Skip to main content
Move the World.
This Chicago Urban Farm Grows Opportunity, Jobs
Fred Daniels, Growing Home’s Director of Urban Farms, at work in a hoop house in 2014. Photo by Andrew Collings Photography

Fred Daniels has an entire world to manage — and currently, it’s a fairly ferocious one.

The leaden sky is mirrored in his shirt as he steps out into the driving rain and heads towards one of the hoop houses on the grounds of the Wood Street farm, one of two lots cultivated by Growing Home — a robust, roughly 1-acre urban farm in West Englewood on Chicago’s South Side. Each hoop house resembles a ribcage, the soft skin stretched between allowing for Daniels, Growing Home’s Director of Urban Farms, to control the weather — heat when it is cool; cool air when it is hot — and that skin, opaque with precipitation, is currently roaring inside, so that he must raise his voice to be heard by the production assistants he is guiding. With teams that can swell up to 40 production assistants, Daniels manages what is essentially a small company.

Weed, feed, till, rake, seed; as thunder shakes thoracic cavities and he pushes a hand tiller, a selachian rotation of teeth with a pair of velociraptor claws in the back, the dirt goes from turkey feather brown to rich mahogany, promise in the crevasse. Radishes have already leaked pathogens into the soil, and Daniels is replacing them with produce he knows will flourish in their wake — carrots, lettuce, beets. The world inside the hoop house is his to manage with the skills he has gained from Growing Home.

Growing Home’s Wood Street farm, including hoop houses crops
in West Englewood, Chicago. Photo by B. David Zarley
Growing Home’s Wood Street farm, including hoop houses crops in West Englewood, Chicago. Photo by B. David Zarley

Daniels is a 2010 graduate of the Growing Home program and next year will mark a decade working the land he grew up just down the street from. Growing Home’s organic urban farms use agriculture as a vehicle for providing job training for people with employment barriers, whether due to prior convictions, like Daniels, or medical concerns, poverty, homelessness, or any other issues which make gainful employment difficult. Their priority is not in producing food — though their two farms do plenty of that, harvesting roughly 30,000 pounds a year —but in producing people with the skills they need to find jobs of their own.

Hoop houses like this one at Growing Home’s Honore St. farm allow for controlling weather variables and year-long growing. Photo by B. David Zarley
Hoop houses like this one at Growing Home’s Honore St. farm allow for controlling weather variables and year-long growing. Photo by B. David Zarley

“There’s a good amount of urban farming happening in this city and the country,” Chrissy Gargano, Growing Home’s Grants and Communications Coordinator, said by phone. “But something that makes Growing Home different is that job training side of things, which is the basis for why Growing Home exists.”

Growing Home’s program lasts 14 weeks. Participants, called production assistants, are paid workers who split their time between the farm and the classroom, where they learn not only employment techniques — resume writing, elevator pitching, interviewing — but also social skills through the TIP (Transferring Impossible to Possible) curriculum developed by Philip Hong at Loyola Chicago’s School of Social Work. Inside the classroom, TIP reminders like “HOW ARE YOU TIP’N’ TODAY?” hang from the walls, and a social worker is present in the classroom to help them implement these tips in their lives. The end result is Growing Home’s holistic job training approach, wherein business and social skills are intertwined.

Growing Home’s Honore Street farm in West Englewood, Chicago. Another field across the street will soon increase food production for the neighborhood. Photo by B. David Zarley
Growing Home’s Honore Street farm in West Englewood, Chicago. Another field across the street will soon increase food production for the neighborhood. Photo by B. David Zarley

The next step for the program is to grow — but to grow smart. Gargano and Executive Director Danielle Perry both attribute part of Growing Home’s success to the small group sizes of about 50 participants a year. This allows for a small staffer-to-production assistant ratio, ensuring that all participants get the attention they need.

Perry, who arrived in March, also wants to focus on providing more food to the Englewood neighborhood specifically. They’re building a new farm across the street from their Honore location. One hundred percent of the new farm’s produce will stay in the neighborhood. By forming relationships with church communities and local stores, Perry hopes to alleviate a barren food desert; this immense neighborhood is served by only two grocery stores.

In the din, Daniels shares his dream of buying a few acres and growing his own food; he’s got the skills, after all, and is a vegetarian anyway. In the meantime, he manages the farms and the people on them, helping to instill the same skills which turned his life around almost a decade ago.

“Growing food is one thing,” Daniels says. “But to me, the biggest impact is creating jobs in the community.”

And Daniels steps out into the storm.

More About

Catalysts
The Crib: A Place to Call Home
The Crib: A Place to Call Home
Catalysts
The Crib: A Place to Call Home
For young LGBTQ adults, this is the shelter that accepts many people that are too often turned away.
By B. David Zarley

Every night, young adults pass through the basement door of the Lakeview Lutheran Church, close to the heart of Boystown, the gay neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. Like many institutions in Lakeview, the church offers a place specifically welcoming to the LGBTQ community. These young adults are taking refuge at The Crib, an overnight emergency shelter for people aged 18 to 24 who find themselves temporarily homeless. Founded by The Night Ministry in 2011, The Crib is one of the few places in the city where young LGBTQ adults, especially those of color, can find housing and community with others their age in similar situations.

Catalysts
This Woman is On a Mission to Turn Beer into Food
This Woman is On a Mission to Turn Beer into Food
Catalysts
This Woman is On a Mission to Turn Beer into Food
Jacquie Berglund is using the profits from her beer company to buy organic produce from local farmers and distribute the produce to food banks in the area.
By Teresa Carey

Jacquie Berglund considers herself more of a wine drinker than a beer drinker, yet she is building an empire around the beer brand, Finnegans. When Berglund purchased the brand for only a dollar, she knew that if Finnegans were to make an impact, the beer needed to be in every pub in Minnesota. Now you can find Finnegans in four Midwest states. But Finnegans is more than a beer company.…

Sponsored
How To Teach Kids to Read in as Little as 50 Days
How To Teach Kids to Read in as Little as 50 Days
Watch Now
Sponsored
How To Teach Kids to Read in as Little as 50 Days
1 in 10 people in the world today are illiterate. This program teaches people to read in as little as 50 days.
Watch Now

1 in 10 people in the world today can’t read. Pratham’s innovative approach is helping kids in developing countries learn to read in as little as 50 days. Pratham’s methodology centers around teaching children based on their level rather than their age or grade. It began in India, where most kids are in school - but many aren’t able to read at grade level. The success of the core approach…

An App to Help Prevent Suicide
An App to Help Prevent Suicide
Watch Now
An App to Help Prevent Suicide
Meet the teens who built the notOK App: a "panic button" for people who need help.
Watch Now

After her struggle with disease lead to a suicide attempt, she came up with an idea for an app to help desperate people reach out. Her brother helped write notOK, an app that works like a panic button to help people having suicidal thoughts quickly reach out to trusted contacts for support. When the user hits the button, it both sends the contacts a message asking them to get in…

The Badass Army Fighting Revenge Porn
The Badass Army Fighting Revenge Porn
Watch Now
The Badass Army Fighting Revenge Porn
They’re tracking down people who post revenge porn - and getting justice.
Watch Now

Sharing nude selfies with partners is increasingly common. Too often, though, these images end up posted online without consent. BADASS Army is an army of volunteers getting these images taken down and punishing people who upload them without consent—whether they’re exes posting revenge porn, a hacker releasing them, or someone stealing them through other means. What is Revenge Porn? Revenge porn, also known as nonconsensual image sharing (NCIS), is a…

Crossing The Divide
Where Muslims and Jews Worship Together
Where Muslims and Jews Worship Together
Watch Now
Crossing The Divide
Where Muslims and Jews Worship Together
When a Jewish community lost its place of worship, help came from an unexpected place.
Watch Now

When an imam invited a Jewish congregation to worship in his mosque, many of his members left in protest. But the initial controversy has since given way to an inspiring example of tolerance and compassion.

Criminal Justice
Can This Robot Stop Violence at Traffic Stops?
Can This Robot Stop Violence at Traffic Stops?
Criminal Justice
Can This Robot Stop Violence at Traffic Stops?
A Duke robotics PhD student and his partner think they have a way ease tensions while deep-rooted differences are hashed…
By Michael O'Shea

A Duke robotics PhD student and his partner think they have a way ease tensions while deep-rooted differences are hashed out.