or substance abuse, or even simply a lack of education.
You might be thinking… This will never work. How will the harvest ever get picked? Those people are not qualified to cultivate my food. Well, consider this: in 2010, Growing Home’s Wood St. Urban Farm (the one I visited) grew and sold over 11,000 pounds of organic produce and brought in over $45,000 as income for the interns! They sell CSA Shares to community members, have a weekly market on Wood St., market their goods at Green City Market, and even sell their goods to Chicago restaurants like Big Bowl. If that’s enough to change your mind about the effectiveness of the program, you can stop reading now. But you probably shouldn’t, because there are so many other things that Growing Home is doing to help the community, it’s mind-boggling.
Not only does the full time staff at Growing Home educate the interns about horticulture, soil preparation, food systems, and nutrition, but they also teach them ways to reintroduce themselves into the workforce with classes on job readiness, financial literacy, and personal narrative writing. And there is a demand for more, as word spreads like Kudzu vines! In addition to the two other urban farms that Growing Home runs, they just acquired yet another across the street, called Honore Street Farm. NeighborSpace, a land conservation group respected within the city bureaucracy, is helping them transform the land into the full-fledged farm the the Wood St. location has become. Speaking of connections with the City, executive director Harry Rhodes recently met with new mayor Rahm Emanuel.
So with the links they have made with influential Chicago groups, it looks as if Growing Home is well on their way to accomplishing their ultimate goal: to make enough money off of their social enterprises to be able to give food away to the community members (which they already do) and be financially sustainable. But how are they getting their name heard? Like so many budding businesses these days, social media has helped Growing Home in the publicity aspect. But it’s also word of mouth. “People just know about us,” said my tour guide. When I asked her if she thought Growing Home was a good model for other cities, she agreed. And how could she not? There is no reason that other initiatives can’t take a lesson from the hard work and dedication of the place. Although financial victory for those with barriers to employment may be harder to grow than the little radishes on the plot, numbers don’t lie. Growing Home is a success from which we can all learn, no matter where we live.
Cheers to growth and harmony,