Growing Food and Careers through Urban Agriculture

“I didn’t know there was a farm in the hood.”

Fred Daniels hears that a lot. As the site manager at the Growing Home farm in Englewood, he wishes more people knew about this community resource. “Our doors are always open to support. It’s more than just our training program and making sure people get a job. It’s getting to see people blossom into a different person. And, growing some of the best food one can get.”

Growing Home is a nonprofit organization on the South Side of Chicago working to help people find meaningful, sustaining careers through agriculture. Through its training program, participants are involved in every aspect of farm production including planting, harvesting, packaging and selling to customers across the neighborhood and in Chicago. Participants, who are referred to as production assistants, also work with Growing Home staff to improve access to healthy food for underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. Before the pandemic, Growing Home sold produce every Thursday through farm stands, weekly pop-ups at hospitals and various events around the city. Since March 2020, the organization has had to make some tough decisions.

While transitioning the training program to a virtual setting was easy, “the hardest part of this pandemic has been sustaining the farm,” Fred said. “When running a farm, you need people. We weren’t used to constantly taking temperatures or wearing a mask all the time.” In order to follow the city mandates, only a few employees could be on-site at a time to help maintain the farms and take care of the crops. With three sites to maintain, many crops did not last.

Fred oversees the farm, trains production assistants and decides what crops are grown. His role gives him a chance to encourage others. After the tragic murder of George Floyd in May and civil unrest that followed, it was difficult for Fred to focus on work. “Overall, this year has been really tough. It’s been challenging trying to balance work and our personal lives. But Growing Home has kept me going. Helping other families and seeing the impact that we’re all making — I can’t stop now.”

“It was challenging for people to get food because of COVID-19 and the rioting. A lot of elders didn't have access. We donated all the food we grew, and that kept me motivated to keep going.”

Agriculture has always been a big part of Fred’s life. Before relocating to Chicago, his grandmother had a garden down South and introduced Fred to gardening in his own backyard right here in Englewood. It has been a source of relaxation for him for over 10 years. “Most people in this community look at farming as a slave thing. At Growing Home, there are Black people farming and that’s something new,” Fred explained. Still, he would like to see more youth from Englewood become interested in gardening and farming like he was growing up. There aren’t as many young people who are eager to get involved in the growing process and take advantage of the healthy food at Growing Home.

“I’d like to see the community supporting the farm. Really, it’s supporting themselves. This is some of the best food you can get–organic and no pesticides.”

Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Growing Home continues to virtually serve their training program participants and make food deliveries to people in the community. For the organization, it’s more than just helping people through the program; it’s making sure people succeed in all aspects of life. While there are no plans yet, Fred is hopeful that Growing Home will continue to develop and expand to create more space for the training program. For now, he continues to focus on getting healthy food to the community.

Support local organizations like this one and have your gift matched by donating to the McCormick Foundation Communities Program.


Popular posts from this blog

Saving Local Businesses in Greater Englewood

Creating Opportunities for Youth in Little Village

Securing Meaningful Careers for Chicago Veterans