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Felicia's Farm brings Tucson community together to help with food insecurity

Felicia’s Farm, a nonprofit farm at the base of the Catalina Foothills, has been donating all of their local produce and eggs to Tucson soup kitchens and those in need for 10 years.

The farm is dedicated to Felicia Ann Cutler, who was committed to feeding and helping people in Tucson. She died in 2009 but the farm has continued to help the community thanks to the numbers of volunteers and a trio of coordinators who run the farm.

Products from Felicia’s Farm also get donated to places all over Tucson such as Casa San Juan, Iskashita Refugee Network, Casa De La Luz Hospice and Our Place Clubhouse, according to Cathy Lolwing, one of the organization's staffers.

The primary recipient of donations from the farm is Casa Maria, a Catholic Worker soup kitchen and aid organization based in South Tucson. They get up to 800 people each day looking for assistance, according to Lolwing.

Brian Flagg, the manager of Casa Maria, said that every day Felicia’s Farm’s donations contribute to the huge pots of soup at the center, and family food bags which go out daily to families in South Tucson.

"They've been an absolute blessing in terms of fresh organic produce coming here," Flagg said.

He said that maybe the best thing Felicia’s Farm brings are the fresh eggs from the farm's 600 chickens.

"We hard-boil them and put them in lunches and it's a big deal,” Flagg said. “People are always asking if they can have another egg."

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Flagg said that Felicia’s Farm had recently brought them a bunch of fresh jalepeños. He said that sometimes they bring melons, bell peppers, radishes and a variety of produce.

“I think it introduces people to the fact that you can grow your own [food] that’s really good and it kind of fosters the idea of growing your own, being self-sufficient, stuff like that,” Flagg said. “And it tastes better and it's fresh and it hasn’t been thrown out by some market," he added.

Flagg said the biggest difference about Felicia’s Farm and other donation centers is that, "They're culturally attuned to how people look at food in our barrio, which is who we serve. And so that's most appreciated."

Students and volunteers of all ages can become a walk-in volunteer whenever they want. This freedom has allowed Felicia’s Farm to continue to run and provide produce to those in need, according to Lolwing.

"We get the coolest volunteers,” Lolwing said. “All different ages from little to adults. One of our regular volunteers is maybe in his 70s."

Without the solid base of volunteers, the farm wouldn’t be able to run as smoothly, Lolwing said. Although the biggest challenge is working exclusively on volunteer power.

“You never know if you're going to have one volunteer or 20 volunteers so preparing tasks on a very open schedule can be kind of tricky because we don't schedule people," Lolwing said.

"People that come back just really enjoy it here,” said Alex Bencomo, the farm's production manager. “They enjoy the energy. They enjoy the spirit, the kindredness. And I think it's a good positive impact for people"

Felicia’s Farm, on River Road near the Jewish Community Center, attracts people from all over Tucson. Students, community service members and those interested in sustainable living and farming often come to participate and learn in a hands-on way, Bencomo said.

“If we didn’t have all these people coming in, there’s no way we could do this” Lolwing added. “It’s amazing because it's like 103 degrees and there's still people working.”

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This July temperatures reached up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, but volunteers where still showing up to weed, collect eggs, and do any chores needed.

Suzanne Poirier has been volunteering at Felicia’s Farm for about four years.

"There was an announcement on public media that they were looking for a volunteer to milk the goats and I like goats for some reason so I wanted to learn how to milk them and to hang out with them," Poirier said.

Poirier said she likes the people she works with and they made her feel welcome.

“The camaraderie among the people that work in that area is always good,” Poirier said. “So you know, I went for the goats and I'm kind of staying for the people."

"I love that it's a place of connection, that people lead each other” Bencomo said. “They all come out to help and then they get to lead the people of the community.”

If you want to get involved, Felicia’s Farm, 3761 E. River Rd., welcomes drop-in volunteers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.

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Alana Minkler/TucsonSentinel.com

Kids checking out the chicken coop at Felicia's Farm.