Increasing Economic Opportunity through Agriculture
Everyone deserves to have a good job, and everyone deserves to eat well. That has been the vision of Growing Home since its founding in 2005. As the first high-production USDA-certified organic farm within city limits, Growing Home uses agriculture to inspire healthy living, increase economic opportunity and empower the Englewood community.
The organization provides nutritious food and food education to the community as well as a farm-based training program that has helped over 500 people with employment barriers find new career paths. The training program offers participants, or Production Assistants, opportunities to develop transferable skills, work experience, readiness support and mentorship. Growing Home harvests over 200 varieties of vegetables between each of its farms. Each piece of produce is packed, sold at one of its farm stands or delivered to residents in nearby communities.
“I learned about Growing Home’s training program through my daughter’s preschool. I wasn’t sure it was for me, but she convinced me,” said LaQuandra Fair, Community Engagement Coordinator at Growing Home and a 2016 graduate of the job training program. “I didn’t have a gardening or farming background, but I’ve learned so much at Growing Home, from seeding to harvesting. The decision has been so rewarding, beyond learning about agriculture, just knowing the small things I’m doing are helping change lives in the long run.”
“I have a strong sense of commitment and building with people. I am able to see the direct impact of the work that I do every day. I get to talk to seniors who have become friends and family. I get to see children who have never seen a tomato and explore how it grows. I get to see people turn their lives around.”
As the community engagement coordinator, LaQuandra was used to directly working with the community. When the pandemic hit, Growing Home staff members had to quickly readjust.
“I couldn’t go out to community events or workshops to speak with people. We had to learn how to pivot very quickly and figure out how to fully operate in the same capacity that we were before the pandemic,” said LaQuandra. “Our training program and cooking classes had to go virtual, and we started hosting virtual fundraisers.”
The Growing Home team has successfully kept up with this new normalcy. LaQuandra has continued to find ways to safely build relationships with the community, including organizing a senior pop-up market in Englewood and coordinating small volunteer groups to help at the farm. She has also partnered with nutritionists to incorporate important nutrition information in the increasingly popular virtual cooking classes. And, Growing Home continues to be a place for healing.
“I wish people knew that the community that we serve doesn’t always need help. It’s not so much that we need the investment in the resources. Most people know exactly what to do, but if you don’t have the means to provide or change your situation, then it makes it that much more difficult.”
“The relationship between plants and people is actually really similar,” added LaQuandra. “We all need good soil, to be planted, to be nurtured and cared for. And so does our food.”