Award-winning urban farms feed Englewood, train workers

Story Image

Though fast food restaurants are common in Englewood, fresh produce is scarce. It can be a struggle for residents to find fresh, healthy food.

But in that scarcity, Growing Home, Inc., a social enterprise committed to community development through urban farming, saw opportunity. After obtaining a small plot of vacant space in Englewood, Growing Home has sprouted new life on Chicago's South Side at two vibrant urban farms.

The program won a $20,000 grant for outstanding community strategy in this Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards sponsored by Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago. Now in its 19th year, the awards program aims to raise the profile of and underscore the importance of investments in neighborhoods - particularly inner city neighborhoods.

"Beyond creating a sustainable food source in Englewood, our goal is to strengthen and support our community while creating lifelong opportunities for its residents," said Harry Rhodes, executive director of Growing Home, Inc. "Organic agriculture has proved to be an amazing vehicle for community development."

The ongoing economic displacement of families and persistent violence have taken a toll on Englewood's health - limiting access to fresh, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food.

Yet, due to the hard work of several community development organizations, the neighborhood has become a nucleus of urban agricultural innovation. At Growing Home's flourishing Wood Street and Honore Street Urban Farms, job training programs are offered to those who are homeless or whose criminal records make finding a job difficult.

Participants learn grow and harvest produce, and Growing Home later expanded to help Englewood residents learn about organic farming and shop for healthy produce.

The former open space on Wood Street has been transformed into a 2/3-acre garden, complete with a building that houses classrooms, office space, and a vegetable processing area.

The neighboring Honore Street farm is nearly an acre in size. With a total of 22,000 square feet of outdoor space, two new hoophouses are planned for next year's growing season, which will further expand growing space.

Though small, in 2012 the Englewood farms produced nearly 13,000 pounds of produce. In 2012, Growing Home made more than $200,000 between their food co-op program, wholesale sales to restaurants and sales at local farmers markets. Organizers and residents project that the farms will produce approximately 20,000 pounds of produce in 2013.

The organization expanded its vision in Englewood to include job training, physical activity and employment assistance to a neighborhood that experiences both high rates of obesity and unemployment.

In addition to creating a weekly farm stand and cooking classes for youths and adults, Growing Home has established a micro-center of economic development with its transitional jobs program, offering training and employment services, which has placed Englewood residents in more than 200 jobs.