Growing Home: Fresh Farms Provide a Fresh Start

If home is where the heart is, then Growing Home is the beating heart of Chicago’s burgeoning urban agricultural movement. For the past ten years, Growing Home has filled the minds—and stomachs—of its formerly criminal and transitional workforce. By offering training in organic farming practices, sustainable living, and practical business skills, the organization gives people a fresh start and a chance to leave their troubled pasts behind. 

The organization works with referral programs, parole agencies, and the Illinois Department of Corrections, to help people who want to re-enter the workforce but face daunting barriers because of their histories of incarceration, substance abuse, or homelessness. The group has helped more than 250 urban farmers find jobs they can be proud of.

For people like Fred Daniels, an Englewood resident with a criminal past, Growing Home provided a much-needed bridge into a productive, stable future.

Since he joined Growing Home in 2010, Daniels has developed valuable skills in urban agriculture. He’s also proven that he’s responsible, reliable, and resourceful. As a result, he now holds one of three coveted full-time farm assistant positions. Daniels is a shining example of someone who is thriving in the green economy.

Helping people like Daniels find good jobs strengthens the whole community. It reduces the chances that they will commit crimes, abuse substances, or end up on the streets.

By focusing on hiring Chicago residents, Growing Home invests in local communities. Once a participant is chosen for Growing Home, they enter an intensive 14-week training program. Participants hold steady jobs the whole time they’re in training so they make a living and are set up for success when they finish.

During the training, they get their hands dirty at organic farms, where they try out a number of different jobs and learn new skills that prepare them to enter the workforce.

Growing Home’s model boasts tremendous success rates– last year, 300 applicants jockeyed for 35 open positions. Of these, 75 percent of program graduates have found full-time, unsubsidized work. All of them still have jobs today. Ninety-five percent of Growing Home participants never go back to prison—compared with a state recidivism rate of fifty percent.

The key is that Growing Home gives ex-offenders real-life training that sets them up for success. They show up on time, fulfill their responsibilities, and earn a decent wage. They also receive health insurance and all the produce they can eat.

Between its four organically-certified farms, the organization is not only fueling local economies—it’s boosting access to nutritious, healthy food for Chicago’s urban residents. Growing Home’s farms are located in the city’s food deserts—places like Englewood, on Chicago’s Southside, where only two grocery stores serve a population of 65,000. The urban farms provide healthy, fresh, nutritious produce. They offer residents an affordable alternative to eating from convenience stores, where food tends to be loaded with fat, sugar, and preservatives that contribute to diabetes and debilitating illnesses.

Growing Home is doing more than putting people to work in the green economy. It’s changing lives—meal by meal and farmer by farmer.

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