Ellis County Farm Provides Refugees With Opportunities

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Mars Hill Farm planted its roots in 2019 in the City of Ferris with a desire to form a connection between refugees and Dallas.

"It was started about five years ago to help refugees resettle in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Dallas-Fort Worth as a whole happens to be one of the largest refugee resettlements in the nation," said Jonathan Herb, farm manager and one of the co-owners of Mars Hill Farm. "We're talking places that the UN says are no longer safe to live. So, it's a very different issue than immigration or people seeking asylum across the border or whatever it may be. These are places that oftentimes are fraught with war or severe economic problems."

Refugees help harvest produce and flowers that are then sold to businesses around Dallas.

"We also have gone to the farmers' markets, the Dallas Farmers Market and the White Rock Farmers Market, and we bring our goods there during certain seasons," Herb said. "The other way that people get deliveries or receive our products is we sell direct to stores. So, we were able to work with Central Market this past year, and we're able to kind of start developing relationships with local florists or grocery chains."

However, the biggest profit is helping refugees like Mikey. Mikey is from Afghanistan and joined the Mars Hill Farm in January of 2022. He does not use his real name for fear of being targeted by the Taliban.

"I started working for the Americans in Afghanistan in 2009. I was working for a major. His name was Larry Henry," Mikey said. "His team left seven groups. Special Forces took over. I was translating for the three languages. I was helping them with the supply of local markets, whatever they needed. I was going to the combat operations with them. I was everywhere with them, wherever they were going."

In the fall of 2021, life for Mikey and thousands of other Afghans changed dramatically.

"It was like doomsday. Nobody cared about nobody. Nobody was safe," Mikey said. "The day that whole thing happened, I was in hiding. I didn't know what to do, where to go."

The Taliban took power of Afghanistan in August of that year. With the help and guidance of American soldiers, Mikey, his wife, and two children eventually made it to the airport to evacuate.

"It was dark when they were shooting at everyone or doing warning shots," Mikey said "My wife got shot in her foot and my 6-year-old son, he's 7 now, he got shot in his foot."

Both were briefly hospitalized. Eventually, the family of four made it onto a U.S. Air Force C-17. Mikey said hundreds of other Afghans were crammed onto the cargo plane destined for safety.

"For the kids and wife, this is why it was very important for me to come here, or at least somewhere safer," Mikey said.

They would eventually settle in a Dallas hotel where he was hired part-time.

"I was helping them with the translation, with whatever that they needed me,” Mikey said.

Struggling to make ends meet, Mikey later sought work at Mars Hill Farm.

"I take care of the cows, the chickens, the eggs with from the chickens. We have some sheep in here," Mikey said. "I'm happy right now working here. You know, it's a little bit far from where I live, but it's been over a year now.”

For Mikey, he enjoys picking flowers the most and the peace his job brings.

"The best part, to just be safe here. That I'm safe and alive right now. Mostly, I care about my family back home. They need me right now," Mikey said. "Hopefully, I can do something for my own, to have my own business, my own work to get to somewhere that America or people say America, the land of opportunities. I have to use that opportunity to be somewhere one day, you know, to make something for my kids and for my wife and my family back home."

Mikey has applied for an immigration visa and will have his interview this month. He hopes to one day be able to return to Afghanistan to see his parents and family.

Mars Hill Farm hopes to continue offering stability, income and a community to the refugees who work the land.

"What I love about that is their work will outlive their time here on this farm. They were here for only a short portion, but they planted a perennial crop that is a constant reminder to me of their faithfulness, right, and their struggle at the same time," Herb said. "So, every year that that crop comes up, like it is a good reminder that, people come into our lives maybe for just a brief season, but they do leave an impact. And that impact will outlive them."

Currently, the farm is funded through private donations. Their next step is to become a for-profit farm to continue to sustain the land and help refugees like Mikey.

Mars Hill Farm will host its yearly GladFest beginning May 27. GladFest celebrates the more than 50,000 gladiolus blooms.

Visitors can cut their own gladiolus Fridays and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at $2 a stem.

Mars Hill Farm is located at 1604 Mars Road in Ferris.

For more information on admission fees and other GladFest events, click here.

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