Tom will be writing a column regularly for ACC on subjects of his interests.
“I’ve been many things in my life,” says Tom Fair, “a poet, a musician, a market gardener - Homelessness is a recent development - It came out of the blue.” Tom, who is soon turning 60, grew up in Framingham, MA, and until fairly recently was a successful market gardener in Montague. His farm was run according to the community supported agriculture model and provided food to 150 families. He hand-planted and hand-harvested all of his crops, an increasingly rare farming practice, and relied heavily on his greenhouse for extending the growing season. When he lost access to his land, he could no longer farm. He soon ran out of resources and found himself homeless. He recalls, “That first night, when I realized I had no more money and nowhere to go, I spent the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot, sleeping in my car.” Since then he has been working determinedly to make his comeback.
Tom currently works at the Jones Library. He has a Bachelors in Sustainable Food and Farming from UMass Amherst, and plans to one day earn a Masters in soil science. In addition to being a market gardener, Tom is a poet, a musician, and a self-described “lifelong student” fascinated with music, natural medicine, and agriculture. He enjoys performing at open mics and has played in bands in the past.
“Being homeless is a catch-22,” he says. “You need a stable home in order to thrive, but you can’t find stable housing unless you’re already thriving.” Many people in his position don’t even try to look for housing because they’re deterred by high move-in costs - first and last months’ rent plus a security deposit simply isn’t possible for people without a stable income. In addition, Tom says that age discrimination has made it harder to find work. He describes the homeless community as being full of “intelligent people with heartbreaking stories”
Tom expresses gratitude for all the help he’s been given - for the meals he’s received from Amherst’s community support networks, and for the Wal-Mart management who allow people to sleep in cars in the parking lot. He is diligent and ready to do whatever he must in order to get back on his feet. Most of all, Tom has his eyes on the future. Once he secures permanent housing and a stable job, he knows exactly what he’ll do next to build the life he wants. Homelessness might have befallen him, but with his attitude and ethic, and with support from his community, it will only be a temporary condition.