’s Farm is exploring other avenues of acquiring land for the project.
“We’ve kind of been a homeless vision — a dream,” Martin said. “Not really accomplishing our mission other than working on stepping-stones to get there.”
Through a combination of private donations, fundraisers and proceeds from the sale of fish-waste compost, the project is looking for a parcel of land to call home.
Lark Ticen, who helps Martin sell the fish-waste compost, said she understands the importance of the project, because she grew up in a foster home herself.
“It’s very important that there are good homes for children,” Ticen said.
In the future, Ticen hopes to have the compost sold in large stores in order to better fund the project.
“Our goal is to have the non-profit be self-sufficient through the efforts of the compost,” she said.
Even with financial support, Martin said that the project would rely heavily on volunteers.
One person interested in helping Matti’s Farm is local farmer Don Thompson.
Orphaned at a young age, Thompson, 75, said he would like to give back by helping kids learn how to farm. He said he would be more than willing to have kids use any of his five greenhouses.
“I see that farming is very necessary for kids that don’t have (all the advantages),” he said. “They need to train how to work and how to raise their own food,”
As the project continues to progress, Martin is confident that Matti’s Farm would be an integral part of the community.
“We’re not raising farmers, we’re not raising animals,” Martin said. “We’re raising children. That’s our primary goal.”
Reach Ian Foley at Ian.firstname.lastname@example.org