Chicago Botanic Garden prepares young adults for green jobs

CHICAGO "I'm learning all kinds of things about why plants that I tried to grow before didn't grow. I'm getting all of the book knowledge as to why my thumb wasn't green enough," said Renee Mack.

Mack is one of several new students enrolled in a nine-month urban horticulture program offered by the Chicago Botanic Garden at the Arturo Velasquez West Side Technical Institute. It's free to participants and includes a three-month paid internship.

Mark Lamovec who teaches the coursework explained, "They get experience on harvesting and handling. They get experience in a number of different fields where they can find jobs."

It's geared toward at-risk young adults in the North Lawndale and other West Side communities, but anyone can apply. Claire Mitchell teaches organic agriculture to students in the Austin neighborhood. She is also a student in the program.

"This is a food desert," said Mitchell. "I don't know where you would get organic agriculture or organic produce in this neighborhood and bringing it here is really giving people the opportunity to become part of that lifestyle."

This year, the program added a business component to help students learn to market themselves and their products.

"It's the direct sales and the farmers' markets and when you're at the farmers' markets, how do you make your product stand out from the next person's?" explained Angela Mason, Director of Community Gardening at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

In addition to attaining job skills, the goal is for students to share their knowledge of food production in their communities. That's exactly how it's working for Joan Hopkins. The West Side resident was a student in the pilot program last year and is now employed by it. She helps grow and harvest food and then transports it to local stores and restaurants that sell the crops.

"Where I come from, a lot of people don't know about organic gardening," said Hopkins. "Two years prior to this program, I tried to help my sister grow a garden. It didn't work out so well. Now, I'm ready to get back in there and help her grow a garden again."

Windy City Harvest still has a few slots open for new students. And again, that program is FREE.

For additional information, contact Angela Mason, Director of Community Gardening, at, or by calling (847) 835-6970.
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