When I heard that Noel Schmidt, humanist founder of Patchworks Farm in Santa Rosa, had suffered a severe stroke and was in the hospital, I wanted to do anything I could to help. Many others whose lives have been touched even peripherally by Schmidt are collectively thinking about ways to keep Patchworks Farm open and serving the kids of Sonoma County until its founder can recover and return to the farm. If you live in Sonoma County, your life has already been improved by the work going on at Patchworks, because it's a place where vulnerable kids find nature, functioning sustainability and encouragement that they might not find elsewhere. It creates a positive ripple effect.
"Part of the reason I want to keep Noel's nonprofit healthy while he is recovering," says Judy Greaney, who is in charge of community-based learning at Ursuline High School, "is to keep the students coming to the farm he created." Greaney, who's known Schmidt for over 20 years and worked with him at the inception of the farm, explains that Patchworks started as a rescue farm for horses that provided animal therapy for homeless children. "They rehabilitated the horses and brought kids in from the homeless shelter and taught them how to ride and how to care for the horses," explains Greaney. "Noel and others also repaired old bicycles and made them available for children whose families could not afford to purchase them."
Patchworks expanded and shifted from horse rehabilitation to an outdoor sustainability classroom. Several years ago, a few students asked to build a biodiesel station, and Schmidt was the one who gave them a place to do it. That was the beginning of student-driven environmental learning projects. From there, Patchworks added a garden and some chickens, and the adults made room for students to choose projects.
Two years ago, Patchworks was one of several recipients of a $39K grant from State Farm to support student-originated sustainability projects. Aware that the world ecological balance is suffering from widespread incidents of colony collapse disorder, students decided to keep bees at Patchwork. They are still caring for those bees, even through the winter—and the crisis that put Schmidt in the hospital for five weeks.
Now back at home, Schmidt faces what his daughter Anna calls "a long road ahead" in terms of recovery. Anna, one of Schmidt's five children, tells the Bohemian that people everywhere have responded compassionately to the news. "When he first had the stroke, he couldn't talk or move himself at all," says Anna. "Now he can talk, process information and walk with a walker and someone there helping him. His spirits are high. The doctors are saying he may recover, and though everyone's brain is different, I expect him to make a full recovery."
Meanwhile, Patchworks Farm's largest obstacle is that Schmidt is the spokesperson for the farm, the one who normally goes out and gets the funding to keep the place running. The nonprofit also happens to provide Schmidt's income and the medical insurance that he is dependent upon throughout his recovery.
Margo Hardy, Noel's niece, is the point person for a fundraiser to be held in early 2011 benefiting Patchworks. "We are in the very beginning stages of creating a fundraiser, but we need people to continue to support the mission of Patchworks," says Hardy. "People can help while Noel is unable to do the outreach that he normally does during this time."
The Patchworks mission is to inspire, connect, foster and provide the tools necessary to educate and engage students in the environmental education programs and projects. "These are really get-your-hands-in it projects," says Hardy, "and Noel's vision of eco-literacy and restoration has really enriched the lives of kids."
Tax-deductable donations can be made to support Patchworks by visiting www.patchworksfarm.org and clicking "Support Us." Donations may also be mailed to Patchworks Farm, PO Box 9365, Santa Rosa, CA, 95405. Those who wish to give time and energy to the upcoming fundraiser may contact organizer Margo Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org.