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A Visit To Blackbird Farm

The thing about Blackbird Farm and the full-color pictures painted of the beautiful children is that the moment the grossly expansive use permit is approved, the value of the land doubles, triples or quadruples and there is no obligation for the known and documented swindlers, John Hall & family who own the place, to take in and "educate"  even one child. Once given an entitlement for 292 people, the County cannot mandate what kind of people they are.

Though Blackbird bases their whole proposal on a foundation of the "students," in fact “Blackbird Farm,” the fictitious business name for nonprofit Pathways in Education Mendocino, is not an accredited school and everything in their application but a small handful of "yurts" for "students and guests" is dedicated to "guests" alone and includes multiple "1500 sq. ft. cabins", six "lodge cabins" with two separate rooms each and a 12,000 sq. ft. "Lodge/Inn" with ten private rooms. The Halls, just for spite because of Anderson Valley's almost universal opposition to their scheme, could upon being awarded an approval for the project put the property on the market and reap a multi-million dollar profit.

A reminder here that John and Joan Hall have been sued for $57 million by the State of California for overbilling for their charter schools “Options For Youth” and “Opportunities For Learning” at a time when they paid themselves each $322,000 a year for owning the nonprofit business while not being required to reveal what they paid themselves for their for-profit business that supplied goods and services to their nonprofit.

A similar situation is at play here with the nonprofit “Pathways in Education-Mendocino” hiring Lupine Construction & Development that is owned by the Hall family itself to do the multimillion dollar proposed construction at Blackbird Farm. Interesting is the fact that Pathways in Education has purchased two pieces of heavy equipment, a D6R LGP high track Caterpiller bulldozer and a 325D L Caterpiller excavator with a combined value of about $750,000 while having no one trained to operate them. It would be a safe bet to say that they will end up in the hands of Lupine. Local heavy equipment operators say that John Hall has "more money than brains" relative to this equipment because it represents a huge overkill for the job at hand. It would seem though that what is in play is Trump-smarts in finding a way to roll nonprofit money into for profit pockets.

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I have two personal experiences relative to Blackbird Farm that I would like to pass on.

First is my impression from their Fall Festival that the whole AV community was invited to attend a week ago this past Friday. Everyone was all smiles and wanted to shake my hand to the point it was annoying. From the uniformed maintenance workers to the Pasadena based non-resident principles of the program to John Walker the project manager who also made a point of inviting people up for a visit and "lunch any time." The students were almost invisible. Of the 3:00 to 6:00 pm event I was there for, about an hour smack in the middle 4:00 to 5:00, I encountered only three other visitors.

After signing in and being given a colorful card inscribed, "Blackbird Farm Fall Festival — Blackbird Farm is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating students about sustainable living, agriculture and livestock." I was invited to visit five stations and receive stamps that would admit me to the S'mores station.

Station one was ridiculous — a white horse smeared with various color paints standing patiently waiting for me to adorn it further from the palette of pastel paint and a brush made available for the task. No thank you.

Next another painting exercise but at least not on a live animal. No thanks.

The third station had a young lad attempt to transplant a broccoli start from one six-pack to another. He had obviously been given some instruction but couldn't quite make it happen without a college trained intern's help, there was just too darned much dirt in the second similar sized six-pack to accommodate the dirt from both.

Next was a lamb with a sign "Kiss me" attended by a pretty young gal that could have been in high school but said she was an employee. I pondered briefly the importance of kissing sheep to sustainable living but again declined. By then I'd had enough and the draw of a S'more wasn't strong enough to have me search out the fifth station.

The reader can make up her own mind but if this was to be an introduction to Blackbird Farms "educational" curriculum, my take is that it is pathetic.

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On Sunday exercising what I thought had been a friendly invitation I chose to drive up to Blackbird Farm for the purpose of logging from Philo the miles and time it took to drive in from the Ray's Road side along with the miles and time it took to drive out the backside via Philo/Greenwood Road and back to Philo. This is the one way route proposed by our AV Fire Chief to mitigate potential dangers of the narrow roads during an emergency. I do have issues with that plan but will address them later.

Driving through the main Blackbird Farm compound I passed one young man on foot who waved. Other than that it appeared deserted. Immediately I came upon a closed gate that I could not figure out how to open so I turned around and went out the way I had come in. This process probably had me on the property not more that five minutes.

I was on a mission so I decided to drive in the back Philo/Greenwood Road way to the closed gate, turn around and continue logging the miles and times going back out. Which I did though I stopped on a knoll above the gate rather than taking the last couple hundred yards. From that position I could view the compound and again found little to no activity. My mission was accomplished without any real incident.

The next day, Monday, in the morning I set off on one of my routine jaunts either to the  Navarro River or the forest around it. While still on Ray's Road first one than another of the Blackbird Farm vans separated by a few minutes drove past heading home and I assumed they were returning from taking the "students" out to their ride home for the holiday. Just as I stepped through the gate at Van Zandt Resort I noticed one of the Blackbird Farm vans coming out of the Latino compound accessed by a road that parallels the road I was taking down to the bridge across the river. Sure enough the van turned and came through the gate so I squeezed over on the ten foot wide space to give plenty of room. The van stopped and something was said out the driver's window so I walked over and inquired "What's up?" The young woman driver responded, "I was wondering if I could help you? You are on our property."

I almost guffawed but politely said, "No! Your property starts 2 1/2 miles up the hill." And then almost in a giggly mood asked what she had been doing out the other road. Her answer was that she was only four days new and had got lost. Fatherly I told her "You be careful." and then seeing her furrowed brows and thinking she might have interpreted it as a threat I repeated, "You be careful who you are working for." She drove off.

My walk lasted about 2 1/2 hours and some of that time I spent pondering the propriety of sending young interns with probably no special training or country-road experience to drive school children over these narrow, muddy, dangerous and unfamiliar roads.  Hmm?

When I returned home my answering machine light was flashing. It was a message from Danielle French-Jun the non-resident program director calling from Pasadena to say that her "team" had informed her that I was spotted driving around the place Saturday and Sunday and she wanted me to know that I could not do so without prior permission. She asked me to call her back which I did but got her answering machine so as of yet we have not been able to discuss the conflict of between told by the project director John Walker I was welcome and this latest pronouncement. Personally I understand both positions.

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Blackbird: Walking Lightly On The Land



One Comment

  1. Elizabeth Tate August 11, 2018

    I found this article and wanted to know what changes blackbird has made.

    I worked at Rocky Mountain Pathways Ranch in Colorado for 16 months, as the “Equine Specialist”, which was their silly title for the Barn Manager.

    The company was ridiculously mismanaged and ran by city people, who did not understand the needs of animals in the Rocky Mountains. They had students painting symbols on horses in the dead of winter, probably like what you mentioned in your article. The students hiked in the winter without proper clothing, to name a few stupid parts of their program for students.

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