Harry Rhodes is executive director of Growing Home, a Chicago-based organization whose mission is to provide job training and employment opportunities in organic agriculture for homeless and low-income people.

Monday, 20 May 2002


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It’s Monday morning and there’s a lot to get organized. As the only full-time employee of Growing Home, I coordinate all of our activities and communications with project participants, board members, individual partners, organizations, and supporters. Growing Home is a young startup with grandiose plans. We have a lot going on at the moment, and even more planned for the near future.

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Later this morning I’ll meet with Les Brown, our board president. Les is one of the founders of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and is currently the director of policy there. He is also one of the initiators of Growing Home. As board president, he is involved in all of our activities, and today he’ll help me make some decisions regarding our upcoming board meeting.

I just spoke with two of the participants in our job-training program, Harvey Thomas and Michael Skinner. They are currently living in the House of Daniel, a transitional shelter for homeless men. We have two more homeless men currently in our program. These trainees participated in a pre-employment job-training workshop in March and April of this year. The workshop concentrated on building up their self-confidence and “soft skills” so they could go out and find work. They improved their communication skills, drafted resumes, and learned how to prepare for and conduct themselves in job interviews. This workshop was an essential first step for these participants in their efforts to find stable work and eventually stable housing. A stable job at a livable wage is necessary before people can escape homelessness.

Following the pre-employment workshop, the trainees began stage two of the Growing Home job-training program. Growing Home has 10 acres of agricultural land in LaSalle County (about 70 miles southwest of Chicago). We are dedicated to turning this land into an organic farm. The trainees in our program learn all about developing an organic agriculture business: growing organic vegetables, raising chickens, vermaculture, aquaponics, and more. They also learn about the business side of agriculture, including marketing, sales, and planning. We contract with a Milwaukee-based organization, Growing Power, to provide agricultural training. Will Allen provides professional training; Phil Ceretto works as farm manager and provides daily training. At the end of Growing Home’s four-month training period, program participants are ready to return to Chicago and find work.

Harvey and Michael told me that they will be starting their eight-week computer course at Inner Voice today. This is another aspect of the Growing Home job-training program. Growing Home is developing a comprehensive, participant-focused training program that imparts specific, marketable skills, a sense of community, and a renewed commitment to productive, sustainable employment.

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A third trainee, Ronald Carter, just stopped by my office. He missed a few days last week because he had to take his six-month-old daughter to the doctor. We try to be as flexible as possible in order to allow participants to handle other responsibilities in their lives. He told me that he’s starting to enjoy the training, especially since he’s seeing things being to grow in the organic farm.

So we have another busy week ahead of us. We are pleased and excited that training has begun and that our first crops have been planted. I just hope that spring will finally arrive to make the work at the farm more pleasant. With the strong winds we have out here, it is murder working when it’s rainy and the temperature is in the 40s. I guess that’s the unpredictability of agriculture.