Growing Home was founded in 1996 by Les Brown, then the Policy Director at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, in order to provide job training for needy Chicagoans. Les recognized that not only was the critical lack of living-wage jobs one of the major factors that leads to homelessness, but that a sense of purpose was also a necessary component of breaking out of the cycle of homelessness.
Les wrote before he passed away in 2005 that “homeless people are often without roots. They’re not tied down, not connected, not part of their family anymore. Our organic farming program is a way for them to connect with nature—to plant and nurture roots over a period of time. When you get involved in taking responsibility for caring for something, creating an environment that produces growth, then it helps you build self-esteem and feel more connected.”
Land to start the program was acquired in Marseilles, IL through the McKinney Act, which offers Federal surplus land for organizations working with homeless individuals, and the training program was piloted in 2002. Growing Home currently operates this Marseilles area farm, the Les Brown Memorial Farm, plus three other farms on Chicago’s South Side: the Wood Street Urban Farm, the Honore Street Farm, and the Su Casa Market Garden. Our program is different from other workforce development programs because of our intense focus on the transformational possibilities inherent in learning to nurture and grow one’s own food.
In 2009, Growing Home completed a three-year strategic planning process that revised Growing Home’s mission of providing transitional employment to include a wider view of what organic agriculture can offer individuals and communities.