What one person might call unfortunate circumstances, Abby Mauwong refers to as a set of miracles. Abby and her husband, Sal, operate ARK Farms, an organization north of Bartlett that provides youth empowerment programs through internships, apprenticeships and farm camps for children and youth. But before they began serving Memphis-area youth, an important timeline of circumstances was necessary to lead them there.
After moving to Memphis in 2008, Abby discovered a serious life-threatening illness that required brain surgery. She was given three weeks to live, and if she managed to survive, she wouldn’t walk or talk. Abby did survive and overcome those odds, but about two years later Sal lost his job, and in the process discovered a tumor under his breast bone that required emergency surgery. They prayed about what was next and settled on buying land for the horses they boarded.
“It was funny because we had no money to buy it with,” Abby said. “We found a piece of land that said it was .25 acres. I said I’m supposed to click on that listing even though we didn’t need just .25 acres. It turns out it was actually 54.25 acres. Nobody clicked on it.”
They visited what was a mix of soybean fields and timber and moved ahead with the land purchase in 2013. Abby says they sensed restoration on that property, and a year later it was home to horses, donkeys, chickens, ducks and cats. All of the animals are rescues. Word slowly spread about the farm and friends wanted to visit. Some of those visitors sought restoration. They found it among the animals and land.
“People kept saying come to the farm,” Abby said. “We did youth programs for 20 years and I used to be a school teacher. We had the ability to train kids.” So they started an internship in summer 2017 based on input from the students who said they wanted to learn how to do everything on the farm. They wanted community service hours while gaining skills.
ARK Farms hosts groups who need restorative time, whether it’s a family, groups that serve at-risk individuals or youth who want a place to thrive without competition, stress or fear. They come to the farm to care for rescue animals. It’s therapeutic, yes, but farm visitors also gain knowledge of conservation and sustainability projects while gaining new skills.
Two-week internship spots are available for sixth grade and up and begin in June. Those who finish a June internship can come back in July to work as paid staff for the one-week farm camps for third through fifth graders. Programming runs throughout the year, thanks to generous donors. No donation is too small; Abby calls $5 a major donation. They need people or organizations to help sponsor interns, especially some of the families who can’t afford to send kids to the farm. There are so many needs, from scholarships to a new tractor. Donation and volunteer opportunities are available at cometothefarm.org.
What does the future hold? Who knows, but Abby is clear to say everything is possible. “We never tell kids no,” she says. “If they dream too big we say, ‘OK, where do we start on that?’ Kids come to the farm to restore animals and do community service and build their skills, but every person who comes – whether from Orange Mound, Midtown, East Memphis, Bartlett or a human trafficking survivor – every person gets the same therapy.”
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