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Q&A: Friendships grow at L’Arche farm near Summit

Leana Shiu and Anna Bahnson have known each other only since August, but they joke with each other and share stories like old friends at the Summit-area farm where they work.

Shiu, 35, has been a core member at the L’Arche Farm & Gardens for about 10 years. Core members is what L’Arche calls people with disabilities who are part of the organization, because they are the center of the program.

Bahnson, 22, is volunteering at the farm for about a year as she applies to medical schools.

L’Arche Tahoma Hope is part of the international L’Arche organization, which has roughly 150 communities. Each community is different, but all focus on mutual respect and solidarity among members, including core members and assistants. There are several homes that make up the Pierce County community, including the farm.

The Pierce County farm started in 1982 as a way to provide work for core members who were unemployed at the time. Nine core members and five assistants work there now.

Bahnson and Shiu worked together in the craft room at the farm recently. Bahnson was making paper Christmas ornaments and Shiu was hot-gluing handmade paper to make journal covers for sale at local craft fairs to help support the program.

The duo talked about what it’s like to work on the farm, and how L’Arche works.

Question: How have you become good friends so quickly?

Shiu: We have a lot in common.

Bahnson: We both have a sweet tooth. We both like being at the farm. We go to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. We both like to have dance parties and be in the craft room.

Q: I see the journals. What other crafts do you make and sell?

Bahnson: We also make Christmas ornaments with our recycled paper. We gave a bunch of ornaments to the zoo for a tree they put up. We make wreaths too.

Q: What are the most popular items at the craft fairs?

Bahnson: The wreaths are really popular. I’d say the journals are the most popular paper products.

Q: What is your job with the wreath-making, Leana?

Shiu: Trimming.

Bahnson: We (L’Arche) went to Mount St. Helens. We got some material to make Christmas wreaths there. It was fun to take a road trip together.

Shiu: It was kind of nutty.

Bahnson: Do we do a lot of joking?

Shiu: Yes.

Bahnson: What happened when you went to Mount St. Helens last year?

Shiu: A snowball fight.

Q: What are some of the goals and skills you focus on?

Bahnson: Staying focused is a goal.

Shiu: That’s a tricky one.

Q: Do you live together, or do you mostly just spend time together here at work?

Bahnson: Leana lives at (L’Arche’s Tacoma) Anawim house, and I live at the Lutheran Volunteer Corps house. We both went to the “Scrooge” musical at Tacoma Little Theatre. You were laughing pretty hard during that, Leana.

Shiu: It was a little scary.

Bahnson: There was a gathering in Atlanta of L’Arche members from all over the world. Leana got to go as our representative.

Q: Does the winter schedule look different than the summer days on the farm?

Bahnson: During the summer and fall and spring we’re at three farmers markets a week. It’s pretty darn busy. We have to harvest and wash all of our produce and get it all loaded and ready to sell. We have chickens. This time of year our markets slow down, and we have all these craft shows.

Q: How did you choose to volunteer here, Anna?

Bahnson: I’m with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. A friend of mine who is a friend of Leana worked out here as a Lutheran volunteer two years ago. She had such a good time, she decided to become a live-in assistant.

Q: Does L’Arche plan any holiday activities?

Shiu: We’re going to go see Santa and the reindeer.

Bahnson: That’s at Watson’s greenhouse. We’re going to go see Santa and maybe do some caroling. Tuesday we’ll have a Christmas party with a white elephant exchange. L’Arche is very good at finding reasons to celebrate. We have lots of parties.

Q: What should people know if they’re thinking about visiting your booth at a craft fair?

Bahnson: I think it’s a very good cause. It helps us to grow, right?

Shiu: Me too.

Bahnson: The motto is “growing people and growing plants.”

Shiu: That’s funny.

Q: What are some of the challenges about living and working at L’Arche?

Shiu: People leaving.

Bahnson: Some people stay for years and years. Some people, it’s kind of like a gap year. There are lots of people who come and go in the core members’ lives. There’s also a consistent group that’s always here. That’s always tough when our friends leave.

Shiu: Even if you’re in medical school, we’ll still be friends.

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