On April 1st, we had the great pleasure of training three new instructors from Growing Home. Growing Home is Chicago’s leading expert in farm-based training for people with employment barriers. The program, based in the Englewood community, has been around since 2002 and has three main focus areas: employment training, food access, and community development. Participants in the program (called Program Assistants, or PAs) are given 25 hours per week of paid on-the-job instruction and training on urban farms. 

“Our community” says Growing Home’s Megan Morrison, “is the people that we serve through our food and our farmers markets, and our wider Englewood community who we serve through education programming, and our program participants.” Growing Home PAs train on the farm in the morning, then enter the classroom portion in the afternoon, where Roots of Success is taught. Jaclyn Santi, Employment Training Coordinator, told us “people get more and more into Roots of Success the further along in the program they are, the more they’re learning on the farm.” She says it’s exciting to see students connect their hands-on training with the Roots of Success material. 

Dredia Buford, a Growing Home graduate, says her knowledge from Roots of Success has helped her in her current job at Whole Foods. “I know how all this food came to be. From seed to sell. From corporation farming to organic urban farming.” Dredia was a Production Assistant in Growing Home’s Cohort 3 of 2020 that graduated the program in December. One of her takeaways from the course? “How much water we waste. Because it is such a small commodity available to us globally. We all should be mindful of how much we use. So I took the challenge personally and am committed to stop wasting water. So far so good.” Dredia says that the energy module especially gave her “new levels of awareness of the opportunities for green jobs and where to begin to look for those jobs.” She is motivated to continue working in the green economy. “I am growing my skills to become a successful entrepreneur in landscaping. My area of expertise is ground cover instead of grass. And I’m looking forward to more community gardening at Growing Home in the future.”

In addition to the graduates who go on to outside employment, says Megan, “some of our PAs are now working for Growing Home or interning at Growing Home. They have that mindset that leads to other parts of our mission. It’s reflected in the actual technical education they’re getting in Roots of Success, which is really neat.” During the Community Organizing and Leadership module, one cohort started their own small advocacy group. “The passion was already there,” says Jaclyn, but the program “helped them feel like they had the knowledge and power to take that elsewhere in the community. It shows how powerful certain aspects of the curriculum are for people.”

Growing Home began incorporating Roots of Success into their program last year, and because of COVID-19, taught the curriculum remotely via zoom. “The Roots of Success curriculum has been very easy to implement over zoom,” says Jaclyn. “It’s super interactive, so it still keeps people really engaged. As we are a hands-on job training program that does farming, working on Zoom and Google Drive during COVID has shown the commitment and resiliency of our staff and participants. It’s been challenging, but it’s added a whole new skill set for our PAs.” 

The new instructors are Dr. Shenika Jackson, Case Management Coordinator; Ezra Lee, and Zachary Austin, who will teach the class. Zenobia Williams, Employment Training Director, was also present at the training. “The students really enjoy having the Roots of Success curriculum so that they can connect the dots, it actually provides them with the science behind it, and that’s really been important to the curriculum,” she says. “The biggest thing they say they enjoy about the program is actually being able to connect with the farm and having a curriculum to back up that information and that education.” This year, they will also be teaching at Olive-Harvey Community College, where they hope students will be able to receive some college credit for taking the Roots of Success class. 

We are so happy that Growing Home has joined our family of Roots of Success programs in Chicago. Growing Home program participants get the opportunity to learn the Roots of Success curriculum alongside valuable, hands-on urban agriculture training. “My fondest memory from the program,” says Dredia, “was how passionate all of my classmates are about taking something back they learned in class, or farm, to their loved ones and communities. It’s inspiring to see their joy to share new information where it is most needed: home and community.”