Cultivating gardens while sowing the Seeds of Success
In the summer of 2016, Wasatch Community Gardens launched an ambitious new project: to build and grow a 1.4-acre farm out of a weedy, trash-strewn lot that hadn’t seen human stewardship in almost two decades. In partnership with the Downtown Alliance, the Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency (RDA) and Advantage Services, this farm was established to serve multiple functions: to restore the ecology of the property through the power of regenerative agricultural practices, grow high-quality organic produce to be donated to low income families, and do both of the above while also providing employment opportunities for women experiencing homelessness.
As I’m sure all of my astute readers know, a garden is perhaps the most perfect place for finding peace and personal growth. Rich with metaphors and flush with opportunities for small victories and instructive failures, working in the garden provides a perfect way for nature to offer mentorship and moments of self-discovery.
It was in this spirit that the Green Team Farm was born, and it has succeeded in transforming both the ecology of the area in which the farm is located as well as the lives of the individuals cultivating it.
The Green Team Farm program provides employment and mentorship for women who are experiencing homelessness. During the 10-month program, participants study organic agriculture techniques, rediscover and cultivate a solid work ethic, and work on restoring their sense of confidence. They receive one-on-one assistance securing housing and permanent employment and achieving other personal goals. (To read more about this program see past article, At Home on the Farm, December 1016, CATALYST.)
The farm itself is a demonstration site for regenerative agriculture techniques, a method of producing intensive crop yields while also restoring and enhancing natural ecosystems. The farm is 100% solar-powered and off-grid, ships all produce in fully compostable packaging, and hosts numerous sustainable agriculture research projects. The majority of the farm’s fertility is fueled by compost made on site, with many materials coming from local businesses striving to be zero waste. Most of the farm’s infrastructure is built from repurposed salvaged materials.
The majority of the farm’s produce and cut flowers are donated to low-income families, local nonprofits and an adult mental health care facility. The farm also produces most of the plant starts for the annual Wasatch Community Gardens Spring Plant Sale, the single largest annual fundraising event for the organization. They also help protect our agricultural heritage by breeding over two dozen varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers for seed production for Snake River Seed Cooperative, a regional seed company.
The results of the initial Green Team Farm project proved so successful at effecting meaningful change for the women it served that in the summer of 2018, Wasatch Community Gardens was approached by a new potential partner. Climb Wyoming, an organization with over 30 years of experience moving families out of poverty through job training and placement, had received a grant from United Healthcare to work with another nonprofit to expand the reach of their model. Both Wasatch Community Gardens and Climb Wyoming quickly envisioned the power of what could be achieved working together, and they launched a second program at the farm, Seeds of Success.
Seeds of Success is a job-training and placement program for single mothers living in poverty. Participants receive free job training through an outside trainer, along with placement assistance in high-demand career fields. The program capitalizes on the positive role that gardening and healthy eating can play in the journey from poverty to self-sufficiency for struggling families. It incorporates weekly skills development days at the farm to help participants develop stronger professional skills and social networks.
“A garden is an incredible learning environment not only for growing food, but for developing skills necessary to personal growth as well,” says Ashley Patterson, Wasatch Community Gardens executive director. “It fosters patience, planning, decision-making, nurturing, problem-solving and other important skills.”
The Seeds of Success recently finished their first 10-week training cohort, focusing on Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training. Program director Susie Marvin explains, “For 10 weeks, the group worked together to overcome the demands of rigorous job training while dedicating four hours each week to working on the Green Team Farm. The farm provided time and space for the group to engage in workplace situations and practice critical job skills like communication, conflict management and mindfulness. They are leaving the program one step closer to self-sufficiency and are also taking with them increased confidence and a sense of community.”
Upon entering the Seeds of Success program, participants were making an average of $221 per month, with most experiencing unemployment. Some graduates have already started fulltime jobs with benefits, increasing their average income to $2,080 per month.
“This was an awesome launching point for the beginning of my future,” says Maggie, one program graduate. “Aside from the CNA work, I learned job and life skills and different ways of thinking. It taught me a lot of skills, and not just for work—for personal life. I use a lot of this with my kids now and it works so well. I can use the skills in every aspect of my life.”
James Loomis is a full-time urban farmer, educator and permaculture hooligan. He is the Green Team farm director, and occasionally gets to write about himself in the third person in his CATALYST gardening column, “Garden Like a Boss.”
Recruitment for the next cohort begins in December. To learn more about the program, contact Susie Marvin, Susie@WasatchGardens.org or 801.414.6772.