Emma’s Acres: Inmates and victims growing food in Mission BC
From the beginning Vancity backed us up and helped us to see a community grow and lives transformed. They made our dream a real thing. Glen Flett, founder, L.I.N.C Society
In 1992, Glen Flett was released from prison after spending 23 years behind bars. Today he’s bringing together offenders and victims of violent crime to harvest potatoes for the local farmers market. His passion for transformative justice—as well as the hard work of the farm—is turning pain into healing, and gaining nationwide recognition. And at the very core are the simple things of life: a shovel, a watering can and the meeting of people over a job and a meal.
“Not all criminals are what the media portray,” says Glen, in the midst of watering beans at Emma’s Acres—an eight-acre agricultural social enterprise in Mission, BC. “There are good people in prison who made bad mistakes, and they want to contribute and give back in their own way.”
Glen has a unique perspective on violent offenders. An offender himself, he knows first-hand the difficult journey of transforming isolation and pain into wholeness. He also knows the injustice of being a victim. His family was very close to Reverend Emma Smiley, who was murdered in Victoria in 1983.
“She was like a grandmother to me. She always knew that I could turn myself around and help others.”
It was this memory of someone believing in him, as well as a deep faith experience, that gave him the strength to overcome the hardening nature of prison.
So when Glen was released, he saw people like himself being released from jail with no sense of purpose. They would often end up back in prison—a tragic cycle of incarceration. Glen wanted to do something, and the seeds of Emma’s Acres were sown.
“Originally, we wanted to get people in prison working, making some money to give to the families of victims,” says Glen. “But after a few years, we realized we could generate profits to fund our mission. We wanted a sustainable farm that would help inmates along their journey and also support victims of violent crime.”
Armed with not much more than an idea, Glen and his wife Sherry needed at least two acres of land to even attempt profitability. A Vancity Community Grant allowed them to start a community garden in Mission—growing skills and reputation alongside carrots and kale. But soon, a larger plot was needed.
In 2013, thanks to a $75,000 Vancity enviroFund™ grant and generous lease terms with the district, Glen and Sherry secured an eight-acre forested plot of land and Emma’s Acres was finally born—named after the same Emma that inspired Glen to turn his life around so many years ago.
“Emma’s Acres is a true social enterprise,” says Moira Teevan, community investment associate at Vancity. “Their team has turned a little bit of forest into a productive farm while at the same time helping inmates develop themselves and supporting survivors. What they have accomplished is amazing.”
There are currently as many as 24 inmates coming every week to tend the gardens. The vegetables, fruit and herbs are currently available at the Mission City Farmers’ market, and will be available in the future at nearby restaurants and stores. Profits are used to fund a part-time support worker and produce is given free to as many as six to eight homicide survivors a week.
But it’s the people themselves who have been the biggest motivator.
“We just didn’t expect the kind of effect this would have on survivors,” says Sherry. “It’s incredible how much joy the offenders have in helping other people. The survivors see this joy and are deeply impacted. Everyday interactions over food really have the potential to transform lives.”
“We knew this was a risk from the beginning,” says Glen. “But Vancity backed us up, and with that backing we’ve been able to see a community grow and lives transformed. They made our dream a real thing.”