Hidden farm grows fresh produce, opportunities

September 19, 2008 (CHICAGO) In the heart of Englewood you will find a hidden gem. Nestled in the heart of the neighborhood, is a sizable working farm that's providing both help and hope.

Naomi Hood knows a thing or two about vegetables.

"I grew up on a farm and my mother was a fabulous gardener. Every vegetable you can imagine and I was also a 4H clubber. So this is my roots," said Hood, produce shopper.

So Hood was thrilled when she discovered this thriving produce market and farm right in the heart of Englewood.

Now she gets all her vegetables here.

"I love it, and the fact that they allow me to go in and gather the produce is fabulous. I just love it.," said Hood.

This farm is operated by an organization called Growing Home. For the past two years, they've taken people from the Englewood community and taught them how to grow and sell their own produce. They're teaching a skill while at the same time supplying healthy food for the neighborhood.

"One of the things we want to do is try to encourage people to eat better and have access to high-quality calories," said Orrin Williams, Growing Home coordinator.

Growing Home is actually a transitional jobs program. It takes all types of people, including those with past addiction problems or criminal records, and gives them a second chance.

"It keeps me out of trouble and I look forward to goals I want to do or whatever trade I might want to take," said Willie Riley, program participant.

"They work about a 24 hour work week but in the course of that, they're in class, they're doing resumes, practicing interviews," said Williams.

For the people in the program, it's also about improving self esteem.

"I can actually stand behind my product and be proud. I started it from a seedling and grew it to a plant and now I have vegetables. It's amazing," said Tina Dillard, program participant.

"It teaches you a lot about life. Everything that you plant isn't necessarily going to sprout but you keep on going, a lot of metaphors for life," said Raheal Hannah, another participant.

But in this so-called food desert, where healthy diet choices are few and far between, this is a much-appreciated oasis -- especially for organic eating advocates like Naomi Hood.

"People say to me 'why do you buy organic, because it's so expensive.' And I say to them 'you're either going to pay it at the grocery store or in the pharmacy and I prefer the grocery store,'" said Hood.

The Growing Home farms hope to collaborate with some of the corner stores in the neighborhood to operate kiosks that will offer fresh produce for the community.

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