It is a crisp, fall morning when the children and parents start to arrive at Our Village, a nonprofit community center tucked away from the road at 721 N. 500 West on five acres of farmland. It is Friday morning and time for Sprouts, a weekly class for children ages three and under accompanied by a parent.
There are horses grazing outside the large, red barn and a mother goat resting in the sunshine while her kids play nearby. Parents and little ones head for the classroom building, an older but newly-remodeled structure shaded by tall cottonwood trees. Between the barn and the classroom building, there is a hand-built playground with slides, a sandbox, and tunnels, plus a table encircled by child-size chairs.
Our Village, a 501c3 nonprofit, was founded by Annie Thomas in 2018, though the vision for Our Village began more than a decade prior, when Thomas was a young mother longing for “a space for parents to come together and support one another,” especially those with children five and under. When her children were that age, Thomas said, she often felt isolated in her role as caregiver, with nowhere to go to interact with the wider community.
“I was a mother screaming for a village,” she said.
To create that space, Thomas started a Sprouts program in 2008 at the Youth Garden Project, taking the name from an earlier Moab childcare group. Like the Sprouts of today, it was “nature-based,” with lots of outside play and activities.
Around the same time, Moab resident Tiger Keogh, a Waldorf-certified teacher, founded Sego Lily Children’s Garden for three- to six-year-olds. The philosophy of Sego Lily is holistic — “the Waldorf motto of ‘head, hands and heart’” as Thomas says — as well as nature-based. In 2013, Thomas became Keogh’s assistant and apprentice, eventually taking over the program when Keogh retired.
Thomas moved Sego Lily to her home on 500 West and began taking her preschoolers on “adventure time” to her neighbor Ray Alger’s farm. Alger, who gave permission for the children to explore his land, would often visit with the group, Thomas said. The children called him “Farmer Ray.”
Thomas said she spoke to Alger, who was in his nineties, about his vision for the property in the future. He told her he’d prefer the land he had farmed for decades remained open, cultivated but not developed. Thomas also noted that the property’s rich history includes being the site of a lumberyard, as well as the headquarters of Moab’s first radio station. Artifacts such as arrowheads found on the property show human ties to the land are longstanding.
For a time, Thomas said, it seemed likely that the farmland would be built over after Alger passed away. However, Thomas managed to secure grant funding and, in 2018, purchased the property with the plan to manifest her vision for Our Village, including farm animals and growing food.
“The farm is the perfect place to create the village-like atmosphere,” Thomas said, adding that she is happy Our Village is in line with what Alger wanted for the land.
In addition to Sego Lily—which has morning and afternoon sessions on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays— and Sprouts, Thomas said Our Village is currently home to a girl scout troop, a music class called Mini Maestros and a doll class taught by Keogh. A therapist keeps a horse on the property that he uses for equine-assisted therapy.
High school interns come regularly; Thomas’s daughter Jaidyn, a senior at Grand County High School, teaches art for Sego Lily, and another intern comes to both work with the horses and help with the children. Jenn Mcpherson-Liu assistant teaches, Meagan Coy does yoga with the children, and assistant Margaret Harris does baking. A high school special education class comes four days a week to assist with the many farm tasks—including feeding and walking the animals—and to interact with the preschoolers.
Other local groups such as Grand Area Mentoring and an elementary school class have visited to see the animals. Monthly work parties attended by adults and children — called “Eat, Play, Love” — get bigger farm projects accomplished with a potluck afterwards.
And, Thomas said, this is only the beginning.
“A year from now I’d love to have the trade skills set up: blacksmithing, woodworking, pottery and a textiles studio,” Thomas said.
She added that creating more opportunities for intergenerational activities is a priority.
Thomas said there are plans for a corn maze and a pumpkin patch next year, and the long term plan is to have permaculture botanical gardens and a food forest.
Part of the growth Thomas envisions requires fundraising. Thomas said they are seeking funding to upgrade the infrastructure, such as a sewer line and an agricultural building in need of repair. And, while Our Village was recently awarded a grant that will reimburse the cost of an irrigation system, they first have to find the funds to put it in.
Thomas said she is also looking for participants in new underwriting and stewardship programs. Underwriters provide funding while stewards adopt a piece of Our Village’s land which they help develop and maintain.
At Our Village, the children and parents arriving for Sprouts are greeted at the door by the aroma of baking bread and by group leaders Laura Hines and Ruth Lowe. Hines has worked with Thomas for years and Lowe is one of the assistant teachers at Sego Lily. Lowe is also a fluent signer, and incorporates sign language into the curriculum.
Tiny shoes are removed and placed in a row in the entrance area, coats hung on a line of hooks, and the mornings activities begin, starting with “free play” for the children.
Hines calls free play “the most important part of the morning.”
“This is the child’s work,” she says. “It is serious business.”
The toys at Our Village are made from mostly natural materials — nothing battery-operated or with a screen.
The morning includes a craft activity (making acorns from felt and real acorn tops), a story time complete with wooden figurines and other props to illustrate, followed by adventure time: a short walk past the chicken coop to the orchard. There, the children sit on quilts under the trees to enjoy a snack of fresh fruits, picked from the orchard itself when in season. On this autumn day, there are a few apples left to pluck from the branches. After returning to the classroom building, a hearty, home-cooked soup is served, along with bread fresh from the oven.
While the toddlers at Sprouts are too young, Thomas said the Sego Lily children often help cook the meals, as it benefits the little ones to do the “chopping, baking, stirring — using all their senses.” The Sego Lily children also bus their own plates and take the food scraps to the chickens, who make sure the leftovers do not go to waste.
Sprouts concludes with a closing song, and the children and parents head back out into the autumn sunshine.
Abigail Taylor is a mom participating in the Sprouts program with her one-year-old son, Desmond. Taylor is the deputy executive director at Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center; she adjusts her work schedule to attend.
“My work is very supportive of individual self-care endeavors,” she says. “This is my opportunity to connect with my son and also connect with community…It makes me happier and healthier.”
Taylor sees a benefit for her son as well.
“We don’t have any family members that are around his age,” Taylor says. “It’s exciting to get him around other kids his age, starting to socialize more. I love the natural environment, playing outside…Those are really important building blocks to raising a healthy, compassionate person.”
For more information on Our Village programs, including sliding scale scholarships, email Annie Thomas at email@example.com or call her at 435-260-0294.
Publishers’ note: We have children who have attended Sego Lily and Sprouts, but we have no financial ties to Our Village.
When: Program times vary
Where: 721 N. 500 West
Cost: Varies; sliding scale scholarships available
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-260-0294
“The farm is the perfect place to create the village-like atmosphere.”
– Annie Thomas