Growing Homes is a program that appears to be a win-win-win situation. And these are hard to find. I learned about it when Growing Homes Executive Director, Harry Rhodes, introduced some of the farm’s produce along with some of the farms’ interns at an event I attended a while ago. I had an interest in seeing it in person since that time, but when an invitation was issued to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house celebrating its newly completed building, it was an offer too good to pass up. I drove with four friends from Evanston to Englewood.
It was a lovely day - the weather was perfect and our journey took us through the city displaying its spectacular architecture. Arriving in Englewood, we learned that Chicago has been able to bring many people and departments together with a very positive result.
The Wood Street Urban Farm Development in Englewood is situated in an “Urban Desert”, a place in which there is little access to fresh produce. On a small plot of land the city provided to Growing Homes, beginning with no water, three hoophouses (unheated greenhouses used to grow crops all year) were constructed with sprinkling systems. It is anticipated that this area will produce a yield of 10,000 pounds this year. At least half of this will be made available to the community at the Englewood Farmer’s Market at 65th and Ashland, at the Wood Street Urban Farm and at Green City Market in addition to what is sold to area restaurants that include Charlie Trotters.
This special program began in 2006. Growing Home plants seeds of hope by giving people a second chance at life. As a way to rehabilitate individuals who have been released from jail or have come from substance abuse programs etc, individuals participate in a six-month internship learning about growing plants and in the process growing into more responsible individuals. During the internship, individuals learn about marketing the organic vegetables to high-end restaurants and hotels. At the end of the internship they are supported in applying for other city jobs and/or school.
The growth of the program is very impressive as was stated by Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) and Commissioner, Patti Scudiero. In fact, it is thought this site will serve as anchor and example for similar farms to be established nearby along the 95th street railroad tracks.
We were told about how job placement takes place and about the internship program and finally we were introduced to a soon to be graduate of the program, Jasmine Easter. She spoke about the ways in which her life has changed as a result of participating in the program. Although she looks like she is in her teens, she has two daughters, 18 and 20 who are college students. As her internship comes to a close, she will join her daughters in being a college student, too. This was, indeed, a Growing Home.
Liane Casten drove with me and wrote that, “We drove to the most violence- prone area in Chicago, Englewood, to watch Harry Rhodes and his devoted helpers cut a ribbon to announce the official arrival of the first USDA -approved urban organic production farm: Growing Home. A gem of enterprise and excitement that rose from concrete slabs and debris.”
In celebration of the ribbon cutting, there was a BBQ sponsored by Whole Foods and Fox & Obel. Freshly picked organic greens became a wonderful salad and everyone enjoyed eating and visiting.
“What better way to celebrate a valuable and needed event in a neighborhood where Growing Home has planted such rich seeds,”
I know I heard someone say that “Growing food is spiritual” which might relate to the success of this program.
More information at: www.growinghomeinc.org