Growing Home started out with a simple idea. The director Harry Rhodes described it this way:
We had this idea that getting your hands dirty and seeing something grow could really help change people, but we had no idea how it would work. We saw that people quickly became engaged. They felt like it was theirs: their farm, their chickens, their tomatoes. (source)
This market garden in south Chicago provides job opportunities for people who might otherwise have a hard time finding work or a positive role in society. Here people get to learn about growing food, earn some money, and simultaneously provide a valuable resource (fresh vegetables!) to the greater community.
These greenhouses, on one of Growing Home’s farm sites, are where employees grow peppers, tomatoes, greens, squash and all kinds of other vegetables. Staff member Orrin Williams explained that this project is part of a larger vision for improving life in the community. The food grown here is sold at local markets and partnerships are formed with a growing number of “green collar” businesses bringing jobs and revitalization to the area.
Aside from this garden’s function and purpose, the site has some other interesting aspects. What amazed me the most was the fact that these vegetables are grown in less than 2 feet of soil. Why? Because the entire lot is paved with concrete, and the underlying soil is contaminated with industrial chemicals. So, the garden developers decided to leave the concrete in place (to prevent upward leaching) and simply add a couple feet of fresh soil. It’s incredible that it works, but it does.
In Chicago, so much of the urban soil has been contaminated, that it’s almost a boon to start a garden project with a paved site. That’s a pretty sad statement about the quality of urban soil, but it is impressive to see all the ways that people are managing to work around the challenge.