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Growing Home

Summer, 2008

Principle: They'll always say, "It can't be done"

GreenhouseIn 1992, Les Brown, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, wanted to do more to combat homelessness. He recognized a lack of living wage jobs is one of the major factors leading to homelessness, but he believed giving someone a job was not enough. In order for an individual to break out of the cycle of homelessness, he needs a sense of purpose. "Homeless people," according to Brown, "are often without roots. They're not tied down, not connected, not part of their family anymore."

Brown founded Growing Home as a way to give people this sense of purpose. With a mission to help homeless and low-income people gain job training and employment opportunities through a nonprofit organic agriculture business, Brown found land about 75 miles southwest of Chicago and, in 2002, started a pilot training program. The structure of the Growing Home program prepares previously incarcerated and homeless individuals to re-enter the workforce by teaching job skills. It also, in the words of Brown, provides "a way for them to connect with nature—to plant and nurture roots over a period of time. When you get involved in taking responsibility for caring for something, creating an environment that produces growth, then it helps you build self-esteem."

Since 2002, Growing Home has helped more than 100 Chicagoans, many of whom are recovering from addiction, mental illness, or have not held a steady job in years. Approximately 65 percent of program participants find full-time work, and the program has a 90 percent success rate for participants improving their living situation.

In 2007, Growing Home established Chicago's first permanent year-round farm, in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood. Named the Wood Street Urban Farm, it is part of Englewood's Quality of Life Plan, and a community-wide effort to reconfigure the food system in the neighborhood. By providing a model of urban agriculture and coupling job training, transitional employment, youth and adult outreach programs, and congregational space for community members, Growing Home's Wood Street Urban Farm is a community center and an integral part of Englewood's revitalization.