Making a Difference: On The Rise Farm

SPRINGFIELD — Deb McCullough is in her mid 60′s, but she vividly remembers what it was like being a kid. “I kind of went through a rough patch when I was a teen. I grew up on a farm and that really saved me and helped me. And I was hoping I could help other children.”

And for the last 20 years, she has welcomed thousands of kids to her farm in Clark County. These are kids she said are, “In need of resources.” She sees her farm as a happy space. “Maybe they have some family problems, maybe they have had school or community issues.“ Whatever the case, her goal is making a difference in each person’s life.

During WHIO’s visit to “On the Rise Farm,” we watched how five teens from around Springfield helped with the daily farm chores. As a rooster crowed just feet from the farm’s hen houses, the teens collected 18 eggs. One of the teens was Shane Baker. When asked what he liked about the farm he said, “Everything really, being outdoors, having fun, cooking our own food with Ms. Deb, and gardening.”

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He said the teens planted 50 pepper plants in the spring, “but we only ended up with eight.” Deb was standing nearby, and she politely corrected him, “No, 37.” Shane seemed a bit confused for a moment, but then smiled at Deb and took her word for it.

The program is for kids 10- to 14-years-old, but it does not accept every child who applies. As for the kids who do take part in the program, McCullough said the farm has about a 75% success rate. The program helps kids focus on life, social and employment skills.

Those eggs the kids collected, and the garden they harvested, they sell at a Farmer’s Market. And she said the money they make, “Goes right into the kids’ pockets to teach them how important work is. And it really does play off.” With poverty so prevalent in their community, “We’re trying to teach them that hard work pays off.”

In-between collecting eggs, and feeding the goats, chickens and cats, Ariana Phifer took a couple minutes to talk about what she was like when she first came to the farm. “I was what most people called a bad kid, a bad child.”

She said she had a problem with authority and struggled to talk with people. Quickly Phifer said McCullough and the farm changed her life. “I’d call her my second mom. She has love for us beyond imaginable, she provides stuff she doesn’t even have to do just to help kids and make them better themselves.”

McCullough is also a big believer in making sure kids understand how important nutrition is. “We serve hot meals to kids every day.” Hours before the kids arrived at the farm, McCullough whipped up more than two dozen pancakes, and two quiche dishes. “Some of our kids don’t have all their needs met. So, here we’re hoping we can do that.“ Plenty of please and thank-you’s to go around as the kids ate and enjoyed everyone’s company.

When asked if McCullough had any regrets, she paused a couple seconds and said she wished she would have started “On the Rise Farm” sooner. “This is my whole life, It really is. It is the love of my life. and it’s gotten to be who I am.”

Just goes to show, sometimes the recipe for “Making a Difference” is not really all that hard after all.

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