From the Ground Up
by ANNIE STEVENS | photography by ALLISON POTTER
T FIRST GLANCE, it looks like a
typical farm — chickens
lay eggs, carrots sprout
from the ground, and
from elongated branches. But there is
something different about this small plot
located near the Wilmington International
Airport. It is operated, in part, by an
unlikely group of people: lawbreakers.
The men and women who work the
farm have completed their debt to
society and now are residents of the
M.E. Roberts Transitional Living Facility.
There, they are required to spend the
first 60 days of their stay planting, weed-ing
and harvesting in the one-fourth-acre
plot’s many beds, learning lessons
“In the Scripture it talks about sowing
and reaping. That’s how the farm
operates. ... Same principle. All of the
pieces that the farm teaches you —
if you practice those things in life,
you will be successful.”
that will help them in the process of successfully transitioning from
prison to civilian life.
“In the Scripture it talks about sowing and reaping,” says Frankie
Roberts, cofounder of the nonprofit that operates the facility. “That
particular parable talks about understanding when you are sowing
seeds that the birds are going to get some, the sun is going to scorch
some, and some is going to fall on thorny ground. But some grew.
Some 30-fold, some 60-fold, some 100. That’s how the farm operates.
Same principle. It teaches you planning, it teaches you preparation. All
of the pieces that the farm teaches you — if you practice those things
in life, you will be successful.”
The farm and the living facility are part of Leading Into New Com-munities,
Inc. (LINC), a nonprofit organization Roberts, a Wilmington
native, cofounded in 2000.
His passion for the project stemmed
from his relationship with his brother,
Marvin, who died in 1998. Marvin, nearly
17 years older than Frankie, became
addicted to heroin while serving in
Vietnam. Following his two tours, Marvin
was in and out of prison after returning
“Over time, I became bitter and unfor-giving,”
Roberts says. “I used to have to
go to visitation and became more bitter.
I had to give up a weekend day. I had
this awakening in 1998. God showed me
if it wasn’t for His grace, that could have
been me. On my way to apologize, he
passed away. This organization was born
out of that experience. That’s how we
While incarcerated, Marvin Roberts died unexpectedly at the age of
49 after a minor surgical procedure. Two years later, Frankie Roberts
and Tracey Ray established LINC, dedicated to serving the needs of
men and women returning from prison to everyday life.
Roberts wanted to institute a positive, hardworking environment
that benefited both those transitioning from prison and the residents
of his city. From this desire, the idea for the urban farm was born.
“The law of the farm — it operates on the principles of life,” Roberts
says. “That’s what planted the seed for us to use the farm as our model.”
The farm was officially established in 2012, when LINC acquired
three-fourths of an acre for the living facility and offices in the north
side of Wilmington on Division Drive. It packs a lot of produce into
a small space. In fact, the lack of acreage gives the farm an intimate,
modest feel that adds to its uniqueness.
Ali Muhammad holds some freshly picked okra, one of the many crops grown on the urban farm at the M.E. Roberts transitional living facility
in north Wilmington.
PEOPLE | CULTURE | HAPPENINGS