- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) - Every day for more than 30 years, Mark Elledge has helped to maintain more than 60 acres of garden on the 300-acre campus of the Children’s Farm Home north of Corvallis off Highway 20.

With the help of the youngsters who attend the residence treatment facility, Elledge, 60, has taken several acres of dirt fields and transformed them into a sustainable garden. Its 1,000-plus plants include tomatoes, peppers, onions, turnips, strawberries, squash and dozens of wildflowers.

Elledge works with children at the school to maintain and harvest the garden and sell the fruits, vegetables and flowers at a produce stand. The proceeds ensure that the garden continues to grow.

The work is tiring, and the hours are long, but Elledge doesn’t mind.

“It’s not easy work, but the real reason to do this is to help the kids,” Elledge said. “I’ve always enjoyed helping the kids out and teaching them how to do this work. The garden is great, and people love the fresh produce but the real goal is to provide as many (positive) experiences as we can for the kids …”

Elledge said that each season, dozens of the young residents from the Children’s Farm Home school apply to work in the garden at the well-recognized landmark.

The most visible part of the school - its historic brick school building facing Highway 20 - opened in 1925 as an orphanage. It has been fully restored and reopened in 2013 for use by the school and the community.

These days the Children’s Farm Home is administered by Trillium Family Services as a therapy and educational facility for youths who are coping with emotional and mental health issues. Elledge helps to keep some of the “farm” tradition alive.

“I want them to experience the outdoors, and they love it, and they get to learn valuable life skills,” he said. “Gardening may be somewhat basic, but for them to learn a life skill and have fun and get something positive is the key.”

The youth at the school work year-round on the garden and are involved from seed to harvest. The school’s cafĂ©, staff and any passers-by pay for the produce, which helps buy materials for the garden in the summer and fall and for the greenhouse during colder months.

“Nothing goes to waste here,” Elledge said. “The staff and people who come to the stand get fresh produce, and the kids get the opportunity to start the plants, nurture them and work with it all the way through to the harvest all while gaining life skills.”

Glenda Frisk, the development manager at the Children’s Farm Home School, said that children who have helped on the garden have become very positive and enthusiastic about the work.

“It has been wonderful,” Frisk said. “The kids enjoy having something to do and being out here. And they really enjoy working with Mark.”

Frisk noted that the kids receive a small stipend and vocational training credit for their work in the garden.

“It helps give them skills once they leave the facility and it gives them a chance to feel normal,” she said. “(Mark’s) done a really nice job with this and they love it.”

The garden is open to the public Monday through Friday. The youth also host a dog bath and car washes with the produce stand on Fridays.

“We’re kind of a well-kept secret, but it is open to the public,” Frisk said.

“We’re always looking to get more people out here,” Elledge added. “If people want to come out here and get good produce at great prices, we’d love to have them.”

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Information from: Gazette-Times, https://www.gtconnect.com

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