Grand Valley Magazine Fall 2014 - (Page 34)

ALU M NI NEWS GROW I NG PRIDE IN THE SOUTH SIDE OF CHICAGO Homeless, recovering addicts transformed through farming by Abigayle Sloan, '07 Two children played music with homemade instruments on the front porch of their home while police cars sped through the alley. It was a Monday afternoon on the south side of Chicago. Police officers were trying to track down evidence from a shooting that took place 30 minutes earlier. Shaniece Alexander, '08, showed no alarm while police circled the block. She continued giving a tour of the Growing Home Inc. Wood Street Urban Farm, which is nestled between family homes on two small plots of land in the Englewood neighborhood. "Our main mission is to help people find permanent work, and through that we give them hands-on work to do," Alexander said. "It is paid, it is 14 weeks, and they are actually doing work for a product that's being produced and sold to real customers." The site Alexander was standing on was, statistically, an unlikely location for any kind of business, especially a farm. From June to July, 353 crimes were recorded in Englewood. Forty-two 34 Fall '14 percent of residents are living below the poverty line, according to the 2010 census. The U.S. Department of Agriculture once considered the neighborhood a "food desert," meaning it was a community that offers little to no fresh produce or meat and is mainly populated by fast-food and convenience stores. The creation of the Wood Street Farm was a direct response to some of Englewood's most crippling problems, the unemployment rate and limited access to nutritious food. The farm is one of several urban agriculture projects developed by Growing Home Inc. It was established on a two-thirds acre plot of land in 2008, and expanded to a vacant lot across the street in 2011. It is the first high production USDA-certified organic farm in Chicago. Produce is harvested almost every month; the grounds yield more than 24,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables annually. Alexander said many people arrive at Growing Home Inc. with little confidence. Some have no job experience, have felony records, are on the path to recovery from addiction or are transitioning from homelessness. As the employment training manager, Alexander is responsible for recruiting Chicago residents to the job training program and helping them grow into productive citizens. The curriculum combines various farm work duties with classroom instruction, agricultural sciences, customer service training and job readiness. "My personal, educational and professional experiences led me to my passion for social justice and I have found a great sense of excitement for advocating for underserved individuals, families and communities," she said. Shaniece Alexander, '08, is the employment training manager at Growing Home Inc. Wood Street Urban Farm in Chicago, pictured at left.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Grand Valley Magazine Fall 2014

Campus News
Donor Impact
International Education
From Application to Admission
History Project Roots Scholars to Their Neighborhood
In the Weeds
College of Education Celebrates 50 Years
Focal Point
Q&A Diana Lawson
Off the Path
Alumni News

Grand Valley Magazine Fall 2014