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The Next Time Someone Dismisses You as an Arugula-Eating Elitist...

...tell ‘em to talk to my friend Harry Rhodes. He’s proof that “healthy, local, and organic” isn’t just for foodies and the so-called well-heeled.

For seven years, his Chicago-based non-profit, Growing Home, has provided jobs and training for the homeless, the previously incarcerated, and people with low incomes. At Growing Home’s four farm sites, participants learn organic farming and produce marketing. They also acquire general job skills. Over 70% of them end up getting work.

As Harry explains:

“We now have our first year-round urban farm that we own, the Wood Street Urban Farm— leading to a huge increase in interest in our work. When you can show a model of what an urban farm is and what can be replicated, people pay attention. Every week we give tours, with people coming from the Chicago area, from all over the country, and many coming from other countries.

“We have increased the number of people we train annually to about 30. This is just a drop in the bucket. Our mission has expanded from job training and organic agriculture to community and economic development.

“We are showing how urban farming can be used as the catalyst for turning around low-income neighborhoods, such as Englewood on the south side of Chicago.”

US incarceration rates have hit a worldwide, all-time high — 762 jailed persons per 100,000 residents, compared to Canada’s 108, or France’s 91, and almost two-thirds of them seemingly destined for re-arrest. Isn’t Growing Home showing us a pathway out of this labyrinth of stagnation and insanity?

Suddenly, organic food looks less like a yuppie luxury and more like it could and should be a staple for our sanity and security.

I can’t wait to visit the Growing Home team next time I’m in Chicago, and I’m especially eager to hear about the others they are sure to inspire. As Harry says, “just think what 10 or 100 organizations like Growing Home could do.”

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